Great Writing Advice

Posted on April 23, 2022


By David Ettinger

“Brief” Writing
Being a newspaper journalist for just under 20 years, I understand the concept of being limited to a specific word count and trying to cram as much detail into that limited space as possible.

As a blogger, I also try to keep things short, limiting myself to 750 words, unless content absolutely dictates more. There is much to be said about writing as briefly as possible.

Great Writing Advice
The idea of brevity crosses over creative lines, and for me, I received my greatest writing advice from one of the all-time great movie directors of American cinema.

Back in 1998, the American Film Institute named its 100 all-time greatest American films, its findings televised in an entertaining 3-hour program featuring interviews with some of the industry’s greatest figures.

Among them was the brilliant director Steven Spielberg, who was asked to comment on the No. 2 movie on the list, the magnificent Casablanca. Naturally, Spielberg focused on the film’s director, the prolific Michael Curtiz, who helmed more than 150 pictures!

While speaking of Curtiz, Spielberg praised him this way (paraphrase): “Michael Curtiz knew exactly when to get into a scene, and exactly when to get out of a scene.”

As soon as Spielberg uttered those words, I was struck. Spielberg was basically saying that Curtiz wasted no second of film on anything that did not advance the story. Curtiz never shot filler or unneeded dialog. His films were tight, concise, and free from superfluous content.

As a journalist trained to do the same, this impressed me to no end! Though I had this down pat in the articles I wrote for my newspaper, I did not do so in my Christian articles for the magazine Zion’s Fire (with whom I have now been writing for 32 years). I was granted far more “space” there than I was at the newspaper, and took full advantage of it – writing more than was necessary to make my point.

Trimming the Fat!
As I made the 45-minute drive to work the next day, I thought about Spielberg’s comment ­regarding Curtiz and told myself, “From now on, you need to trim the fat! You need to get into your point quickly, make the point, and get out of it. No excessive lead-in, no over-explanation, only that which is needed.”

Ever since that night, I have made every effort to be as concise as possible in my writing, making my introductions brief, saying only that of the main point which needs to be said, and then moving on! I try to be brisk and engrossing, just like a tightly-written movie.

It is up to my readers to determine how well I succeed, but I have taken Spielberg’s advice to heart: Get in and get out!

If any of you have a particular writing philosophy you adhere to, I would love to hear it! Feel free to comment.