How long does it take to say what you need to say? How long do you go on before you make your point? Do you even have a point to make when you open your mouth or start up at the keyboard?
Honestly, I’d be all over the place answering these questions, because I think it truly depends on the situation. If I’m meeting with the Executive Sponsor of a project I’m running to provide status updates, you can bet for darn sure I know the points I want to make and how to keep it brief. But if I’m off the clock and just hanging out with friends I may just start talking about things on my mind or maybe a vent or two. Something might be bothering me but it may take some talking it through before I figure out what it is. A point? Admittedly I might not even have one…I might just need to get something off my chest or just share how wonderful a day it’s been! Oh, and look at those pretty flowers! And when I start writing, I may type a few sentences or paragraphs but just leave it as a draft for another time. Not sure where the ramblings are going just yet, if anywhere! They might get polished up and meet the public eye here one day or just sleep silent and dormant forever on the hard drive.
Some say in our ever faster-moving world that the handwritten word is a lost art. How often do you receive a genuine, handwritten letter in your snail mail? Email is much more prevalent for most of my written correspondence; I buy stamps maybe a couple times a year. Texting is convenient but it pretty much slaughters our language. Twitter? 140 characters only for your tweet, please, spaces included. Despite the convenience of spell-check, it isn’t foolproof. Anyone ever read things like, “have you lost you mind?” Or, “…I just can’t seem to loose these last 5 lbs.”? I’ve seen “lose” written as “loose” so many times the word almost looks misspelled to me when I type it correctly – and that’s a little frightening. Are we in that much of a hurry these days that we can’t take a couple extra milliseconds to double check our words before we hit Send, Update or Post? Yeah, typos are a pet peeve, but I’ve certainly cranked out a few.
I do admire brevity – those with the gift of clearly articulating their point with few words, while still being descriptive and not so dry and abrupt. And while my writing style here is still gelling, I do appreciate – at least in theory – the very basic method a journalist uses: put the hot content in first, and then more details in descending order of importance throughout. I had a job a few years ago where I had to write weekly project status reports. I wrote them with an assumption that people would maybe read the first few bullet points and not even get to the stuff at the end. [Sometimes as a joke I would add a random line item deeper into the report such as, “The chicken’s in the oven.” Or, “Clowns only eat soup on Sundays,” just to see if anyone would notice! And someone did…once.]
A friend was recently tasked to assemble a document for her department at work. While the specifics weren’t known to me, she kept me posted, jokingly, on how with the help of her manager and peers it quickly swelled to a jaw-dropping 80 pages. Eighty pages? Are we writing a phone book here? Are there any pictures or diagrams in it? Is anyone really going to sit down and read through 80 pages front to back? The way she described the collaborative process was (mutually) laughable. It was as if the document was now somehow perceived to be “better” just because it was longer in length.
I have to wonder…do more words make something more important?
More than likely that monster of a document will sit looking important in a binder on someone’s shelf or just take up shared network space. Perhaps I am wrong and there is a clear plan on how to prune it down and keep it useful and current. It just astonished me how important its size became!
I’ve devoured long books in mere days because they were so intriguing I forgot to eat and sleep. But I admit I lean toward shorter reads: I enjoy magazine articles and skimming news headlines. I tend to use PowerPoint and write a few short bullet points instead of writing a Word document if I need to pitch an idea quickly to work leadership. When speaking with people over the phone or in person for my job search I continue to practice explaining about my experience and what I’m looking for succinctly. Then, if the listener wants to hear more I will add details. Have you ever asked someone what they do for a living and received a 10-minute monologue in return? Talk about eyes glazing over! Sure, if I’m passionate about something I can talk about it ad infinitum, especially if the person I’m speaking with is too – we’re off and running with an engaging conversation! But if the listener isn’t I try to keep it brief and avoid the blank stare. And then I’ll ask THEM a question.
Now, back to the long vs. short document question. I first started thinking about this back in college, when the amount of reading and writing expected of us was far beyond anything I had tackled in high school. Come to think of it, that was probably the idea, actually! I didn’t mind the extensive reading, but when it came time to writing papers my style was brief – briefer than a lot of my peers as I discovered. And, I felt a little small and inadequate sometimes. In one of my classes I remember reading the assigned chapters and writing up a 5-page paper, typed, double-spaced and one-sided as required. But when it came time to turn in our work, I glanced at the guy next to me and saw what looked like 15 or 20 pages. Perhaps my insecurities welled up a little too much, but I instantly thought his paper must be better written than mine. Or that maybe I’d missed an important point in our reading and therefore didn’t cover it.
And then I realized…yes, I HAD read all we were supposed to read, and that I’d said all I needed to say and said it pretty darn well. I just couldn’t add any more fluff to it. College was a couple decades ago, so I don’t remember what that paper was about or the grade I received.
But I do remember that being the beginning of discovering what my writing style is, developing it and learning from others. And, the reminder to be comfortable in one’s own skin, which, gladly, gets much easier over the years. I like that.