Consider 2 categories of writing.
- Category 1: Practical
This is most writing you encounter. Primarily non-fiction to inform or explain. This writing should be clear and concise. Word choice and analogies must serve the explanations or stickiness of the concepts. Authors need to be ruthless in editing, willing to “kill their babies”.
If you can reduce a post to just a few words then it’s wasteful. It is highly compressible. If you cannot compress a post easily, it is efficient. Irreducible. The best example of this is a recipe for a gin and tonic. There won’t be any wasted syllables in the instructions. The compression ratio is 100% since you can’t collapse it into fewer words. Fund managers who quote Greek mythology have ratios closer to 0%. They kill trees when readers just want an Excel screenshot.
The other important factor in practical writing is how insightful or useful the writing is. If something is concise but stupid that’s still bad writing. Good non-fiction will maximize both the insight and compression ratios.
- Category 2: Artistic
This is writing that is just a joy to read. Humor would also fit in this category. There are many ways for this kind of writing to shine. The message can be powerful, revealing, or cutting. The diction, turns of phrase and rhythm all serve the message. It’s also possible the message itself might not even matter. Lyrics to songs come to mind. Most songwriters are not Bob Dylan and yet the artistry can be profound and evocative. The story-telling in rap or Kurt Cobain’s nonsense lyrics come to mind.
These categories are not mutually exclusive. Outstanding writing can straddle these categories. The post I’m sharing this week, in my wholly unqualified opinion, is such a piece. It’s Agnes Callard’s essay Acceptance Parenting.
Callard talks about the “gentle and harsh” critics of modern parenting. She addresses why advice to not helicopter is so difficult to follow. She addresses the Asian “tiger” mom Amy Chua. The story about coming out “trans” has an amazing twist in it. I usually excerpt a blurb, but in this case I find myself wanting to excerpt the whole post. It’s perfectly irreducible.
Enjoy Acceptance Parenting (Link)