If I learned about clarity from Mrs. Parker, I learned about brevity several years later while working as a feature writer for The Pittsburgh Press. Daily newspaper journalism was the best possible foundation I could have chosen for each of my careers — as journalist, scholar, and life coach.
I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead. — Mark Twain
I remember assigning the same exercise to a PhD advisee at UT Austin that I undertook in my undergrad “Magazine Writing” class at Duquesne University: 1. Write a two-page article. 2. Now write the same article in one page. 3. Now write the same article in one paragraph.
It all came back to me when I read newspaper columnist Danny Heitman’s opinion piece (“Keep It Short”) in The New York Times, which began: “In my first daily newspaper job some 25 years ago, I learned a few lessons about brevity that I’m still using today.” He recalled the discipline of writing the weekly “Books in Brief” feature, 200 words each. Me — I trained on wedding and engagement announcements, and obituaries. And of everything in the newspaper, if you got anything in these notices wrong, you heard about it, swiftly and loudly. I couldn’t help but learn my lessons well.