Never Mind The Quality, Feel The Width!

by DavalosMcCormack on November 17, 2010

Want to write a book? Then use a pen. It’s the law. OK, maybe it isn’t the law but it should be. Not because I am against technology, but because I love good writing.

How we write

Let me explain. There’s an irony in the fact that more and more people are writing books, but fewer and fewer people are reading them. There’s a number of reasons why. First, we’re all busier than ever and have less time than ever for reading – plus we have so many more options available to entertain, engage, educate, amuse or distract us, everything from iPads and iPhones to Droids and movies and TV and anything else you can think of On Demand 24 hours a day.

Who has the time

Second, books are too damn long. Seriously. Go to any bookstore and you can get a hernia just picking up the latest blockbuster. These days I’m afraid to read in bed because if you drop off while reading and drop your book on your head you can wake up with concussion! Many times I’ve picked up a book thinking “This looks interesting”, only to put it down when I saw it was six inches thick and more than 800 pages long. I just don’t have that kind of time. I mean, who does?

My idea of a good book is one that fits into the inside pocket of my jacket or coat pocket so that I can carry it around with me and take it out to read it whenever I have a few minutes to spare. Just because a book is light doesn’t mean it’s lightweight. Many great works are slim volumes. Their power comes from the quality of the writing not the quantity.

It’s too easy

The reason so many books are so long is that it is so easy to write them. Anyone can sit down at a computer and just start bashing them out. It’s a no-brainer. Sadly that is how many of them read. Authors don’t even have to spell-check these days, the computer does it for them. It even offers advice on grammar.

But just because it’s easy to write a book, just because you can write a book, doesn’t mean you should. Just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, you also can’t judge literature by its length. Longer is not necessarily better. A bad book only gets worse the longer it goes on.

Wrong not write

How we should really write

So, here’s my proposal. If you want to write a book you have to actually write it. You have to do it by hand – though of course we’ll make exceptions for people without hands, they can use their feet. Ever read Christy Brown’s  tome, “My  Left Foot” it’s only 183 pages!  This means every word, every sentence, every chapter, has to be written by hand.

This does a number of things – it forces people to think twice before putting their thoughts on paper. It will also force them to think harder about how many of those thoughts they  put on paper. The more thoughtful the process, hopefully, the more judicious the writer will be about how much they write.

This also applies to the editing process, every edit has to be by hand. Every change, every deletion, every addition, has to be done by hand. This may not improve the quality of the writing but it will almost certainly make it shorter.

I know there are always exceptions to this plan. There will always be writers like Herman Melville, Marcel Proust and Thomas Mann who get so caught up in their prose they can’t help themselves. There will also be writers like Charles Dickens who get paid by the word so have an incentive to write more. But many others will take the hint and keep it short. Or at least shorter.

Not only will this benefit lovers of literature but it will also boost spending on pens and paper. It might also stimulate spending on medical services for injured hands caused by too much writing.

We need to end the trend where people think that just because they have an idea, and just because they have a computer that they should write a book. Wrong on both counts. And everyone knows two wrongs don’t make you write.

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