The blog post I wrote yesterday was really hard to write, as it turned out. There were lots of revisions, and I nearly abandoned it once or twice because it kept going on and on and on. In its final form, it clocks in at about four hundred and fifty words. I’m not saying that’s svelte, exactly, but in one earlier draft, I was pushing well past eight hundred words without an end in sight.
I get caught up a lot over-explaining things when I write. It took me several tries to compress that post’s third paragraph, which outlines the basics of my critique of the new elevator system at my work, down to a relatively compact hundred-plus words. At one point, I was detailing my usability complaints in almost excruciating detail — recounting every minutiae of interacting with the system — the prose equivalent of watching a slow motion replay. It was so bad it was tiring even for me to type it, so be glad I didn’t make you read it.
Why do I do this? I blame design. A lot of my job is about creating visual and interactive presentations that accurately and effectively communicate information. In practice, that often calls for simplicity and explicitness, constantly reminding myself that I must go through great lengths to ensure that users understand every component of the experience I’m constructing.
When I transfer that value to writing though, it seems too often to inspire a long-winded, expository style that feels like homework: laborious, plodding, overly careful. Writing should be fun; the more fun it is, the more fun it’ll be to read. Anyway, it goes back to something Jeffrey Zeldman told me once: it’s a lot harder to make something short than it is to make something long.