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I'll Be Brief

When I was a baby, I didn’t start speaking until I was over two years old. When I started talking, it was in complete sentences.

For me, writing has always been a way of feeling out what’s complex or hard to understand. When writing things down, I often feel like I need to get out a complete thought—even if that means going to a level of systematic depth that the communication may not require. 

While this habit may be rewarded for the creation of design documentation or books, it doesn’t always lend itself to open dialogue and public discourse. Blaise Pascal once said in one of his letters to a friend: “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.” No mathematician worth their salt would circulate their ideas until they could express them in their most elegant, defensible form. 

Right now, I’m most interested in writing short forms, and how they add up to dialogues where ideas can riff and play off each other in rapid, improvisational fashion. I find myself admiring the required restraint in this call and response. While short forms of writing don’t always result in a concise QED, they do offer trailheads to other vistas you can explore on your own power.

This is the terrain we traverse today. Many of us spend our days conversing in Facebook posts and tweets and instant messages and texts and Slack and so forth—but how good are we really at that as writers? In our craft?

If you’re doing it right, you know based on how other people respond to the words. Not in a creepy, Lexicon sort of way, where poets can make you do whatever they want—in their tone and mood.

Nineteen years ago, I remember editing an interview by a famous writer, where he said that he wanted to be capable of shifting your emotional state while reading one his stories based on how you transitioned from one syllable to another in a single word. At the time, I thought he was crazy. A paragraph or a sentence, sure. But in the middle of a word?

Now, I’m not so sure. There are so many pieces of writing we encounter today where reading only a few words will start your blood boiling, and there’s a tiny input box beckoning to you for a response.

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