Writing Quote: The Long and Short of it

Yes that’s right, folks.  It’s time for another episode of “Writing Quotes”.  I  missed last week’s episode due to various circumstances, but I’m back with a vengeance*.

This week, in answering the call of Bazelli’s Author Aerobics challenge to write a story in 3 acts in under 1,000 words, I responded by writing a story that was…

2,000 words!  That’s right, I wrote a story that was double the length suggested in the challenge [the story is perma-linked in my “Stories and Scribblings” page].  In thinking about that, this quote caught my eye:

I have made this [letter] longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter.
~Blaise Pascal
Apparently this quote comes from a rather wordy letter written by Monsieur Pascal, and what he’s trying to say here gets to the heart of the matter I was approaching above.  Brevity is hard work.

I don’t say that facetiously.  It’s serious.  Writing doesn’t come easy to a lot of people, but it’s always come easy to me.  But what’s hard for me is writing succinctly.  You can see that in my progress meter to the right on the short story I’ve been working on.  I originally targeted 6,000 words on that story.  It’s not pushing 11,000, and I imagine it could come close to 12 before I’ve finished revising.  And I’m about to say I’m prepared to accept that it’s length will make it unpublishable (few markets will accept a short story that long) even though it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever written, rather than try to cut out stuff that I really feel is integral both to the plot and the character development.

And that’s writing for you.  It’s not as easy as you think, and one of the great ironies is that fewer words often will take more work and more time.

Which begs the question: if fewer words are actually harder work, why do most short story magazines pay for stories by the word?  Does this not motivate short story writers to put less work into perfecting their stories?

The answer, I suppose, is: it doesn’t matter.  There’s such a huge supply of people trying to break into the story markets that only the ones who do put in the work will actually succeed, word-count questions notwithstanding.

So, I’ve gone on overlong on the topic (*snicker*).  Get to work!

…Brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes…

~William Shakespeare, via Polonius, Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2

*Vengeance not valid in all areas.

3 thoughts on “Writing Quote: The Long and Short of it

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Writing Quote: The Long and Short of it « The Undiscovered Author -- Topsy.com

  2. I’ve always loved that quote by Blaise Pascal perhaps because I was never good at keeping my short stories short 🙂
    I can’t work with one eye on the word count, when writing the first draft all I can think about is just getting the story down on paper and by the time I check it, it’s already too late 🙂 Which is why I usually don’t write stories where there is a word limit, it really stresses me out.
    And I agree with you %100, “It’s not as easy as you think, and one of the great ironies is that fewer words often will take more work and more time.”

    • It’s really a challenge to write to a short word count. On the other hand, I do think that it can be a useful sort of mental exercise that improves our writing abilities (even if what we wrote in that exercise is execrable).

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