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Wednesday, May 3

The Soul of Wit

Apparently it was the 18th Century scientist, Pascal, who wrote: "I hope you will pardon me for writing such a long letter, but I did not have the time to write a shorter one." This pretty much sums up a problem I've faced a lot recently. Here are the occasions when I've been affected:
  • Writing my Around the world in 80 websites article, where I ended up creating a huge 12 page spread for the magazine
  • Writing emails to people for whom English is not a first language
  • Writing emails to busy people and trying to avoid confusing the issue with extra words
  • Helping my girlfriend achieve the word limit on her essays, from the high side
  • Writing elegant computer programs
A friend of mine stands by the principle that a design is not complete until there is nothing left to remove, and I agree. In terms of computer programming, not dealing with the redundant stuff, left over, can lead to increasing levels of inertia, the equivalent of trying to get around Mr Trebus's house. In writing, an overtly woolly style of prose can lead the reader into wasting their time or, worse still, missing the important point, hidden among the WORDS.

It's all very well for me to be preachy on the subject of good writing, but this blog is a classic example of write-only text. The way it works is that I blather on into a window on my screen, post it to the internet and then forget about it. If some bugger reads it, then great. If it finds its way into Google's search index, then good luck to Google and any searcher who finds my words when they're trying to find something useful instead.

There's a difference between this blog, which is little more than a brain-dump (emphasis on all meanings of the word dump) and the writings that I pride myself on. The whittling down of an article for a computer magazine is a good 75% of the effort I put into writing it. When I've spent time writing songs or scripts for stand-up/other performance, I similarly put effort into getting every redundancy removed from the piece. I think about the rhythm of the words, the pace of the piece and myriad other factors.

So, dear reader, if this is boring, then that's because it just is. As my school reports used to say, "[I] could do better".

Please bear in mind that this particular piece comes to you courtesy of virtually no sleep, a 5am wake-up and a morning of trimming down an essay with my girlfriend. So, I'm enjoying the freedom to write whatever I like and care nothing about the world limit.
(448 words)


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