slip-sliding away…..

Notes from a frustrated writer

Posted by Yacoob on April 13, 2007

Twice in the last week, I’ve had to reduce things I’ve written at work to make it as compact as possible, having to cater to readers who apparently ‘switch off’ if what they have to read is more than a few paragraphs.

Although I understand the importance of conciseness in certain kinds of communications, sometimes it just irritates me how much a writer has to cater to readers that supposedly can’t be bothered when they have to read something a little longer than a brief note.

OK, I admit I can be a bit wordy at times, and that may not suit every reader. But, that aside, what bugs me is this acceptance of the idea that we shouldn’t write longer communications, articles, etc, because people won’t read them.

Why should a writer simply accept that things should be ‘short and sweet’, and anything else is not going to be as effective?

Do people really think in bullet points nowadays? Do audiences just want the information in as brief a format as possible, neatly packaged so that they can be done with it in a minute or two?

Do people no longer appreciate the ‘padding’ that surrounds the main information? An introduction that draws you in; a paragraph that tries to empathise with you; a conclusion that tries to leave you on a high note?

I think that TV and other forms of passive entertainment have played a huge role in the decline of reading, and maybe the average person has become intolerant of having to read for more than a few minutes.

But, I ask you, is this really the way we want ourselves to be thought of?

As impatient individuals who want their information, and want it NOW. And: “if you’re going to ‘waffle on’ with your words and words and words, you’re just wasting my time.”

Any thoughts?

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11 Responses to “Notes from a frustrated writer”

  1. many.

    television wasn’t the decline of the reader, commercialism and the so called “information age” are.

    users/consumers/readers have so much information being bombarded their way, they’ve been programmed to switch focus every 3 seconds, like a goldfish.

    i’m unsure of the kind of writing you’re talking about but i think people would actually prefer detailed explanations.

    perhaps what you’re trying to sell can be better sold using a few words?

  2. Singleguy said

    I think it depends on why you’re reading what you’re reading. If it’s a lesuire pursuit, then one does not mind the going into detail, especially if said detail is beautifully written.

    However, if one is reading to acquire information for a functional purpose, such as study, or information on how something must be done, then concise information is prudent. Those who seek more detail are then welcome to find it. But most people have too little time in today’s fast-paced environments to dwell on unimportant details.

  3. Dew said

    OH this is a very interesting topic. I hate when people call us the ‘author’ because technically if you are writing an article you writing it for a certain audience, if you are writing a book, the publisher worries about who will read it so actually…what say does an author have? Persobnally I believe, diaries and poems are the best reflection of the ‘real’ author.

    Im currently doing a creative writing course and I advise nayone to do it. It’s so awesome, you get to write what you want and how you want it – no shortened bulletine type thingies.

    Okay, sorry I’m gone off topic…yeah I believ people def want shorter things to read, especially information type pieces, the world is moving faster, people are busier (sadly), and so it seems shorter is the way its going…at the expense of good literture. the editing course I did last semester was all abut how concisely you can make your point …it was always emphaised – we did excercuses on how to shorten things but noe lengthen things to make it better. It’s sad, very sad, but oh so true and needed to survive in this day and age.

  4. Dew said

    er..obviously from my above post you can see I didn’t learn anything about spelling.

  5. Dreamlife said

    somethingtobe:

    i agree – information overload is a big problem. its great that info is so freely available now, but the problem is that it does bombard us.

    like, after 9/11, the ticker tape at the bottom of the screen was introduced for news on tv. its stayed there ever since. if you ever watch Sky SPorts news (from the U.K), you’ll see that there’s at least 4 different information panels on the screen at the same time – which is good if you don’t have much time; but it can become a bad habit…feed a habit of craving information.

    too much information can be a bad thing; and unfortunately, the advance in technology has been focussed on progress and innovation – but there hadn’t been the thought of whether we actually need or want certain things. its like, “technology can do this, so we’ll introduce it and put it out there” – and we just accept it as part of the world today.

    i’m not saying technological progress is bad – but we need to be smart about what we take and what we ignore: you can’t just take every new thing that comes out, or else you’ll be flooded.

    1 of the things i was referring to – the work thing that had to be reduced – i wrote it with a very specific tone; and although the tone was well-received, the reviewers very quickly made the point about the length.

    i guess i just write with my own method – which is to do it the way i want to do it first, and then after that edit and adjust for whatever the situtation dictates. i don’t like the idea of conforming to another person’s standard way, when it means i can’t do things my way (if it conflicts).

    i guess that stubborness is good in some ways, but may not be a good thing in the professional arena.

    anyway…this post wasn’t just about those 2 recent shortenings. it was a thought that was on my mind for a while.

    Dew and Singleguy: it is sad, that things are so fast-paced nowadays.

    i view it as being unnatural. we’re not designed for such a pace of life; i don’t think we were supposed to be this fast, be working such long hours, have such short holidays, have an information flood like we do with news and comment and all the stuff that there is out there.

    i mean, think about it: do we really need to spend (at least) 40 hours a week at work? how much of that time is actually productive?

    – what if we had less work time, but it was tailored around your actual output and productivity – instead of the clock?

    do we really need news updates every hour?

    somethingtobe was right about commercialism – its this intense consumer culture that pushes companies to work work work, make more money, produce more output, sell more…which means normal people have to work more.

    and maybe that mentality of busyness is reflected elsewhere in our lives, which is why we’re always busy, always having stuff to do, places to go, etc.

    really, i wouldn’t mind living on a farm or some remote place in nature someday. just be away from the rush of the world, and live a simpler life.

    Dew: i totally agree with you that writing without constraints and pre-defined ideas about your audience is definitely liberating. i don’t think i’d succeed as a writer, but one of the reasons i wouldn’t want to be a writer is because i don’t want any editor or publisher altering my work, or asking me to edit things to cater for a specific audience. i think expression should be free – it shouldn’t have to be boxed into a category, or directed towards a certain type of reader.

    although people do have their preferences, we (both writers and readers) are not one-dimensional; so why should a person have to alter their expression to cater for one particular part of an audience member?

    i do think that focus is important, though. just that the focus should not be determined or influenced by commercial considerations.

    this is why Blogs are such a great thing – they are outlets for people to express themselves, in whatever way they want, and not have to go through any channels of authority to have their stuff published for people to see.

    anyway, i’ve gone off topic too….

    thanx for the comments everyone.

  6. Sumera said

    We live in the “soundbite” era. And I think some people dont have the attention span for reading long articles, when really they should put some effort in and try!

  7. bb-aisha said

    I have the same problem you do. As a journalist, I sometimes struggle to confine my writing to the 800 or whatever word limit. Especially if its a feature piece.

    Even with my blogging, I often get told my posts are too long. I agree with singleguy though, that it depends on the type of writing. If Im reading an academic, or (whats the word im lookin for? umm..’industry related? gosh, dunno) piece, then Id also prefer it to be concise.

    Btw, what work do you do?

    But yeah, ppl cant even sit thru more than 1/2 hr of sitcoms, which is basically only 20 mins with the adverts. Heck! we cant even sit thru a few mins of adverts.

    I am so against the fast-paced nature of our lives. Technology sure has its advantages, but we’ve lost out on quality of life.

  8. Dreamlife said

    i’ve heard of people who actually choose to ‘leave’ their lives – the busy life, i mean – and become homeless. they give everything away and then live poor with nothing at all.

    i guess thats one way of fighting the modern world, right?

    and, it would give you a very different perspective on life – to be in such a situation. of course that would be tough, but its good for the compassion in a person – because really, you feel more for someone when you’ve been in their position, when u know what its like to live the situations they’re living.

    as for short attention spans and sitcoms, and the info overload – i wonder how much all of this contributes to attention deficit disorder. i don’t know the medically-defined causes, but i think that this kind of fast-paced world and entertainment, news etc definitely adds to the problem for those who have that particular disorder.

  9. Waseem said

    Well, I think so, Brain, but if they call people from Poland Poles, why don’t they call people from Holland Holes?

    Sorryfor the lame joke, the are you pondering thing, just brought back Pinky and the Brain memories.

    The stark reality is that reading has become more of a chore to most ppl, its sad, my 15yr old cousin has no idea whos King Arthur if thats not shocking I dont know what is

  10. Dreamlife said

    no no, the joke was not lame. that was exactly where i got the label from :)

    actually, I don’t really know who King Arthur is either. I know he and some Knights had a round table, and something about a sword called “Excalibur”.

    Travelling on the Tube in London, though, you see lots of people reading (things other than newspapers, i mean).

    So there are circumstances where its not a chore, but more of something to pass the time…or take time for yourself, when you can’t be doing much else (since you’re in a train, in a tunnel, under the ground).

    unfortunately, those time-outs are too rare. (unless, of course, you do use trains a lot – in which case u have lots of time for it)

  11. alia said

    wow, that’s so weird just the other day, yesterday i was saying how i’ve become so desensitised to ‘news’. like i was telling my friend before I started as a journo i never knew what was happening in teh news. when i would hear about the world’s ills, it would really affect me. but now i’m so insensitive. being infiltrated with all this ‘news’ is seriously draining my compassion. it’s such an effort to read a full story, and even when things interest me, my mind switches off automatically after the who, what, when, why and how has been answered!! thats so scary i think i need a new job. news is so fast its scary, whats worse is this online world we all in!!

    i think what you were talking about-how people give up all they have to get away from modern tech, that is pretty darn brave. a short while ago i never had a computer, and i was in ignorant bliss. now my life depends on this thing. so i ask myself- do i continue to be in the know, or do i chose to wrap myself up in myself? coz ultimatley when we read things online, its hardly ever for leisure.its more for info.

    when you read a book its something you took the time and effort to get-you sought it out, sat down, opened it up and you actively turn teh pages- you are taken into a diff realm. but online- u surf and happen to ‘bump’ into info, so once you scan the heading, intro, conclusion and pics, well basically thats all you ‘need’.

    Speaking of which I must admit im guilty of scaning this very post-the comments and all. Which probably explains my very off-the-topic comment. !! 

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