How to Write Short’ is full of fantastic advice


Three and a half stars

How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times By Roy Peter Clark, $20.

Rather than lambasting Internet writing, journalism guru Roy Peter Clark wrote a book on composing effective tweets and status updates. To see whether Clark’s book, How to Write Short, taught me anything, I’ll try to keep each of my thoughts under 140 characters.

1. A+ for concept—let’s start there. Clark writes, “in the digital age, short writing is king.” Who can argue with that?

2. But short writing—Clark says this, too—has always been king. Poems, epitaphs, the Gettysburg Address. Why conflate length with greatness?

3. Clark demonstrates his short writing chops in the form of a Match.com profile. It’s good enough that I don’t want my girlfriend reading it.

4. Clark doesn’t just dissect the usual suspects (e.g., Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer”), he unpacks unconventional writings, like fortune cookies, text messages and the script of the two-minute 2012 Clint Eastwood-narrated Chrysler Super Bowl commercial. And yes, I’m aware that this particular paragraph went well over the 140-character limit I set for myself, but: 1. I didn’t want to break this thought into pieces. 2. I’m not actually on Twitter. 3. Clark’s 12th rule of writing short (“Change your pace”) says that I can.

5. Now critique: I wish Clark had taught me how to compose tweets that get re-tweeted and Facebook status updates that get “liked.”

6. I wish Clark had taught me how to write Amazon reviews that get marked as “helpful” and Yelp reviews that get flagged as “cool.”

Still, I recommend How to Write Short—just not in place of 2008’s Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, also by Clark.

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