I text (oh my, am I really using “text” as a verb? sigh) my 11-year old niece occasionally, plus a friend, my sisters, and my husband. Until the lines die at the Apple store for the iPhone, texting is a laborious thing for me. I use an aged Motorola phone, whose software designers should be sentenced to use their product for three more years. In short, it’s not a device that lends itself to texting.
And that is good, very good. Since texting isn’t easy on this phone, I find myself compressing wordy phrases often. Like so many lawyers, I was trained in law school and in practice to use complicated grammar and words to express complicated ideas. And it’s a habit that creeps inexorably into other writing (see what I mean?).
But texting makes me ruthless in word choice, because I don’t feel like typing one more character than I must on my craptastic phone.
I’m flirting with opening a Twitter account, so that all 37 of the people I know in the world can sign up to read my sage, delightful observations of 140 characters or less. That’s right, Twitter limits entries to 140 characters. (So you know, 140 characters takes you to roughly the end of the first sentence in this paragraph.)
This is a fantastic discipline for lawyers. You must be concise, or you’re cut off. There’s no judge who can grant you an extension. The software doesn’t care.
I’m not alone in seeing the value for writers. The Huffington Post’s Rachel Sklar is all for Twittering, as she discussed in a Washington Post article about Twittering from the Democratic convention:
Sklar loves the haikulike restrictions, “posting my real-time thoughts, impressions and wisecracks without having to worry about fleshing them out for a proper blog post. Working within that 140-character limit — and still managing to get out your observation, your comment, your setup and punch line or what have you — is great training for a writer.”
For those of you who couldn’t care less about Twittering or texting, there’s a wonderful substitute called flash fiction. You don’t even need a computer for it. Flash fiction requires you to write an entire story with a set number of words, say, 100. If the class instructor is feeling generous, you might get 150 words. Few things will make you more aware of word choices. It’s an excellent way to practice Strunk & White‘s timeless edict: Eliminate needless words.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer, writer, and editor who loves new technologies that actually help people get where they want to go in life. She will someday soon achieve iPhone nirvana. She can be reached at jalvey[at]wordsolutions[dot]biz.