Count Your Words


We now interrupt your regularly scheduled blog posts to bring you something random about word counts.  .  .

Or not so random.

It is no secret that I have read more discussions online the last month than the sum of all discussions before it.  The topics I have been reading and discussing have demanded such attention.  These are important conversations and deserve careful dialog.

However, as I have engaged in these fierce conversations I have noticed hours were wasted on reading superfluous words.  These words were not necessarily angry or hostile.  They were just unnecessary.

Several people publicly posted emails they had sent to College Trustees.  These emails were so long it would take ten minutes to read one of them.  While I perused them I realized there was no need for 3/4s of the words.  I would bet most of the trustees didn’t read past the first paragraph.

I have also read a fair share of blogs that did not exercise the same caution.  I gave up about halfway through, not because the post was long but because it meandered carelessly so that any conclusion was lost in useless stories and prepositional phrases threatening run-on sentences.

Then there are those pesky comments that take up the length of my screen.  Some commenters end up posting four comments in a row, thereby filling four whole screen lengths.  After reading the first comment I quickly realized the person did not know what they were saying, or at least were not saying it very well.

It reminded me of the advice of a seminary professor who said, “If you don’t have it clear and concise on paper, you don’t have it clear in your head.”

It also reminds me of a great Proverb a friend posted.  It is Proverbs 10:19, “In the multitude of words sin is not absent; But he that holds his tongue is wise.”

Now I know not every person who comments online (or even runs a blog) has taken a writing class but I want to make a law requiring them too.  It is in writing classes that you learn your first drafts are complete crap (see Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird”).  The only way to overcome your lousy first draft is to write a second draft.

In the 1st draft you just write everything you think down on paper.  Then, contrary to popular belief, you do not hit send or enter or post.  Instead you go back through what you wrote and delete everything that does not add to your conclusion.  I do this (albeit imperfectly) when I write emails, sermons, blog posts and when I comment on Facebook.  I usually end up deleting a good half of the words I wrote, although sometimes it is closer to 75%.

But doing that is not enough for me.  I also have set important guidelines for word counts.  If it is an email I only use 100 words.  A quick-thought blog like this one, is 800 words.  A more heady post is 1200.  A sermon is five pages single spaced.

This is the only way to guarantee my conclusions are not lost amid a myriad of words.  And it is a great way to exercise humility.  It is also the best way to show respect to your readers and conversation partners.

So I would recommend others do the same, if only so that I can keep up with our important debates in half the time!

After all, brevity is better and for the record this post was 582 words.