When we had to write assignments at school and university, the battle always seemed to be figuring out how to stretch a very small idea or premise into something of sufficient length to meet the mandated 1500 words.
This always felt like a kind of punishment to me; having a premise that could successfully be communicated with clarity and purpose in just a hundred or so words, yet being forced to find ways to string it out lest I be punished with the kind of poor mark that would have the teacher express how disappointed he/she was in me.
(Is there any feedback worse than disappointment? You’d rather apoplectic rage over that.)
And, for the most part it was definitely all about stringing it out. I know in theory we were being taught to expand upon our arguments, but I suspect a good percentage of those 1500 words were little more than filler. The kind of waffle you’d expect from someone with very little talent who lucked upon a gig where they are getting paid by the word.
So schools turned out successive generations of people who were trained in the art of saying less with more. That’s why I really, really, really love Twitter. I love it more than any other social medium by a long way. Because writing something passable, let alone remarkable, in fewer than 140 characters, takes some serious effort and skill.
Of course, most tweets are rubbish. Just like most of anything that isn’t filtered or edited is rubbish. But if you follow the right people, Twitter is a joy. Out there are people who use Twitter for more than just retweeting buzzfeed, or tweeting links to longer format pieces. Some people can say everything that needs to be said about an issue in just a dozen or so words.
We used to call these people advertising copywriters. The art of saying much in just a few words used to be the preserve of our industry, and it was a skill you had to learn on the job, over time (remembering that your school years left you very ill-prepared for such an endeavour).
Good (proper) writers also possess this skill, and that’s what separates the good from the hacks: the ability to say more with less. So it heartens me that Twitter is perhaps training an entire generation in the fine art of brevity. Text messaging may well have visited all kinds of linguistic horrors upon us lolz, but perhaps Twitter will be social media’s gift to the written word.
Read The Onion’s tweets: look at the way they can often capture the absurdity of a political debate in eight words. Others not so famous but still worth following manage to encapsulate the tiny joys and humiliations of the human condition in their regular 140-character observations.
It’s heartening. Maybe the next generation of advertising writers will be as good as Tim Delaney, whose headline for Timberland ‘First we stole their land, their buffalo and their women. Then we went back for their shoes’ is, in my humble opinion, the finest ever written. (I’m discounting ‘Lemon’ only because I see it more as a perfect idea perfectly expressed in a single word. That’s cheating, I know.)
Kids learning to communicate via Twitter will develop the ability to express themselves clearly and with brevity. And the best of them will add wit, charm and humour to the mix. Making them the perfect target for talent-hungry agencies. God knows, we have a shortage of talented writers.
And on that note, isn’t it great that writing is back? That the awful fad of the big visual, three-word strapline, tiny logo ad is now only to be seen when agencies are trying to scam their way to success in the ever-shrinking ‘print’ category at awards shows?
The shift from paid to earned, owned and shared has driven us towards a content model. And content generally needs to be well written. By people who can actually write; you know, write more than three words underneath a logo.
Writing is back. And it’s a wonderful thing.
When we had to write assignments at school and university, the battle always seemed to be figuring out how to stretch a very small idea or premise into something of sufficient length to meet the mandated 1500 words. This always felt like a kind of punishment to me; having a…