The kind of job I do most frequently is a blog post, typically around 400 words. Not always. Sometimes I might be asked to write an article many times longer, or dozens of pages of a website. Sometimes it’s just a hundred word as a brief profile.
The actual writing on these jobs is rarely difficult. Though research may take longer, I can typically write and polish 400 words well within an hour. Recently, though, I was asked as part of a job to come up with a single sentence as a strap line for a company. A dozen words, perhaps — and it gave me more trouble than any blog has.
“Less is more”, the saying goes. For the most part, I’ve always considered that glib and inaccurate. Less can be better, sharper, more striking, but it’s still less. I tend to put it in the same category as this or that colour being “the new black” — none of them are factually anything like black.
In this case, though, there’s a literally true slant to the saying — less means more time.
So why should it take more time to write fewer words? And does that mean I’m skimping on the longer stuff?
I’m pretty sure the answer to the second question is no, but I think the context makes it easier. In a longer piece, each word, phrase or sentence supports every other word, phrase or sentence, and no single bit of it has to carry the entire meaning. When you’re writing a single phrase, though, that’s exactly what that phrase must do. It’s all there is and has to do all the work itself. There’s nowhere to hide.
So is this a case where less is more? Perhaps. But, whether or not the effect is more, it’s undeniable that less content can mean more work.