After spending yet another painful weekend pruning over 4,000 words or roughly fifteen pages from a complex essay that took over a month of previous weekends to craft, I am becoming increasingly puzzled by and frustrated with the stringent word count restrictions imposed by literary and academic conferences and writing competitions and am wondering for the umpteenth time in my literary career…why is brevity so universally celebrated? And when exactly did less become more?
In a world of tweeting, texting, cinquains, and the widely popular flash fiction and short shorts, the art of epic articulation is no longer appreciated and extolled. As writers, we are called upon constantly to synopsize, abstract, and shorten our work. Most literary journals and conference calls for submissions set essay and story limits of 2,000 words, which not only make comprehensive analysis or lavish storytelling impossible but also, quite frankly, cramp my style. Heck, my list of works cited typically comprises 1,000 words alone.
The length parameters of most submission opportunities are about a third of the critical essay and creative prose minimum page requirements in graduate English and Creative Writing programs. Weeks and even months of research and writing are required for a 15- to 25-page paper or narrative of “publishable” quality, which immediately needs to be condensed to a scant seven pages in order to meet the submission guidelines for publication or presentation. Any writer who has attempted to abridge creative prose or an essay that drastically knows well the instability of what remains once its structure has been so severely compromised.
In the end, with just twenty hours remaining before my target conference submission link was closing, I read the culled fragments of my original 6,000-word Bakhtinian analysis of Wilde’s only novel and decided against submitting it. The part was simply inferior to the whole. Call me verbose if you must; I still believe more is more.