Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why We Write in Bulk

I write with far more words than are necessary. I am not a concise writer.

I'm not particular focused either, but that's a post for another day.

We're taught from an early age that more is better. In middle and high school, every assignment had to be between three to five pages long. It didn't matter what the topic at hand was, you had to write about it in the amount of paper the teacher arbitrarily assigned to you.

If you were lucky to attend college, you dealt with the same restrictions. And in real life, of course, there are more page limits. People don't like too much (stop the babbling!) and don't like too little (obviously must not have anything important to say!).

So we come to blogs. And even though there are no restrictions to how long or how brief I write, the mental pressure to write more than a few paragraphs is intense. If the post becomes massive, the urge to trim it kicks in.

Above all, we have it drilled into our heads that longer is better. Exceeding the limit isn't punished as heavily as failing to write the minimum necessary. As an example, one class deducted fifty points if we exceeded the limits by 30%, but gave no leeway if you didn't hit 3 pages minimum exactly.

This also leads us to pad our writing. For example, I almost wrote 'this also leads us to tend to unnecessarily pad our writing'. But why 'tend to'? We are padding our writing! Unnecessarily? Writing here isn't needed in the first place, so whether it is unnecessary is hard to determine.

"But Anna!" you say, "If this is all but a hobby and thus not subject to strict guidelines as required by professionalism, if it is all for fun and giggles, why bother holding us to any standards? After all, it's not like these scribblings will amount to anything more than an entertaining read over morning tea and toast?"

Good point! I'm not really trying to criticise, but rather (<- more padding) examine why on occasion we engage in diarrhea of the keyboard. Also, gathering your ideas into a concise point helps to convey your ideas or entertain with effectiveness. Look at the post immediately before this one, and think: if I had written 15 pages around that picture, would you have read it or fallen asleep? Or skimmed it entirely and render my effort typing those words pointless? I would bet on the latter.

Writers today mistake volume for quality. As stated above, this is partly due to the indoctrination that more is better.

It is also due to previous works of literature as well. 'The Lord of the Rings' makes an effective doorstep, and 'War and Peace' is sometimes used in weight lifting machines in place of 100 pound weights. Many of these 'classics' and other works are hefty.

But really read them. In detail. And you'll notice, more often than not, that for something so large it gets to the point fairly quickly. The plot flows like a river, naturally meandering and in scenery gently transforming down its course.

Modern works such as 'Twilight' tend to do the opposite. They build a dam, and describe in minute detail everything around them, missing the point of cruising down the river in the first place. Reading them is akin to looking at a snapshot written out in a literal thousand words. They do not let their prose flow at its pace but instead attack it with levees and pumps, working against the current rather than with it.

Or, imagine writing as sailing. Modern 'Pop' writers behave as sailors attempting to hit the wind head on and wonder why they are getting no where, or reveling in the fact that they are moving at all even if it's the wrong direction. Good, clear, and concise writing works with the wind and the sea to get where it is going.

If you sail and get where you want in a single page, then you have succeeded. You shouldn't drive your boat onto a sandbar because you feel you need to have at least 30 pages for a short story. Guaranteed, if you have sailed well then others will enjoy the same journey you took. But if you decided to drive over that reef, slice holes in your sails, capsize, drown, ram beluga whales and in general make it as unpleasant as possible simply because you felt you had to make it interesting, then it just will not be good.

Of course, the best way to determine whether you've found Island of the Lost Toys or Island of Serially Bad Novels is to have a lot of people read your work. And if they say to you, "Anna, seriously, did you need to abuse your thesaurus?" then the time is ripe for trimming with prejudice. By the way, have lots of people read it so you can tell if you've managed to catch the random asshole who only wants to tear everyone down into their own miserable prison of hate. By the way, I honestly believe that 'Twilight' had good potential if only the author had someone, anyone, read it and say, "Prune some of this, for the Love of Nunchuck". You'd have an adorable little romance novel of a girl torn between monsters instead of the huge quadrilogy which requires a small forest to be razed for the paper pulp required to print a single volume of it.

Aside from all that, that people look at the physical product rather than its contents is another reason why they write until their fingers fall off. All books seem to be massive tomes, so success seems to equate to how many pages you can reach. All I can say is, please look up and read some short stories.

And that is why I think people write in bulk. Education forces us to conform to limits and books and writing tends to be huge which creates a norm that stories or writing must be long to be any good.

And here I am, wandering from why people tend to write excessively to suggesting what makes good writing. I'm terrible, do as I say not as I do, people.

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