Practical Authorship: Keeping it Brief

Quill_penYou’ll have read, or have been taught about haiku, the highly stylised Japanese three line poetry which has five, seven and five syllables per line.   What you don’t hear is people saying “Oh, haiku are great; I just wish they were a bit longer”.

In fact there are many other rules about haiku, some of which claim to come from the original Japanese rules, many of which are ignored, and lots of which are hotly disputed by aficionados – just take a look at the mess of this Wikipedia page.  But the point stands – there aren’t many folk who try to argue that haiku should be several pages long.


When you undertake a medical consultation, even the most optimistic clinician will agree that only two or three points will be taken away by the patient or family.   If you listen to young people – well expressed in this blog post, you will hear some important truths – “Get to the point”, “I don’t understand some of the words”.  Unless your readers are incredibly clever, and in a trance like state of concentration or flow then why should they be much different?  I don’t get times of quiet to read – I fit it in around other things, including my family and non-work life.  Why would you expect otherwise from your readers?


When you read this paper you don’t think “Oh, but history would have been even more changed if they’d had 1500 words instead of 700”.  On a rather less grand scale, when you read one of our “Fifteen Minute Consultation” papers, do you think “Oh, I wish that had gone on for half an hour?”


So, here is the challenge.  You think of the 2500 words for a paper as a constraint.  You think of 1500 words to write a Fifteen Minute consultation as a constraint.  But what you actually need to do is think of it as a virtue – something which will, like the haiku, make your writing the thing it is. And so this is why, I’m sorry, you can’t have any more words.*

*Except sometimes.   Because all rules are there to break.**

**Except the criminal ones.***


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