This essay is meant to be light and entertaining. Don’t read too much into my "woe is me," style. 🙂 Just messing around with my thoughts. That’s fun sometimes, ya know? If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, make sure you read the Steinbeck passage, his words are amazing.
What’s your business writing style?
On Being Laconic
Hello, my name is Lisa, and I am a chronic laconic writer. In the winter of 1998, my manager told me that I was laconic. I had no idea what laconic meant at the time and took her statement as a compliment. I looked up laconic and discovered that it meant I used very few works. My boss was remarking on my style of writing business reports and presentation materials. She preferred communication that, to me, seemed a bit drawn out and academic. In my defense, I think the attention spans of the leaders whom I was trying to influence were also laconic.
I am a laconic writer and on some level I am proud of my economical use of words. Why take up paragraphs when a sentence will do just fine? Why use pages when well-crafted bullet points help people zoom in on the most important messages? Poets make big and layered impressions with their few words. Even a tiny poem can tell a story. Laconicism is not a bad style when working on a 700-word article or an executive summary explaining why the company should scrap performance appraisals. Leaders have told me that my writing is clear and well organized.
I began writing my first book in 2003. It was to be 60,000 words, which would become a 250-page book. The task was daunting; how could I ever fill those pages? Each chapter went through many blossomings. A day before I was to send in the manuscript I found myself 3,000 words short and thought I could not write another sentence. I was wrong, of course, and found the words. I have written five books and struggled to fill each one.
I wonder if being laconic is a sickness or a learned habit. Does my mind think differently than other, more descriptive writers? And descriptive is not the right word for it either. I don´t know what is the opposite of laconic. Long. I think it might be something a bit more than habit, something about the way my brain is wired. I believe this because I have a hard time reading the anti-laconic style of writing. I can take and appreciate a little bit, but books full of longness are tough to get through. I admire the craft involved in a lovingly composed paragraph, I do. When I think about extraordinary anti-laconicism, a passage in Steinbeck´s The Log from the Sea of Cortez comes to mind:
The wind blew so and the water was so cold and ruffled that we did not stay ashore for very long. On board, we put down the baited bottom nets as usual to see what manner of creatures were crawling about there. When we pulled up one of the nets, it seemed to be very heavy. Hanging to the bottom of it on the outside was a large horned shark. He was not caught, but had gripped the bait through the net with a bulldog hold and he would not let go. We lifted him unstruggling out of the water and up onto the deck, and still he would not let go. This was about eight o´clock in the evening. Wishing to preserve him, we did not kill him, thinking he would die quickly. His eyes were barred, rather like goat´s eyes. He did not struggle at all, but lay quietly on the deck, seeming to look at us with a baleful, hating eye. The horn, by the dorsal fin, was clean and white. At long intervals his gill-slits opened and closed but he did not move. He lay there all night, not moving only opening his gill-slits at great intervals. The next morning he was still alive, but all over his body spots of blood had appeared. By this time Sparky and Tiny were horrified by him. Fish out of water should die, and he didn´t die. His eyes were wide and for some reason had not dried out, and he seemed to regard us with hatred. And still at intervals his gill-slits opened and closed. His sluggish tenacity had begun to affect all of us by this time. He was a baleful personality on the boat, a sluggish, gray length of hatred, and the blood spots on him did not make him more pleasant. At noon we put him into the formaldehyde tank, and only them did he struggle for a moment before he died. He had been out of the water for sixteen or seventeen hours, had never fought or flopped a bit. The fast and delicate fishes like tunas and mackerels waste their lives out in a complete and sudden flurry and die quickly. But about this shark there was a frightful quality of stolid, sluggish endurance. He had come aboard because he had grimly fastened on the bait and would not release it, and he lived because he would not release life.