The Great Wall of Text

If I can say less – why fight it?
Brevity is the soul of wit.
If someone else didn’t say it,
They may be smarter than I.

There’s an eighth wonder of the world out there. I’m not going to claim you can see it from space; it’s far more intimidating up close, in your inbox, mailbox, or browser. Every year it is visited by thousands of unwitting, unhappy pilgrims, and thousands more actually help build it. It is, in fact, the only Wonder of The World which has been under continuous construction since the advent of the written word. 

My friends, please consider The Great Wall of Text. It’s a legendary, awesomely impenetrable barrier of words blocking out light, sound, and your plans for the rest of the week. It’s a “Wonder” because it makes you wonder… what you’re doing with your life, and whether there’s anything really important buried in all that unwanted prose. It triggers an immediate “Look – A Distraction!” response. 

I should know about the suffering inflicted by the Great Wall of Text. I frequently build additions to it. Email, comments, posts… all written materials are suitable for the task. It pains me to admit that about half of my written “Great Wall of Text – Under Construction” projects see the light of day. But I’m learning from the ones I catch. For my sins, here are three helpful subtleties to consider when editing your own work.

  • Do I actively avoid re-reading my own words? This is a major red flag. Writers are egotists. We of all people should love to read our own words, like Narcissus with his reflection. If we don’t want to re-read it, we probably shouldn’t – and neither should anyone else. 
  • Do I wait to unleash the Big Idea? If I’m not riding the Big Idea from the first paragraph, rodeo-style, life and the lesson may be too tame – or too long. (As in, life is too short to hack through what should have been fed to the delete key.)
  • Can I remember Points A and B by the time I reach Point X? How many Big Ideas do you think one piece of writing can hold? Are you trying to set them against each other cage-match style, or re-make another Godzilla vs. Kong?

In closing, always remember one of the most eloquent responses in the English language is but a single letter: “ ‘K.”

Published by Marushka

I dream curiosity and write words that change brains.

9 thoughts on “The Great Wall of Text

  1. Verbosity is my curse, a tide I beat back on the daily. I agree with your points. It’s good to be direct and succinct (unless that layer of ornate detail serves a explicit purpose), and your personal interest in a piece is a good gauge of what is or isn’t working.

    I think it’s a shame, though, that the internet has all but murdered the long-form. It’s cauterized the receptors governing our attention spans, leaving us more impatient than ever. Consequently, content must be altered in pursuit of those elusive dangling carrots Engagement and Reader Retention, leading to the proliferation of clickbait headlines and Top Tens.

    I guess my point (if I even have one) is that it sucks that here, in the so-called Age of Information, content has become shallower and more manipulative than ever. The bar’s been lowered and we’re all just expected to limbo under it. Theoretically, denser writing, by virtue of its length, leaves more room for nuance and an exploration of big ideas (any essay writer who’s been short-changed by a word limit can attest to that). But then the reverse is also true… I guess a piece should only ever be as long as it needs to be.

    But, yeah, your points absolutely stand: concise writing is objectively better if writing is about the communication of ideas. The reader should always be considered.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right, it’s a narrow path to walk. I think you nailed it: “…a piece should only ever be as long as it needs to be.” Difficult advice indeed, but it’s the truth of the matter. I personally try to write with the idea of “what I can’t not say.” Usually it boils down to: in a universe of wonder and terror and uncertain life spans – why would someone spend their time on this?

      The elusive goal, then, is a piece that is Just The Right Length. It is complete – and yet lingers. You find yourself savoring it, pondering it for the next few days.

      And in interest of full disclosure – this reply started out a great deal longer. I too share that curse 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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