How to Write Short: When Less Is More

gQlAyAs Shakespeare once wrote, “brevity is the soul of wit.” And it’s also the soul of good writing. Even before the Twitter age, many of the best writers used words sparingly–keeping each sentence tight, efficient, but still full of meaning.

Take, for example, Ernest Hemingway, who practiced what’s called “muscular writing.” As the legend goes, over lunch, he challenged some literary friends to a contest: Write a short story in six words. On a napkin, he scratched out a winner: “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” Several years ago, that tale inspired Smith Magazine to launch a challenge to writers to tell their life stories in exactly six words.

Some of the best: 

  • Not quite what I was planning.
  • It all changed in an instant
  • You wouldn’t know, looking at me.
  • Birth, childhood, adolescence, adolescence, adolescence, adolescence
  • Longed for him, got him. Sh*t
  • Everyone who loved me is dead
  • I can’t keep my own secrets
  • Living my dream, please send money
  • Fat, thin, fat, thin, fat, thin

As space and attention spans get shorter, I like to challenge my students to do the same. Try it yourself. And for more inspiration, watch this video.