Short messages for fast times

I’ve recently finished Roy Peter Clark’s book ‘How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times’.

It’s full of practical advice on ways to write compelling messages with few words. Clark provides tools and practical exercises to help writers develop their short writing skills. He encourages us to examine how successful short writing works, name and practise its strategies, then adapt the strategies for our own purpose and voice.

I appreciated the way that Clark recognises the history of short writing: it has always existed in newspaper headlines, advertising, marketing, slogans, advice columns, and even fortune cookies. The 140-character tweet may be a product of the social media age, but successful tweets share generic characteristics with other forms of successful short writing.

Once concept that resonated for me was Clark’s suggestion that great short writing often combines the predictable with the unpredictable. Writers need to be predictable by satisfying readers’ expectations for the document’s genre and purpose. But great short writing often adds a twist of unpredictability – what Clark calls a ‘tweak’ – to encourage readers to pay attention, laugh, or think.

This book also gave me a new daily mantra, which comes from the Roman poet Horace: Nulla dies sine linea: Never a day without a line (of writing).

‘How to Write Short’ is a great complement to Clark’s other books: ‘The Glamour of Grammar’ (my favourite), ‘Writing Tools’, and ‘Help! For Writers’.

I’ll be drawing on Clark’s ideas for short writing at my October Writing Circle workshops. For more information, visit