February 10, 2009
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Inspired by 25 Random Things on Facebook, here are 25 steps to writing short:
1. Keep a journal where you practice short writing.
2. Practice short writing on small surfaces:  post-it notes, index cards, the palm of your hand.
3. A list of 25 is NOT an example of short writing: It’s long writing with 25 short parts -– which is cool.
4. The short bits make a long list more readable, in part because they generate white space, which pleases the eye.
5. Obey Strunk & White: “Omit needless words.”
6. Beware: The infinite space on the Internet creates aerated prose.
7. The shorter the passage, the greater the value of each word.
8. Obey Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch: “Murder your darlings.”
9. That said, every short passage should contain one gold coin, a reward for the reader.
10. Obey Donald Murray: “Brevity comes from selection, not compression.”
11. Obey Chip Scanlan: “Focus, focus, focus.”
12. Imagine a short piece from the get-go. Conceive a sonnet, not an epic.
13. Cut the weaker elements:  adverbs, passive constructions, strings of prepositional phrases, puffy Latinate words.
14. The more powerful the message, the shorter the sentence: “Jesus wept.”
15. Don’t just “dump” short messages: revise, polish, proof-read everything.
16. Try your hand at short literary forms: the haiku or the couplet.
17. Read, study, and collect great examples of short writing, everything from the diaries of Samuel Pepys to the Tweets of your favorite Twits.
18. The best place for an important word in a short passage is at the END.
19. Begin the story as close to the end as possible.
20. Food for thought: Study the prose in fortune cookies and on Valentine candy hearts.
21. Cut big, then small. Prune the dead branches before you shake out the dead leaves.
22. Obey Mark Twain: You may need more time, not less, to write something good and short.
23. Study and discuss this editorial: “They say only the good die young. Spanish dictator Francisco Franco died last night at the age of 83. Seems about right.”
24. Write a mission statement for your short writing. Keep it short.
25.  Treat all short forms of journalism –- headline, caption, blurb, blog post –- as literary genres.

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Roy Peter Clark has taught writing at Poynter to students of all ages since 1979. He has served the Institute as its first full-time faculty…
Roy Peter Clark

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