Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘essayist’

Words per idea?

In Writing on March 11, 2012 at 8:00 am

I’ve determined that these entries should be, give or take,  500 words each. That’s approximately the number of words it takes to fill one page. If you ever want to write a novel, by way of advice, all you have to do is write 500 words a day. In a year you’ll have a 365 page novel, unless it’s a leap year, then you’ll have 366 pages.

I decided on 500 word postings because I hold the notion that an idea, any idea, can be conveyed in 500 words or less. If you need more than one page to make your point you’re in trouble. I am convinced that even the most complex idea can be, indeed should be, limited to a single page.  Most ideas, I think, can be conveyed in just a few sentences–the really good ones, in a phrase, as in, I think, therefore, I am. Or perhaps: In the beginning was the Word.

The thought articulated above, that an idea can be made pithy and communicated with no more than 500 words, took one-hundred and eighty-seven words, counting this sentence.


I consider myself an essayist first. However, five hundred words does not an essay make. Perhaps in grade school it would qualify, but likely not as a grown-up definition. There are fortunately no essay police to ticket the violator, no standard by which one must practice the craft. That is the thing I most appreciate about the form: its unobstructed freedom. Although, I am hesitant to call these postings essays, if a haiku, with it skeletal structure of just seventeen syllables is a poem,  then perhaps it’s not such a stretch.

The essayist’s craft

Is calling the rose a rose,

Plus “rose,” Gerti said.

I’ve read that a blogger should not accept word limitations or rules of count. This makes me happy, as logic would suggest that if I embrace a word limitation then perhaps I am something other than a blogger. That maybe I might even be a writer–but please not a blogger. I was at a party recently and someone asked me what I do. I told them I write essays and book reviews and general musings about whatever strikes my fancy. I mentioned this forum and a few others where my writing appears. Oh, he said, you’re a blogger. I gulped. It is a term I must accept, given this outlet, but that does not make me like it. As I’ve stated previously, the word blog and its deviations, is an inelegant word and looks plain dumb. Too, the context makes me squirm. I am convinced that a good poet would never use that word and I trust the judgement of poets when it comes to words.

With only forty words left me I should summarize. An idea can, and should be made simple–pithy is the goal. I should also like to mention that I believe in the value of constraints, that working within parameters is liberating, as discipline is freedom. And lastly, I reject the moniker of blogger–that, long form or short, an essay is an essay is an essay.

(I’ve run over by eighteen words. Sorry.)

“a self-liberated man…”

In Books, Literature, Writers, Writing on July 11, 2010 at 8:03 am
E.B. White in Maine

E.B. White in Maine

I am working on a long-term writing project–employing the essay as the narrative form–and went to my book shelf to look up a quote. I took down Essay’s of E.B. White.  The line I was seeking was right where I left it. “The essayist is the self-liberated man, sustained by the childish belief that everything he thinks about, everything that happens to him, is of general interest.” I love White. A Google search includes this line: “…one of the greatest essayists of our time.” We, Google and I, are in accord: White was great. I read on to this sentence, a sentence which, I should point out, has garnered me great familial derision: “Only a person who is congenitally self-centered has the effrontery and the stamina to write essays.” I wish I could say that I don’t have the effrontery, nor can I muster the stamina to argue with “one of the greatest essayists of our time.” But I can’t.

And on that note: Please check out my essay at The Millions.