Today ends National Poetry Month, and last week I participated in villanelle workshop sponsored by the Kalamazoo Friends of Poetry. Formal poems like villanelles are challenging for me. I’m much more comfortable writing prose poems, probably because I write so much prose professionally, and I also have a tendency to go on and on. Even with a short poem, sometimes a chunk of prose fits the bill, as in my poem in the Spring 2012 issue of The Smoking Poet, which seemed to work best when I spit it all out at once.
But I enjoy the challenge of writing verse, especially when any sort of formal restrictions are imposed. It requires economy: you must
pick and choose your words carefully to make them fit. Learning to do this has come with maturity. Once I couldn’t bear to get rid of any of my precious “children.” Now I can (usually) look at my work with a more jaded eye and overcome that reluctance for the sake of the poem as a whole.
Being economical with words is also an important skill in technical writing and journalism. When writing software instructions, my first impulse is to explain everything, to provide all available information. But if I am to have any hope that my instructions will be read, they have to be clear and concise. So I’ve had to figure out what information is truly essential and what can be dispensed with or covered elsewhere.
Writing articles requires a combination of being concise and being able to let go. Even after paring a piece down to the simplest terms, I’m sometimes still way over my assigned word count. Deciding what details, anecdotes, or quotes to leave out of a story feels a bit like playing God.
In good writing, words are like currency. Wordy writing makes for verbal inflation: each word is worth less than it should be. When words are spent wisely, each one is more valuable.
In blogging, I’ve found other reasons to be concise. For one thing, I know I don’t enjoy reading a screen full of text and don’t want to subject my readers to the same. Even more important, if I don’t keep a post short, I’ll never finish revising it, and if I’m going to post this one while it’s still April, I have to stop here!