The Curse Of Brevity

Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Brevity is defined as the concise and exact use of words in writing or speech; in a sense, the way I have started to write in recent years. But why? I do not know.

When I first started writing seriously, the year was 1998.  I was a senior in high school, and was going through a very difficult time in my life.  Things were so rough that I burned my notebooks from that year.  At the time, I found that I could easily fill an entire college ruled composition book in six months.  I was a writing machine, documenting my experience in transformation from a child to an adult.  The trying times and experiences of turning 18, becoming a legal adult, and from my own perspective, trying to live in a very hurtful world.  On an aside, I call this time in my life my playful beginnings in terms of it being the beginning of my writing career.

As a senior in high school, I was advanced into the Honors English class which was hand-picked by the director of the English Education department.  We were instructed to write poetry, as well as prose, and there came a time when I became amused by the difference.  With poetry, the goal is to combine as many details and communication into the smallest number of words possible, whereas with prose, the goal is usually the opposite.  Brevity was the deciding factor between good writing, and an inadequate attempt to simply complete the assignment.

Writing in quantity was something that has been the basis of any modern collegiate career; typically a professor will prefer quantity over quality, and in doing so, the student will typically fill-up their papers with useless details and fluff.  I often question the archaic ways in which professors will often require a specific number of pages to be the minimum.  I have had at least one professor specify an approved font list, along with acceptable margins and font pitch guidelines to make their judgment of length an easier task.  With such restrictions, it is a miracle that I actually passed such a class without losing my mind.

One of my professors in my second year of college was very specific with the minimum and maximum number of pages, as well as what he felt to be the ideal number of words.  He would constantly question my use of punctuation, and why I sometimes would write in a passive voice.  He instructed me to pay attention to detail, but never to go too into detail that it became excessive, and perhaps most troubling, he once said that the way I wrote, he could see through me.

With all of these questions still floating around in my head, I keep questioning myself as a writer, and yet at the same time, wondering if I’m even writing the right way at all.


  • Tracey Tobin

    Writing is one of those things that makes people fill themselves with doubt. It’s difficult not to because of all the conflicting forces pulling you in a million different directions. You have THIS group of people telling you that you have to have a perfect grasp of punctuation and word structure and brevity and any other number of linguistic “rules”, and then you have THIS group of people telling you that you have to write with your own “voice” and not worry so much about the little details of it all. You have one group telling you that writing isn’t worth writing unless it’s a glorious masterpiece, and another group pointing out that lots of people have made lots of money by writing books that are actually widely considered to be poorly written. Then, of course, you have your own internal voices, telling you one moment that you’re absolutely brilliant, and telling you the next minute that you’re a worthless piece of trash.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s best just to keeping writing, write how you feel you should write, and hope for the best. lol 🙂

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