A while back, a good friend informed me that I was not really a blogger. Bloggers, she explained, write short and pithy commentary. You, she explained to me, are an essayist. She also suggested (or maybe I inferred) that I was in danger of exhausting my readers by being so long-winded and unpithy.
She’s right. I suffer from a severe case of op-ed columnist envy. I want to do what they do. But I know better. I took a writing class in which I learned that the average length of a blog entry should be between 400 to 600 words. Mine averages about 1,000, and, that’s only because I force myself to cut out about 200.
The truth is that I’ve been trying to write shorter pieces. No matter what you call my writings, I realize that in our busy lives, short and pithy would be preferable. But, no matter my intention, I sit down at the computer, start writing, and by the time I’m done, all of my pieces are about the same length: long!
So, I wonder, is my brain simply hard-wired to spend a certain number of words on any subject that happens to interest me enough to write about it? Or am I just naturally promiscuous with words? I am reminded of my friend Liz and how she teased me about my wordiness. I often asked her to edit my legal document and every time I brought her a brief to review, she would adopt a little smirk as she unsheathed her red pen with an exaggerated flourish. “Oh, this is going to be fun,” was written all over her face.
The irony is, that as much as I love writing, words and playing with them to get my idea across, I am word-challenged when it comes to puzzles and games. Put me under a clock, and my heart starts beating fast and I draw blanks. The same aforementioned Liz would often come into my office after lunch and propose a 5-minute session of Word Challenge wherein you see how many words you can make from the letters of another word. I would groan, “But, Liz, you always win!” She told me I just needed practice. So I’d try and after 5 minutes, she would have 20 or more words, to my 5 or 6. She’d be cool as a cucumber, and I would be sweating and agitated.
My inadequacies as a wordsmith have been most poignantly revealed by a game I play with friends which we call “Hell Edna.” The game was a family favorite of the Webster’s (who call it “Only Eddie”) and passed on by one of the family members – our friend, Pam. The game begins with two columns of, let’s say, eight letters in each column, thereby making eight rows with two letters in each row. The goal is to make a well-known two-word phrase, geographical location, or name of a celebrity wherein each word begins with one of the letters. Accordingly, with an “e” and an “o,” you might answer with Eugene, Oregon. With a “m” and a “j,” you could respond “Michael Jackson.” Or with an “h” and an “e,” you could try to get away with “Hell Edna.”
After providing answers for each row, players go around the circle revealing their answers for the first row while the other players decide whether the answers are appropriate ones. You have the opportunity to argue in favor of your response if the players initially believe that your well-known phrase is, in fact, unknown – pure fabrication. As you might imagine if you’ve ever argued over a word in Scrabble, some contentions are advanced more strenuously than others. (And in case you figured out that the name of the game references a really ridiculous argument in favor of “Hell Edna” as an answer, you are right.)
And did I mention that it is a timed contest? Two or three minutes to think up matches for the eight combinations??
Oh, how I remember the first time we played this game, after a couple of hours in the company of our never-empty wine glasses! It may surprise you to know that while wine may loosen the tongue (making the arguments more interestng), it doesn’t cause names, phrases, and geographical locations to leap to mind. In fact, I think the magic grape shelters them from discovery as they play hide and seek in a brain already stressed by the seconds ticking by (both chronological and current).
Anyway, that first time, I was struggling. I keep thinking, I’m smart, I’m a lawyer, I’m a writer, why can’t I do this??? I even won a blue ribbon in the 1971 Interscholastic League spelling competition. I should NOT be agonizing like this. Why am I putting myself through this torture? Finally, my frustration just welled up inside and I cried out tearfully, “I KNOW words, I REALLY do!!!!!”
And, of course, it was such a ludicrous statement, and we were so under the influence, that everyone cracked up and that line became one of those infamous ones that is oft-repeated when someone, particularly me, says something particularly intelligent, or well-worded. The gals exchange a meaningful look, nod and smile, with someone, usually Jill (not to name names) saying, “She KNOWS words!”
So maybe the trick to writing shorter entries is to adopt the competition approach. Keep a timer nearby and allow myself only so much time. No more luxuriating in finding the right word, no more thesaurus.com, no more long breaks to let it all simmer a bit. Just sit down and write like a woman with her hair on fire!
But let me just say this about that: I ain’t writing this blog to torture myself. You, poor readers, will just have to bear with me if you can. Hell, Edna! I KNOW words and I’m going to use each and every one of them!!
(Copyright 2010 by Jeffee Palmer)