Should You Cater to Shortened Attention Spans?

Shortened Attention Spans

It’s no secret that many of us are working with drastically shortened attention spans these days. The reasons are many: We’re too busy, too jacked up on social media, dealing with medical issues like long Covid, ADHD or simple exhaustion, or chronically multitasking. There are many more reasons for attention problems, and many of us are dealing with them in combination. Whatever the reason(s), many of us have an attention span shorter than that of a squirrel these days.

As attention spans fragment, shorter forms of writing are gaining popularity. You see this in everything from news articles that are nothing more than lists (or have a TLDR paragraph at the top) to the growing prevalence of serials and short-short stories. And there are even vending machines that dispense snack-sized fiction.

As a writer, should you try to capitalize on the short-short trend? The answer, as it usually is, is: It depends.

I’m a firm believer that you should write what you love. It’s love and passion that makes you good or even great at a thing. Trying to force yourself to do something you dislike is usually a recipe for disaster. So if long form writing is your thing and you don’t enjoy writing short pieces, then don’t worry about the trends and do your thing. Quality (usually) wins out over length. Solid long form work will find an audience because there are still plenty of people in the world who value it.

On the other hand, let’s say that you’re someone who usually writes long form (or you’ve never written at all and are seeking to break into the market). Should you switch to shorts, or begin a career as a short form writer? See above. If you enjoy shorts and are good at working within the constraints of short forms, then have at it.

However, if you’re thinking that short form writing is easier and quicker, and therefore somehow likely to be more lucrative, let me burst your bubble a bit. Short form writing is every bit as challenging as long form work. From my perspective, it’s even more so because it’s far more constraining. You have to understand how to “land the plane.” You can’t circle around and around the point. The story or article has to be short, but still make sense. Even listicles need to make sense. You need to convey maximum information in each bullet point without going long. It’s not as easy as you might think.

In short fiction, you still have to give the reader a beginning, middle, and end, all within very few words. Even if you’re writing a serial, each piece needs to be coherent so that readers don’t get frustrated with constant cliffhangers or pieces that don’t make sense within the larger story. This makes it more challenging to choose which ideas to write, or how to reframe those ideas into something shorter. I cannot do short stories because apparently I do not think of ideas that are conducive to short forms. Every short story or novella I’ve tried to write has turned into a novel!

Short forms may or may not be lucrative. Yes, if you’re efficient and talented, you can crank out more shorts in the time it would take you to write a longer piece. But… As with everything, fast doesn’t always equal good. Just cranking out the words isn’t good enough. You need to know your market and how to reach it. And sometimes shorts just don’t pay that well. Many publications/markets undervalue shorter work because “It can’t have taken you that long,” or, “It’s short, so it’s easy.” You’re more likely to run into publications that want to pay you in “exposure,” author copies, or the thrill of having your name on an anthology. Rightly or wrongly, long form work tends to command more money. You have to decide if you can do enough short work to bridge the gap.

TLDR: Attention spans are short and there is a growing market for shorter works. However, it may not be worth it for you to aim for that market. It all depends on your skills, preferences, and understanding the marketplace and the place of your work within it.

(Image by Sammy-Sander)

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