The Elegant Art of Writing Less


Write less. Then write even less.

By Leo Babauta

While I have a fondness for long, information-packed posts, I’m also a big fan of short posts.

Short posts might not pack as much information, and can be less useful … but they pack a stronger punch. Short posts are concise, easily digested, and most importantly in this digital age, they’re spread more easily.

Ask Seth Godin, the master of the short post. His ideas spread widely and rapidly, because he makes a point, and then gets out. He’s a blogging ninja.

Learn the Art of Writing Less, and have a bigger impact with your words. Writing economy is crucial when attention is at a premium. Here’s the Art in four simple steps:

1. Know your core message. State it in 4-5 words before writing. It’s probably your headline.

2. Write with the reader in mind. You can be extremely minimalist by writing something with just one or two words. But how useful is that to the reader? Be sure you’re meeting the reader’s needs, not just being brief.

3. Get to the point. Don’t waste time with a lengthy introduction — readers will skip it anyway. Get to the core message, right in the first sentence. Stay on that point, and finish it.

4. Edit ruthlessly. Go back over your writing, edit out needless ideas, sentences, words. Make sentences more compact. Then do it again, until you’re sure every word counts.

If you liked this article, please share it on del.icio.us, Twitter or StumbleUpon. I’d appreciate it. :)

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36 thoughts on “The Elegant Art of Writing Less”

  • Gina says:

    Thank you! I need to be hit over the head (gently) with this on a regular basis…

  • Chase says:

    amen.

    (I was going to leave it at that, but received this: “Your comment was a bit too short. Please go back and try again.” …so much for writing less.)

    :)

  • Leo,

    I love the minimalist writing style. I work hard to remove unnecessary anything from my posts.

  • Eric says:

    Excellent points, Leo! The true art of writing less can be found in Haiku.Basho is the most famous poet of this art. Three simple lines of words drive home a picture of a moment in time. Give it a try!

  • janice says:

    Good advice for bloggers in the business of disseminating information. Some of my favourite bloggers write posts that are short, crisp and clean – a breath of fresh air. Other posts are full of lyrical language that I read for the pure pleasure and poetry. Some blogs I go to for the warm community exchanges in the comments boxes.

    So many folk assume that all blogs are for the relentless spreading of information; you yourself have used quite powerful, aggressive imagery here to describe the process:

    “Short posts might not pack as much information, and can be less useful … but they pack a stronger punch. Short posts are concise, easily digested, and most importantly in this digital age, they’re spread more easily.”

    There’s a place for everything. Some readers enjoy the process of reading a uniquely expressed piece of humanity, sharing the experience and the connection. Blogging’s not all about gathering and spreading information and not every reader has a short attention span or ‘needs’ something spreadable. I love haiku, but would sicken myself if I read or wrote it every day.

    Great thought provoking post, Leo. Thank you.

  • Great post! Less is more. I love how the post was so succinct and too the point — it really makes the message stand out!

  • I’m a huge fan of short and to the point posts.

    Focusing on one point throughout a post instead of trying to make many points can be much more effective in persuading the reader.

    My perspective is that usefulness is not always a result of length, but often impact.

  • I also love your point about avoiding lengthy introductions. I think, generally, the only people who enjoy those are the ones crafting the post. The reader just wants the goods.

  • Mr. I says:

    Great Post, Leo. Next time, I will try to skip those intros. I am not really good at them and only thing I have tried successfully is starting with quotes! (No awards for guessing that I got it here on WTD!)

  • I think it is also a good tip for beginners like me ! Good start with short posts.. I’ll give it a try… Wish me luck :)

  • Great post and comments. As a new blogger, it’s interesting to see other posters perspectives and how they write. Looks like there’s more freedom than i expected :) :)

  • Tedel says:

    Blogging ninja? How funny.

    Writers can make use of many techniques, writing short, writing much, writing descriptively, writing without descriptions, writing letting the situation describe for you too. As you see, variety is the secret to have a good text in general.

    My .02

  • mauco says:

    Great post. Thanks for making the main points of minimalist writing stand out. Much appreciated.

  • sefcug says:

    That is why I like Twitter.

  • iGoMogul says:

    Thanks for the helpful advice, Leo. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that intros are the toughest thing for me when writing, and while they are still necessary for certain things, I welcome the idea of just getting right down to business.

    Greg @ iGoMogul

  • Liz says:

    We are all becoming experts at writing less as we use Twitter more and more. Amazing how many words you can cut out without losing the meaning of what you say. Most blog posts are better short and to the point.

    On the other hand, I dearly love to dig into a good long news or magazine article, and sometimes get irritated if I can’t find in-depth information. I’m afraid too much “news mcnuggets” out there is only feeding into the short attention span of people today.

  • Jayme Lamm says:

    ha, Chase your comment was funny.

    post well stated and helpful.

  • Sweet Em says:

    When writing, generally for a work newsletter, I do a first draft, count the words, then try to cut the word count by 10% in my final draft.

  • From Strunk and White:

    Omit unnecessary words.

  • janice says:

    From Strunk and White:
    Your whole duty as a writer is to please and satisfy yourself, and the true writer always plays to an audience of one.

  • Another tool for the writer’s tool chest I say. Mixing it up on your blog is a good way of keeping things interesting for as many people as possible.

    Just don’t do it at the expense of what got you your core readers in the first place.

  • I believe it is not about writing less or more, but cutting the things which are just acting as fillers in your writing… things like unwanted explanations and illustrations… etc etc

  • Tabita says:

    One cannot be reminded of “less is more” often enough.

  • fred says:

    This article could be shorter.

  • Oke says:

    Good post, I will use this especially in my next blog post and see how helpful it is for my readers. I am starting to realize that I can get carried away when it comes to writing with the word-count agenda. Post are also good when they get to the point and short. I will give it a real try.

    Thanks!

  • @ Marc: I totally agree with you there. I think mixing it up is often the best way to go. It’s what I try to do.

  • Julie M says:

    This is a great reminder. I always think like I am cheating the reader or being lazy if I create a short post. However, by doing this my posts are far in between. Great food for thought! Thanks!!

  • Manivannan says:

    Great tips! Thanks a lot for sharing.

    Your blog is wroth reading. As a budding writer, I’m finding it very helpful.

    Cheers!

  • Manivannan says:

    I made a typo…it’s WORTH READING not wroth – a proof that i am a budding writer :-)

  • What Janice said. Go up, find it, what are you doing skipping comments anyway? ;)

  • This is exactly what I was taught at university when I was studying Journalism. In the first paragraph get the who, what, where, how, when in!

    Readers do lose interest and so I agree that writing concisely, particularly for articles is much more useful, it can also help to get the message across,. Sometimes it can be easy to get lost in all the ‘packaging’ that the message of the piece is really hard to discover.

    Insightful post!

  • Kian Ann says:

    Hey, i tried typing “Wow.” for your comment to make my point and go, but your blog commenting system said my comment was too short! Haha!

    Anyway.

    Wow.

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