This is what happened on the first day I tried to write a novel…
Sat down at laptop. Got up from laptop. Made a cup of tea. Made another cup of tea. Watched an episode of Columbo. Watched seven more episodes of Columbo. Thought about Columbo. Drew a picture of Columbo. Wrote down all the things I liked about Columbo. Turned off laptop. Felt massively disappointed in myself. Wished I was Columbo.
It seems that although I am in the profession of words, I do not have a novel in me. I’d even go as far as to say that I do not have any kind of lengthy piece of writing in me.
And although this does somewhat scupper my chances of getting onto the Booker shortlist (half a page on why I love Columbo is unlikely to make the cut) I don’t think I’ll be throwing my pen in the bin and applying for a job at Homebase just yet.
After all, now is the age of the concise writer. A huge word count can be far less impactful than making your words count. What’s more, writing talent is no longer confined to the three and four hundred page novel but is flourishing in the 140 character format of Twitter.
Admittedly an awful lot of Twitter is so banal that it can be hard to resist smashing yourself in the face with your own keyboard. ‘Going to have beans for tea tonight!! I love beans!!! #beans’ says @CrazySue. ‘#Groan’ says I.
But sift through the drivel, the sauce, the high-horses, the bigotry and the senseless babbling of Premier League footballers and there are truly remarkable pieces of writing to be found.
As Hemingway once proved with his famous six word story, the art of writing has as much, if not more, potency in the short form as it does in the long.
Like Tweets, advertising headlines also have the potential to deliver brilliance in the briefest of forms. And while copywriting will probably never be judged as equal to literature, there are undoubtedly many moments of pure genius amongst the canon of advertising headlines.
While some have criticised Twitter for contributing to a ‘dumbing down’ in terms of literary appreciation, I would argue quite the opposite.
Any writer should relish the opportunity to hone the art of brevity and pithiness through Twitter. To deliver a powerful message in just a smattering of words is a skill that no writer, short or long, can afford to be without.
And any copywriter, who is thoroughly dependant on delivering succinct yet powerful messages, should also treat Twitter as a training ground, a place to perfect their craft and learn from those who have already mastered the technique of concision.
But it now occurs to me that I’ve been typing for about twelve minutes. Surely it’s time for some Columbo.
One more thing. Not really, no more things.
Andrew Boulton is a copywriter at the Together Agency. He is not Columbo.
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