In a famous letter, Blaise Pascal wrote, “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”
His point: Distilling your message to its essence takes time. And, the result is often fewer words rather than more.
This runs contrary to many of the stories that we hear about famous writers who set a daily word count. For example, Ernest Hemingway liked to produce about 400 words per day. The uber-prolific Stephen King aims for 2,000.
The result is a gazillion blog posts commanding us to set a word count and meet it every day.
But like most pieces of writing advice, this one admits of exceptions. In fact, there are several points in the writing process where you’ll benefit from reducing your word count. This is true, for example, when you’re:
- Creating a memorable title for an article, blog post, or book
- Creating a table of contents for a book and aiming for memorable headings and subheadings
- Writing the overview section of a book proposal and expressing the key message of your manuscript in one page, one, paragraph — or even one sentence
- Creating an outline — especially when using Jon Franklin’s fascinating method (only 15 words allowed)
- Creating a framework for your ideas
In short: Whenever you’re summarizing, outlining, or otherwise structuring the major elements of a long piece, forget about word counts. Trying to hit one is pointless and possibly self-defeating.
At other times — when you’re fleshing out the structure or adding details to a narrative — setting goals for daily word counts can be useful.
In other words, less is more. Except when it’s not.
Is that clear?
OK. Enough said.