There is beauty in the art of long-form writing. In the rush of modern society, we must not forget this.
One of my friends always likes to tease me about my writings. From his perspective, they are far too long and my thoughts are too drawn out. I am well aware that brevity is not my strong point but at the same time, I also know that the content I provide is written in a manner meant to benefit my readers. I edit my articles roughly four times before I publish them and more often than not, my final product is very different from what I start with, including being somewhat briefer.
I also understand that although I am a writer, I am one of billions of people on this planet. More importantly, I am one of hundreds of thousands of individuals who is publishing content on a regular basis. While I have some hubris in feeling that my thoughts are clearly worth sharing, hence why I publish them, I am also not so arrogant to presume everyone needs to be consuming every single piece I author.
What plagues me about the teasing of my blog posts than is what I have seen rampantly afflicting our society. We, whether due to attention deficit, an over-abundance of available content, or the decline of importance placed in the written word, have reached a place of new demands. These demands often mean we are only willing to spend a few minutes on a tab before clicking away, that something online has a certain word-count before we lose focus, and that we seemingly treat long-form writing with hesitant disdain. While I understand the art of the published word still matters, increasingly if you want to survive in grabbing an audiences’ interest, you must limit your content in exchange for length.
The decline of long-form writing to accommodate the current generation is depressing. Thank god that Jonathan Swift didn’t have only 2,000 words to pen A Modest Proposal. I am glad the civil rights movement did not hinge on Dr. King scribbling less than 1,500 words from his cell in Birmingham. Our world is better because Hitchens never had to condense an expose to be summarized in 140 characters or less. While I understand times change, this is not me pining away for some nostalgic version of past literary precepts where written long-form had greater significance. No, this is a frustration about our current society’s seeming inability to enjoy writings unless they come under a certain word count.
I am not saying we need to return to a form of Dickens’ style writing where we are paid by the word. I acknowledge that in the diverse world of opinions present in our ever growing knowledge community, that there is a need for the right amount of content and brevity. Still not every piece we consume should be short-form. Not everything of worth must be a listicle and including gifs or bullets should not be the standard we utilize when publishing. There are places for each of these types of writing. In honesty though, we need to move away from purely short-form reliance if we are to reclaim the art of writing meaningful pieces for the benefit of society.
My issues with our inability in focusing on longer pieces is when we force every piece of literature to be condensed into a shorter variety, we begin losing bits of significance. Far too often I witness educated pieces collapse under the weight of their own brevity. In the rush to fit the needs of our current generation of readers, strong ideas are floundering under the tyranny of the short-form dictator.
It is important as I write this diatribe to recognize I am 24. I have grown up surrounded by social media and directly experienced as it has transformed our reality. I have witnessed firsthand the slow, rolling decay of print media and watched the birth of the online periodical. I have mourned as the giants of writing have faded into obscurity, not necessarily dead but not truly alive either. Instead these once gigantic monoliths of society now begging to fit into the current model of relevance. I have noted as journalism has become further and further crowdsourced, as opinions have crept into this mode of writing, and as the once long-form exposes have slowly withered into smaller shock-pieces. The decline of long-form has occurred as I have watched serious writing wither away in our society.
My concern with this, as with many other pieces presented by our ever growing knowledge community, is that the access to the great amount of content being produced has devalued the worth of thoughts. With everyone fooled into believing that their Facebook statuses are now the equivalent of memoirs and that Twitter is the new breeding ground for ground breaking thoughts, we are losing much. Not everyone should be a storyteller, not every story is worth telling, and not every thought is worth reading.
Conversely, not every thought or story should be rushed. While I understand tailoring our writing to the audiences at hand, we must be careful that we are not over simplifying the messages we are working to spread. It is not that nothing beneficial ever came out of a short-form essay, it is simply my heart hurts knowing the lack of attention we are willing to spend working to understand substantial pieces of literature. There is a beauty in the long-form essay and significance in thoughts that span more than just a few paragraphs of content.
There is power in words. The pen has always been said to be mightier than the sword. I wonder what significance writing will have though when the pen has now become a nub of its former self and even the sword is shortened to the dagger. In the rush to condense every piece of writing, we lose significance; significance that could be the difference between something life changing and something merely moment stirring. This is not an admonishment of short-form as much as it is a request for a greater amount of long form, and for us as a society to seek to reclaim this form of writing.
In a generation when everything must happen instantaneously and life moves as quick as we can Tweet it, there is importance in pausing, taking a step back, and committing significant time to a task. Whether this means we as authors spend more time cultivating long-form content or we as readers do not dismiss a piece simply because it cannot be summarized in three bullet points, the rebirth and emergence of long-form does have a place in our current reality. Where our world is made up of thoughts, some deserve more attention than just a few moments.
Photo:Flickr/Jain Basil Aliyas