Margin Notes



In How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times Roy Peter Clark advises “if you want to write long, begin by writing short.” This really sparked my thinking on short writing mentor texts that can be used in the service of writing both short and long.

According to Clark: “If your goal is to write short and well, you must begin by reading the best short writing you can find. Start by keeping a ‘commonplace book,’ a notebook that contains treasured short passages from your favorite authors next to bits and pieces of your own writing.”

Christopher Johnson, author of Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little, recognizes that short writing reflects its own conventions—the strategies that make very short messages effective, interesting, and memorable. He explains that “if extended prose writing is like a painting or illustration, microstyle is like graphic design. It employs a subset of techniques used in more detailed arts, and because it serves different ends, it involves techniques and conventions of its own.”

Spending time close reading short writing is time well-spent for writers. Reading short writing through this lens reveals what Roy Peter Clark describes as “the most strategic moves practiced by the best writers.” We grow in our craft (both short and long) when we study the writing of others, name the moves we notice, imitate them, and adapt them to make them our own. Samples of short writing can do a lot of heavy lifting as mentor texts. Students can explore several examples in a short period of time and focus on a specific craft move or element. Their noticings can then be applied to their own short writing or incorporated as a component of a longer piece.

Christopher Johnson captures this practice in his mantra: “Pay attention to the language around you in the spirit of appreciation and curiosity.”

Here are some excellent examples of short writing I’ve discovered (or rediscovered) recently that invite writers to reflect on the craft moves that get, in Johnson’s words, “a lot of idea out of a little message.” I’ve captured many examples from these texts in my own writers notebooks to use as micro-mentors.


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