The biggest fallacy of writing on the web is the idea that there is unlimited space, and as such limitation of space is of no consequence. That is not quite true. Instead of space, the true limitation of the Internet is attention.
The prolonged throat clearing or using words that make you reach for a thesaurus don’t account for the paucity of attention that commands an economy of words and synthesis of thought, both presented with the crispness of a freshly laundered linen shirt.
A friend recently shared an article about Apple and Samsung’s creative process. The differences are stark, but for me what stood out about Apple was its ability to throw out a lot of work — actually scratch that, throw out great work — to aim for final simplicity. It is not about cramming all the features into the device, instead it is the right features.
Writing too is similar. When you have a minute-and-a-half of someone’s attention, simply putting forward a persuasive argument, a clear and simple story or factual news is creativity. That ability to edit everything down to the very essence in an elegant, interesting and enjoyable way that delights (and informs) is what writing is all about.
131 thoughts on “Creativity”
This hardly started with the internet. I think there is a reason why the phrases go “pay attention” and “lose attention.” Who is more important – the musician giving the performance, or the audience who is respectfully listening?
As I work with communicators – both in “new” mediums and “old.” It’s interesting to see how dissimilar from one another they feel. When, in reality, story-telling is their common trade. Sometimes that story comes through 140 characters, sometimes in a white paper other times in a 15-second video. Being able to better understand the mediums available to tell stories makes us all better at identifying the right part of the story to elevate at the right time in the right context and in the appropriate format. It’s just as important for the community manager to understand how to put subject and predicate together to tell a story as it is for a “traditional” communicator to realize that their role has become less about chasing media and more about being the media. Thanks for sharing your wisdom here, Om. Your experience transcends many of the shiny objects that give us all pause. Proud to say we’ve been connected through most of them over the years.
Amen. There was a chart shared by the Economist not too long ago showing words produced vs. time spent consuming words…the quantity of words produced increased 5X whereas the time spent consuming went up less than 1X. We’re running out of spare moments in the day to consume information…unless someone kickstarts a device that allows us to consume info while we’re sleeping 🙂 http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2012/08/daily-chart-5?fsrc=gn_ep
That chart was very useful. Thanks for sharing. I totally agree with their and your prognosis — too many words, too little time 🙂
Creativity is the ability to think outside the box, to have a lot of good ideas, and then simplify by including only the concepts that are essential to the product.
Less is more.
And we see it in everything from Apple products to Om’s words;)
Amen to that Wells Baum. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Hey Om, I hope you’re doing well – I still keep up with your blog, and I could not agree more with what you put forth in this post. Your post reminds me a lot of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, where they advocate absolute concision and paring down frills until you have the essence of an idea. Likewise, Ernest Hemingway’s strength was his ability to convey ideas and feelings in what he left out, which is so much more difficult then complicating an idea with extraneous words. I think that the multiplicity of digital venues where people can express their ideas comes at the expense of curation — curation being the deliberate & intentional choice of including and excluding words, ideas, images, etc.
Thanks for your kind words. It has been a pleasure interacting with you as well, and I wish there were more on your side of the fence who are like you and have the same sense of civility.
Good thoughts there Natalie and glad to see you are pursuing the written word, which has been your first love 🙂 I think your comments about curation are spot on – I have often thought of curation as an act of editing and shaping/focusing one’s world view.
Natalie’s reference to Ernest Hemingway reminded me of his response to a challenge to write a story in 6 words – “Baby shoes for sale, never worn.” Elegance + Precision = Genius. Thanks for this conversation starter Om. And by the way, I saw a clip of you on Bloomberg news and I plan to quote your comment that “you don’t learn to be an entrepreneur. You’re either born that way or you’re not” in my next book. So please let me know if I’ve captured your sentiments correctly.
Blaise Pascal said it all in this apology: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”
All of this will become moot when the internet is directly fed into our brains. Troll at the speed of thought!
Nice one Amy Dentata 😉
Reblogged this on Dwayne C. Fischer and commented:
A very good post regarding writing. Those who wants to understand more about writing productivity has to understand what is written here.
Very, very true. I recently started my blog and decided to focus on haikus so that I could distill and hopefully make my thoughts and emotions clear (to readers and to myself). Nobody likes information overload!
I usually write 100 word flash fictions on Friday and I try to keep my other posts around 3-600 words. As a follow-up to a photoblog, I posted a short story from a year ago. It is 1000 words and my views are way down today.I knew it was a risk, but after experiencing deja-vu on the trail, I had to mention that I had already written about the place before seeing it.
It is apparent that even my short blog posts get skimmed!
Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!
I was about to look up that Pascal quote, but Lloyd beat me to it. It’s true, it takes skill to combine brevity and eloquence. I recently wrote a 22-part blog, totaling 27,000 words on the importance of brevity. (kidding). Congratulations on being FPed.
This is a great way of putting this. Simplicity. And the Apple metaphor is just perfect. The question is: how do you do it?!
Scratch that! Just realized you did it!
So true. I find myself scrolling down to see “how long it’ll be” after two or three paragraphs nowadays.
For ultimate brevity, I love the six-word genre. If you want to read Homer’s Odyssey or Kant’s 3 Critiques in six words ;-), check here.
I’m challenged when it comes to simplicity, but you did it so beautifully, congrats!
Short + sweet + interesting.
short & powerful! loved your style of writing which is a complete ‘no nonsense’ kind of writing. liked your post immensely! 🙂
On the wall of my AP English classroom, back in the day: “This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back in again.” ~Oscar Wilde
I did a year of flash prose stories. I was quite proud of this one: http://wp.me/p1IMoL-1b
As I read through this post I found myself nodding at every point made — Then I realized that being aware of the art of simplicity is not the same as practicing it…back to the drawing board
Creativity is just like a drama presenting in a best way you think of promoting your ideas. It is necessary when you present your ideas with the world otherwise others will think you are just a novice playing with them.
I think that creativity is important when you have not much content to share with but if you have good content then creativity is less important and your ideas will rock the world.
Reblogged this on arnoneumann and commented:
Weel said. Succinctly said. Space constraints comment reminds me of how the Japanese pay attention to smallness, to detail and presentation. Much more appealing than volume. Advertising gets the concept too….less is more. AN.
Simplicity is the key. Something simplified such as an instruction manual indicates professionalism. When I see complicated language (jargon) I get the feeling that person doesn’t what they’re talking about.
I’m not sure people actually ready very long blog posts. I know I don’t. With my new blog I’m trying to limit myself to 150 words per post. Sometimes it is a challenge, but I think it is also a good learning experience. I also hope not taking a lot of people’s valuable time will encourage them to follow me.
Well said! I confess that I sometimes check the word count before selecting “read more” on an entry. Unfortunately, I tend to forget that rule for my own posts. I think we have the tendency to falsely believe that OUR writing is interesting enough to hold the attention of others, when it should be held to the same standards we look for when reading others’!
Congratulations on being freshly pressed!
Seeing the short length of your article, and each of your paragraphs, made me want to read it, because I knew I could cope with that much! Any more and I’d have skimmed.
I like your succinct point.
Something that I think I will take to heart. This is very true. Your article here was perfect. Information in every sentence. It was…wonderful.
that’s very true! and it takes a lot of talent to do that.
thanks for sharing 🙂
Wonderful post on the need for concision and clarity! The habit must be learned and maintained, because it is so easy to slip into verbosity as a lazy substitute for careful thinking.
Thanks @nicky301. I am glad you enjoyed the post.
This post reminded me of what William Zinsser wrote in On Writing Well about clutter. He says the key to writing is rewriting and tinkering relentlessly to keep the prose taut and riveting. Your post mirrored what you had to say! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!
@aparnauteur that is a book i live by. It has been immensely important for me professionally and all writers should keep a copy. Thanks for your kind comments.
Terrific post and congrats for being “Freshly Pressed”! if I use an example of say, a max 100 word limit per post, I’m about 801 words over in the current post I’m writing. 🙂 I agree, in principle, with your statements. Personally, however, I’m okay with getting passed by on the principle of longevity if I am happy with the result. I think it depends in what genre you’re working too. I’m going to stop here out of respect to you and your excellent summary!
Fantastic post. A very clear point expressed in so little space. 🙂
A professor once told me that every sentence written in a paper should have a clear purpose or meaning – and if it doesn’t, throw it out!
What a great professor, @krysteenastephens
Good advice. Thank you for sharing. 🙂
My pleasure @jasonMinistries
I couldn’t agree more. Simplicity and minimalism
Thanks Christopher Jarvis.
Love love love this post!!
Well put and to the point. Over-sharing is one of my biggest flaws as a writer. I really only began to notice this in graduate school when I would set out to write a paper then spend a whole day going over, paring it down from 20 pages to the requested 8-10.
I do this with nearly every professional email, blog post, basically everything I write. I understand the importance of throwing out redundancies, only keeping what is needed. It always makes what your trying to convey so much more powerful. I’m just naturally bad at it, so, I adjust, go against my own grain an the attempt to be better.. That was waaaay longer than it needed to be 🙂
@atheaudaciousblogger — thanks for the kind comment and sharing your thoughts. I am sure more you right the easier it gets.
“The prolonged throat clearing or using words that make you reach for a thesaurus don’t account for the paucity of attention that commands an economy of words and synthesis of thought, both presented with the crispness of a freshly laundered linen shirt.”
Doesn’t this argue against your essential point, or were you using irony 🙂
@highshelfbooze What word here made you need for a thesaurus, or did it fail to make my point in 40 words or so. Just wondering.
Its more the economy of words thing. 40 words was way too much for what you had to say.
I think the second paragraph needed a bit more work. What would EBW think of mixed tenses?
An interesting observation. Sometimes I worry that my posts are too short, sometimes that they are too long…but really it is all about the quality.
Love this post.
I am afraid a good friend labeled me a “real estate novelist” – since then I try using less space, editing harder.
Your post will help slow my lapses & relapses.
I agree, a simple writing that is able to express the essence of what the writer wants to say is the best read.
What a great post! It always amazes me how so few people appreciate the immense amount of work that goes into creating something simple and elegant, like some of Apple’s devices. Or a quality piece of writing. Or a beautiful artwork.
But I think the issue with information overload has been around for longer than the Internet. I can think of one example from Herbert Simon who, in 1971, expressed a concern that “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention”. I’d say it’s more a 19th/20th Century problem, and the Internet has merely provided it with a high-octane boost.
I like Seth Godin for this. Most of his posts are 200 words or less and yet he conveys more meaning and information than most can in 1000 words. A true craftsman.
I use to work in an environment where we were constantly reminded – maximum of meaning, minimum of words – somehow I lost sight of that in my own writing. As my editor helps me part with every superfulous word of my novel – I press the backspace key with daggers in my eyes but when I re-read what she has helped me get to – well – I’m more than glad. Your post is great and I love the simple look of your blog. I’m glad I found you on freshly pressed.
i can do this..
Hence, the genius of Twitter.
Oh yeah, keep it to the point and, short and simple.
If a post is too long, then I just ignore it and go elsewhere.
A posting, twice the size of yours here, would be the maximum I would ever read.
A very interesting post. ^-^
Wow! A fabulous post, thank you!
POWERFUL READ. THANKS YOU FOR THIS!
I shall probably be the only person here to disagree (slightly).
I am prepared to read a long blog post, If it’s witty, if it’s interesting, if the beginning intrigues me, then I will stick with it.
I am sick to the very back teeth with the three second attention span of the general population. Hemingway might have been concise, but he was not brief. Many of our best, and most famous, authors have been lengthy in their writings.
They described people, places and events in far more detail than is ever the case these days. We expect everything in bite-sized chunks.
Our children cannot cope with anything of any length and when we watch a programme on the television, the narrator recaps after each ad break – I can remember what happened three minutes ago and do not require such repetition.
If someone is not interested they will switch off or go away.
Brevity may be brilliant for Apple’s devices, but it is not the sole criterion for reading anything, including a blog post.
Congrats for ‘freshly pressed’. Agree as well as disagree with your contention but rather like the way you’ve put it. Creativity has a vaster syndrome which may begin as an elaborate ailment and boil down to a concise itch!
I agree with you
I wish your advice was as easy for me to take as it is to read and understand. 🙂
Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!
Write like Camus.
“what stood out about Apple was its ability to throw out a lot of work — actually scratch that, throw out great work — to aim for final simplicity. It is not about cramming all the features into the device, instead it is the right features. ”
Two major differences between Apple culture and that of individual bloggers. At Apple, knowing your “great work” is going to be thrown out inculcates an understanding of how that process is going to go. If you get deeply attached to an idea or iteration others don’t want, tant pis.
The second difference is related to the first…no editors! Far too many bloggers yammer on, drunk on the sound of their own voice — and with no editor hitting the Delete key for them. So the “right features” remains wholly subjective and most people are quite unwilling or unable to put their own blog posts through the same rigorous editing process that’s normal at Apple and which produces — at the end of it all — excellent results. I see a lot of blog posts that are merely logorrhea.
One thing I’ve noticed with my blog is that some of my closest family members haven’t read it and yet I am having visitors from such far flung places as India, Romania and even Morocco. What does that say? I find it a little disconcerting. I am wondering if the time is going to come where they say: “but I didn’t know” and my reply, if I’m around to give it, will be “but it was out there on the world wide web”. You just didn’t bother looking.
That is a really good point. Maybe something I should tell myself when I look down at my word count and think that it is a little low.
Reblogged this on bliaher.
I feel exactly the same way…wow.
A well written and well reasoned article. Congratulations!
I am in agreement with Pat, I wonder if she is also a baby boomer.
Today, communication is reduced to a bit sized ‘tweet’ which is a wonderful means of teaching brevity but much is lost. The readers ability to stay with an author, respect the sweat, blood and sleepless nights enmeshed in the work is a gift to all who write.
I am concerned that great books can be overlooked when attention spans are no longer than a scan.
I pushed through the first one-hundred pages of Larry McMurty’s Lonesome Dove — the part about the pigs — only to be swept away by a lovely sweeping novel.
Not all writers are concise or perfect… I like to feel the human being in the effort.
Thanks ~ Great subject !
In an attempt to understand my place in this vast universe called Internet, similar thoughts occurred to me. Just thinking about it make me anxious and depressed. I still feel that way when I read anything about how to make money blogging. I really don’t want to riddle the web with nonsense. Congratulations on a well-written piece.
Very interesting perspective. It begs the question though:
‘What is this life if full of care
We have no time to stand and stare?
Thank you for that. It’s nice to know shared sentiment.
Short, concise and powerful – loved it 🙂
Excellent post. I find that my short, to the point posts get more traffic.
As a Southerner, we know how to grab your attention fast but we also know it isn’t worth telling if it is done in a minute and a half. That is not story, that’s an insult! hahahaha
To save time on that a last comment, I left out the “a” did you notice? 😀
I’m impressed how the post itself exemplifies your point. I’m working on the art of brevity myself.
Good advice for something I am sometimes guilty off.
Well done. (I’d say more, but I don’t think it’s necessary.)
Reblogged this on A Guy Named Jet and commented:
I’m definitely going to keep this in mind when I’m writing!
What a great post
Convincing post, something I will certainly remember as I start my writing.
Reblogged this on janezzz and commented:
Why I shouldn’t elaborate too much
Reblogged this on Paradoxicalism in Real Life and commented:
That’s why I love cartoons-they are succinct, should get the point across in 7 seconds and make you smile in the process.
I love your point. Some blogs I read I start to glaze over because the writer is attempting to impress by over the top vocabulary. I want to see a blog written in the way and style of how they speak or live there life. Not to impress readers about how many huge topics they seem to be an expert on…. be honest on who you are.
Too true. Our attention span is becoming shorter and shorter. It is affecting other areas of our life, not merely our use of internet.
My blog is all about creativity and the written word, so even the title of your post appealed to me. Typing less and saying more. Exactly.
After browsing more of your site, I decided to add a link to my Brilliant Blogs list so others can enjoy your concise commentary. Trust this is okay with you.
Thanks for sharing your perspective,
Now I will never write again.. 😉
Reblogged this on World of the Southpaws and commented:
Writing Well for Blogs – reblogged from Om Malik
very true indeed… writing is an Art taht must come from the heart and mind simultanoulsy : Short is sweet and simple is clear; While knowledge is beneficial,
attention is precious.
Yes! It’s not “dumbing it down” – but getting through and getting it to stick. Well done!
What a great, yet basic thought process. I am brand new at blogging and i’m learning the basics. Thanks for the insight here. I’m in broadcast news and always see brevity as necessary due to time constraints but it’s interesting to see it here as well. Feel free to check out my blog and give me feedback as i’m new.
Sorry for the shameless plug here! I’ll be following your blog going forward, this is good stuff!
well, said, in my blog posts I aim for 300 words. just finished an entry for the 3 minute fiction contest on NPR (600 words). but my new favorite genre is the 6 word story. brevity is the soul of wit.
I write short stories, and I have honed my stories down to the bone. http://www.Cop-A-Squat.com
Spot on post and congrats on the Freshly Pressed.
Reblogged this on Orangecountyreos's Blog and commented:
This says it all…short and to the point!
Very good point…saying more with less is always a positive with writing,well in my mind anyways..
Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.
Great post – but I think the main issue is the context of the post. Sometimes you cannot condense something down to next to nothing just to attract readers with a short attention span. I like to read posts that are interesting to me – the length is irrelevant.
Congrats on being Freshly Pressed
That is my greatest challenge with writing a blog. I will add short comments throughout the week. Many of the deepest, heart-centered posts I have written are the longest posts. It can be tempting to edit ad nauseum, and each word is evaluated carefully to ensure it has value and makes a contribution. I am always in progress.
Absolutely! Great writing is about recounting the truths in as few and simple words as possible.
Hi Om,what you said work so well with children too.if you can hold the attention of a tween or a teen through your words,you are right on the track and it is only possible when it is crisp, concrete and clear.verbosity is out.Simple and engaging are in.
Hey Om, succinct post. Cool theme too!
I definitely agree that there is an art to getting your point across in 90 seconds or less. In many cases, that is all I spend on any one page.
Still, I like to think (hope?) that there are those looking to invest in the long form- to spend the time to consume a well crafted piece that builds to the end.
The analogy in my head compares the delicious Dagwood-style sandwich that I made for lunch (and quickly scarfed) to the aged tenderloin that I slowly cooked over perfect coals on Sunday afternoon.
Love this, love this, love this. I have been writing my blogs short and to the point. The feedback I’ve been getting is that people like that I get right to the point. But recently, I was thinking that maybe I should change that. Thank you for this! Exactly what I needed to read today!
I stroked out two years ago. Now attention span is much shorter. That does not keep me from taking in great thoughts; it does make me appreciate incision. Thanks.
Ah well..summarizing. Always was a problem in medical charts when I had to fill those in with patient histories…I suppose it’s a hard habit to break ;). Concise and good truth here. Had to poke fun though..
Reblogged this on deidre's thoughts.
The lack of attention towards offerings of greater substance could be argued as a symptom of today’s lazy attitude. Therefore the readership is at fault, not the writers. Still, what is the use of continuing to prepare banquets if all people want are hamburgers?
Two words: SO TRUE!
Wow you’ve had a lot of sides for a technology argument on here.. My point, scores apple it’s about value for money, and my blog is about life, kind of shocked to see a blog about technology, everyone’s different! P.S. my stupid Macbook keeps using autocorrect (Hate apple why do I have a Macbook) ?
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