December 31st, 2005

Let me have just a few words with you…

Since I’ve been blogging, every now and then I’ve heard from readers complaining to me that—well, there’s just no good way to put this—my posts are much too long.

Recently I received an e-mail on the subject from reader David Foster, which was a model of succinctness:

Your blog is great, but I have only one objection…your posts are waaaay too long. Can’t you condense your thoughts a little?

Therein lies a tale. Allow me to explain. Got a moment? (Or an hour?)

It’s not as though I don’t understand exactly what all these readers are saying. In fact, I would dearly love to be able to condense my thoughts—not just a little, but a lot. It would be a great thing all around.

I’ve noticed that many of the popular bloggers write quick and punchy. They say something in quick little jabs, and then move on. I like to read them, too—easy on the eyes, easy on the time. I think it’s clear that more people are going to want to read something that doesn’t take so much effort to plow through, rather than something so long and—yes, some would even say, so boring.

I’ve tried to shorten my posts, believe me. And every now and then I do write a short post.

But I have to admit that the majority of my posts range from somewhat long to superlong. They take work, and often a lot of that work is research.

So, why do I do it that way? I’ve asked myself that question many times. Am I a glutton for punishment–for both dishing it out, and for taking it?

The answer is as that I just can’t write short and punchy, even if I set out to do so—at least, not very often. I think the reason is that the topics and the questions that most interest me seem complex; and the answers, likewise, complex. I want to explain, I want to explore many sides of a question, and in the process I want to make myself as clear as possible. I want to present the details that so fascinate me and give color and richness. I want to build a case.

Sometimes the details are the very things that drove me to do the research in the first place, and I want to flesh them out. Sometimes it’s the most complete possible understanding I’m striving for (such as with my “change” series). Sometimes it’s the story of an entire life—such as Paul Robeson. How can such a thing be told quickly? The evidence has to be amassed, just as the life has to be lived—slowly.

I think each blogger, each writer, has a niche and a specialty. Sometimes we don’t choose them, exactly; they seem to choose us. And I seem to have chosen this one, or vice versa.

I hope that those of you who stick with me enjoy the journey, and I thank you for your patience and for your fascinating (and sometimes quite thorough!) comments.

There, now–that didn’t take too long, did it?

[ADDENDUM: After reading many of the comments, I want to add two things. The first is that the original message from Mr. Foster seemed to me to be a basically friendly one (and one I even share, in a way). I never thought he was suggesting I turn the blog into a series of pithy sound bites, just some judicious condensation.

The second is to offer a hearty thanks to everyone who expressed appreciation for my posts---whether they read them all or not. If I do meander, I always try to do so with a purpose.]

41 Responses to “Let me have just a few words with you…”

  1. ukok Says:

    I can’t write short post’s either, it doesn’t matter how hard I might try (which admittedly isn’t very hard) I just can’t do it.

    Some of my longest post’s ever have got the greatest email/comment responses though, so somebody’s reading them!

    God Bless.

  2. EddieP Says:

    How can anyone criticize the length of your posts? They’re just your posts, any attempt to respond to someone else’s expectations would change them to someone else’s posts. Humbug

    Your blog lives on your thoughts. You’re not writing for some paper with its editors and agenda. Did you read Mark Steyn’s outstanding essay on the death of the West? Vital, long yet sparse, no way to shorten it.

    To thine own self be true!

  3. ElMondoHummus Says:

    Pleeease. Don’t. Shorten. A. Thing!!

    If I want short ‘n’ punchy, I’ll go Instalurk (Home of the hanging comment and period of ellipsis. Random quote: “Heh”.). I come here for the longer stuff and the depth. So please (no offense and all due respect to Mr. Foster) don’t follow that advice!

    I admit there’s a certain art to being succinct (one that I have trouble following!), but sometimes it’s fun to see the thoughts worked out rather than just the final product. Even if it makes the end product a little long. I like seeing the case built, I like seeing the sides explored. I like the detail. I like the meandering. Look, there are plenty of 3 liner or 2 paragraph folks blogging out there. Please, don’t be another face in the crowd. Contribute to the diversity of the blogosphere and keep doing what you do.

    As an aside, one of my english teachers in high-school chuckled when I told him I actually liked all the digressions Melville took in Moby Dick. Guess the long style suits my entertainment needs.

  4. Cathy Young Says:

    Neo — keep doing what you’re doing. I like the long, thoughtful posts that take the time to explore the issues. No need to pander to shortened attention spans!

  5. tequilamockingbird Says:

    I haven’t read this thread; I don’t see the point of wading through all those messages on the subject.

    I appreciate your long, thoughtful messages. I have some appreciation of the work and thought that goes into them, and I would hate to see them shortcut.

    tequilamockingbird

  6. westbankmama Says:

    For those of us who left formal education, um.. let’s just say MANY years ago, reading your thoughtful posts is a real intellectual pleasure.

    Please carry on.

  7. Megan Says:

    I agree with assistant village idiot. When I read one of your longer entries, I read the whole thing carefully. If I’m not interested, then I don’t read it.

    If I wanted short entries, I wouldn’t come here and I’d only read Instapundit. :-) LOL

  8. benning Says:

    Who really cares if your posts are long-ish? I like ‘em no matter the length.

    When I want a novel, I’m reluctant to settle for a short story. Same here, Ma’am. I like your posts because they speak to me. Not with a nudge. But with a conversation.

    ‘K?

    Happy New Year!

    :D

  9. Seneca the Younger Says:

    Honestly, i’d hate to see you change your posting style, but if you’re really looking for more concision, I’d suggest what I would have written:

    “No.”

  10. Bloomie Says:

    Im new to this blog and must say I like the way you write. Your essays flow and have a certain grace in them. With regards to length I think it all depends on the subject matter or thesis being written. Some subjects require more supporting material than others. I think it also depends on how one wants their site to be percieved. Some folks strive for a news flash sort of appeal, others want an online magazine or column while others want a more thor

  11. Motor 1560 Says:

    I can’t remember who first said that there are two kinds of blogs; Linkers and Thinkers. Glenn is a linker. Bill Whittle, Wretchard and Steven Den Beste are/were Thinkers.

    I like your posts. I can follow your process, hear your voice, weighing, sometimes agonizing over what you are saying. Your are a Thinker and an essayist. Don’t change.

  12. Royce Says:

    Good Lord, the last thing we need are more soundbites.

    Your pieces are intelligent, well written, thoughtful, neither boring nor self indulgent and – most importantly – they can persuade. To persuade someone who is bright and able to rethink things down to first cases you need to take them on a journey. A journey takes as long as it takes.

    You don’t need to write Op-Ed pieces Neo. We’ve got plenty of them… more than we need. Keep writing essays. You’re very good at it.

  13. David Says:

    To avoid any confusion: I’m David Foster, but not the same one who suggested shorter posts. I think they’re fine as is.

    It’s interesting that Bill Whittle, at ejectejecteject, has been able to gather quite a following with the combination of:
    a)very long posts, and
    b)fairly infrequent updates

    …which suggests that the essay form is by no means dead.

  14. SippicanCottage Says:

    Brevity is the role of twits.

    Hmm. That might have been garbled in transmission. I’ll try again.

    Hey Foster: shut yer piehole.

    Now, Neo — as you were saying…

  15. Huan Says:

    can’t see how you can possibly shorten it and still demonstrate the process leading to the conclusion rather than just posting the conclusion derived.

    keep it up.

  16. Van der Leun Says:

    These people who beg for snippits can just go to the vast beach of snippets that surrounds us on either side and pound all that sand until satisfied.

    There’s the Glenn Reynolds snippit salted with Indeeds and other catch phrases which are find for bloggers who are not writers but merely pointers, but so what?

    There’s the snippet, the short form, and the long form. The only blogger I know who is a genius in all three is Lileks, but he weight trains with about 1,245 columns a week.

    Excuse me, Mr. Milton. We like Aereopagetica a lot. In fact we are going to base the Bill of Rights on it. But could you please cut it back to 300 words so we have time to read it. It is cutting into the time we set aside to watch Desperate Housewives.

  17. N. O'Brain Says:

    Methinks he never read Bill Whittle, no?

  18. Ed onWestSlope Says:

    We live in a ‘sound bite’ age. Unfortunately, very little can be properly discussed or solved with ‘sound bites’. It can takes paragraphs to properly define our terms.

    I am also told my Engineering Reports are too long. I suppose I could cut them. But if all they want is half of a report, what are they going to do with half a building?

  19. crosstalk Says:

    Q: How long should a blog post be?

    A: Long enough, but no longer.

    Different people have different things to say and to different audiences. You are doing a great job, as are others who write shorter (and longer) posts. This is a good kind of diversity.

  20. kcom Says:

    Keep ‘em long, keep ‘em strong.

    If you wrote more often and just as long it might be a problem. But you space ‘em out and give people time to digest them before you do the next one. I think that works fine. It’s what sets your blog apart and, as others have said, it’s one of the main reasons I come back to your site. There are plenty of short, pithy blogs out there. Your overall blog theme of change and transformation requires something different. You’re not giving headlines, or even commenting on them, per sé. To the extent you are, you are using them as examples in a discussion of much broader themes.

    I say stay the course, and maybe throw the shorty-short types a bone now and then just to take the edge off. You can never please all of the people all of the time.

    (See, I can’t keep it short either.)

  21. diane Says:

    I enjoy your long posts! Complex topics can be under-served by writing too short and condensing too much.

    By the way, your posts are short and punchy compared to Pundita. It’s all relative.

  22. rickl Says:

    I think your posts are just fine. If I want short posts I’ll go read Instapundit.

    Heh.

  23. Dick Mansuetto Says:

    Neo ….

    There is a story told of a woman writing to her girlfriend also in the “writing” business. At the conclusion of her lengthy letter she added this post script.

    I am sorry this is so long but I was in a hurry.

    I am new to your blog but enjoy your perspective. Have a happy and enlightened New Year.

  24. chuck Says:

    I like your long posts, I admire them, not least because I find it difficult to be anything *but* short and punchy ;)

  25. Lee Says:

    Your long, thoughtful posts are exactly why I read your blog! Do not change. Also your reader comments are excellent – usually the longer the better.
    All the best for 2006.

  26. still realizing Says:

    Yeah, well they said Mozart used “Too many notes” so put that in their pipe and make them smoke it…

    You could use an editor. We all could. Don’t emphasize shortness, emphasize review and quality.

  27. Anonymous Says:

    Your posts are long. Which is why I read here. My posts are way too short which is why I hate you. How can some one write this long and still have time to take long walks that start at 3 p.m. and work their shift in between all the other must do things to grease the wheels that make life go on to the next post and still get home before dark? Maybe you don’t have a husband or a dog to walk and I hate you even more. God save us from good writers and 3 hour walkers. My posts will get longer just as soon as my laundry is dry and I’m done walking the dog and feeding the husband. Happy New Year.

  28. Anonymous Says:

    I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you take a sentence or two out of each essay you have posted and flash it on the screen for five seconds to be followed by another and another and another……
    You could be the MTV News of the blogoshere! That would be GREAT!!!
    The nerve of some people. I am reminded of the scene in Hannah and Her Sisters when the rock star is looking for a piece of art and needs “something big…. don’t you have anything big man”. The artist responds, “I don’t sell my work by the square yard!
    It seems to me that the reason the so called “popular” blogs are popular is that they link to sites such as yours that go into a little depth on a subject. I found your site through Roger L Simon’s blog a number of months ago and have been a regular reader since.
    Don’t sell your work by the square yard! Or in this case by the sound bite.
    Don’t you go changing!
    I mean it.

  29. Promethea Says:

    What Mark (4:57) said.

    I love your blog.

  30. Anonymous Says:

    Neo, Just be yourself. We love you for who you are. Change only that which you want to change. Mark

  31. telesonic Says:

    Neo, you’re doing just fine. Your blog is an oasis of calm wisdom. Wouldn’t want it any other way.

  32. RigelDog Says:

    Your posts are NOT too long! I really enjoy your blog and have no trouble reading through all of it…and yes, I do have a life too.

  33. xbalanke Says:

    FWIW: I like your long, thoughtful posts – it’s one of the main attractions of your blog to me. I can get pithy appetizers on many blogs, but deep, thoughtful entrees are harder to find.

    Please don’t change (as if you could).

    Of course, I didn’t think Steven Den Beste’s posts were too long either…

  34. Frank Martin Says:

    Dont you dare short a thing!

  35. Anonymous Says:

    I sit on New Years Eve day reflecting on last and next years events. Just a nobody, struggling and trying his best. Whats best for me, my family, my country. Have I, can I, will I made a difference. Just a simple man with simple pleasures.
    One of lifes new simple pleasures I found this year was this blog. I indulge myself, here, most everyday. Neo, I will never be able to thank you enough for that. Nor would I ever presume to critic your method.

  36. Ruth H Says:

    Neo,
    Yes, your posts are a little long but they are full of wisdom. I think too many of us want quick fixes and quick posts. Yours are always well reasoned. I can see your thought process at work. I think they’re great. Short and sweet is not always a good way to say what is necessary. (And see, I left my comments short with almost staccato sentences, not nearly as good as yours)

  37. Ymarsakar Says:

    Your blog is great, but I have only one objection…your posts are waaaay too long. Can’t you condense your thoughts a little?

    Don’t worry about it Neo, the problem is with them. Not you. I don’t say to warriors and assassins, “your skills are great, but why don’t you use less ammunition and explosives?”.

    Their skills are great precisely because they know how much they need or don’t need, not the bean counters in the back. If the bean counters want to dictate logistics, that is fine, but don’t blame the grunts when the base gets overrun.

    Logistics is important precisely because it is to be used, not hoarded. Hoarded until it used, just as much as writing is to be read until understood.

    Those with low comprehension scales or short attention spans, those unreflective and disinterested in using words to think for themselves, will always decry and feel uncomfortable reading something good and long. It wouldn’t be long, if it wasn’t good since people wouldn’t read it, making it short. If it wasn’t good, then the length wouldn’t matter, bad is bad regardless of the length. If people displace their dislike for hard thinking and long reading, unto the author, then that is entirely in their sphere of control.

    The logic is quite unforgetable and unforgivable.

    Am I a glutton for punishment–for both dishing it out, and for taking it?

    Personally, I’ve always related that when you approach new thoughts, you take a very comprehensive and logical pathway towards the subject. Perhaps after you have brainstormed and redrafted your thoughts, then you might condense it. THe subjects you write on, are as much a learning experience to you as to your readers. Simply because you are the author, does not mean you always hold ultimate knowledge about the subject you choose to write, nor does it mean you automatically know how to describe it in the most succinct way. Therefore, having obtained that knowledge, you might then be able to condense it but not before. Because to describe the end goal, one must traverse the aeons between beginning and end. And that takes time, even if it all seemed timeless when at the end. To those who don’t have to traverse the void to get the description of the end, they find it inconvenient that your descriptions are not easily understood. Well, nothing worthwhile in life was ever easy. Perhaps if they traveled the Road of Wisdom, they might understand that at the end.

  38. Ron Says:

    Write as you will, Neo, I enjoy someone who speaks their own mind and doesn’t need to write to fit someone’s else notion of what’s proper expression! Ditto what Brad said!

  39. Brad Says:

    I agree with judith. Keep up the good work.

  40. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Thank you for explaining. I had wondered the same thing about your posts. I usually solve it by only reading the 50% of the topics I’m more interested in, but reading those through. I figure that’s what I would want.

  41. judith Says:

    I’m glad you plan to continue on the course you have started. Long, thoughtful pieces are why I check in here–daily.

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About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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