Stop writing so much

July 04, 2023

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has noticed this. I go to look up a recipe, what I hope is a simple list of ingredients, cooking times, and procedures. When I actually get is a four-paragraph story about how this recipe came into the hands of the person who's writing it. Or how it was from their homeland and passed down for generations. Now there's a time and a place for things like that but it's an impediment on getting the information I really need.

I used to love reading Scientific America, but I noticed that the articles felt like they were being paid by the word. The cover would have some new theory about physics or some discovery in biology that I was very interested in, and then four or five full pages of text just rambling on.

Perhaps I am particularly annoyed by this being a programmer, some people think a good programmer produces a lot of lines of code, but a good programmer produces the least possible lines of code that's still function correctly.

Something similar has happened to YouTube, or there used to be short two to three minute videos that were very informative and straight to the point.  Now most new videos are at least 10 minutes long because the algorithm rewards longer viewing times. I assume because then you can fit more ads in them. The problem is going from 3 minute videos to 10 minute videos didn't triple the content, it just drew out the same information over a longer period of time.

Part of me wonders if the problem stems from the way we're instructed to write reports. You have to come up with a topic for a paper starting in English, and then the paper has to be at least five pages long. I have a feeling many of us have had the experience of writing our paper and then coming out to three pages, and then going through all of your sentences and trying to find ways to make them longer without actually adding any new information to them.

I'm worried that is what writers are applying to their careers, thinking that good writing has to be long.

I've read many books that are about 300 to 500 pages, that had some really good points in them but really could have been done in less than 100 pages. I think that the authors or the publishing companies don't feel like they can charge $30 for a 50 to 100 page book, so the same information gets stretched out into hundreds of pages which decrease the enjoyability of the book.

If anybody has read Benjamin Franklin's 'Poor Richard's Almanac, they know that a great amount of information and wisdom can be condensed into a very short book.

I don't know how this would happen but I would love to see a paradigm shift where writers are rewarded for how elegantly concise they are. When I go to the editing process on my blog articles, I see unnecessary words and remove them, over and over again until I can get to a sentence that conveys no less information but with as few words as possible. There is a balance, as I don't want to completely remove any sort of personality from what I write.  I don't want it to look like an instruction manual.

I also want to add that this need not apply to fiction, I have no problem getting lost in a book for hours at a time, and enjoying it thoroughly. However if I'm trying to learn about something I want to get that information in my head as quickly as possible.

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