…but I’m not afraid of a deep dive.
A playwriting colleague once said to me, “In writing, there are cutter-outters and adder-inners. You, my friend, are a cutter-outter.” Whenever you read anything I’ve written, trust and believe it’s been through an intensive editing process during which I killed about a hundred darlings.
“Killing your darlings” is a writer-ly phrase often attributed to Faulkner, but it probably originated with a guy named Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. The source of the quote doesn’t really matter, because every writer-type (including me) says it sooner or later. It means we can’t get too attached to our “darling” concepts, beloved characters, and witty turns of phrase. We must get to the point, sacrifice fluff, and champion brevity. No matter how much you love your precious words… Cut, copy, and save it for another day. Delete, delete, delete.
I fully admit that there are situations when “less is more.” My concern is how often that’s become the excuse for leaving out important information. Complex decisions should not be made based on a three-sentence email. Various angles of a multifaceted problem deserve consideration before issuing an edict that affects a workplace, a family, a constituency, a life…
My favorite rationale for avoiding nuance is along the lines of, “Well, people today don’t have any attention span. They’ll zone out if we make it too complicated; they’ll get bored. They’re on TikTok; they’re on Twitter.” Um, have you looked at these platforms lately? Twitter posts read like a serial, so much so that a separate app was developed to “Unroll the thread” for easier consumption. TikTok creators post short videos, sure, but they’re often part of a longer series that quickly becomes a full-on library of knowledge. Entire podcasts are built around the concept of the “deep dive.”
Watching the term “deep dive” become part of the lexicon has, frankly, given me immeasurable validation and hope. Nothing brings me more joy than knowing that millions of listeners tune in to hear hours and hours of content based on a cancelled TV series. (The show ended 10 years ago! It doesn’t even exist anymore!) A true crime podcast will examine the minutiae of every witness, every piece of evidence, and every theory. (Legal precedents! Satellite coordinates! Gas chromatograph mass spectrometers!) Podcasts cover every imaginable topic in painstaking detail, and people from all walks of life are eating. Them. Up.
I humbly submit that audiences don’t need information to be short; they need it to be interesting. We all learn in different ways, but the one way we don’t learn is by being bored. As my playwriting mentor Julie Jensen taught us on day one of grad school: “Don’t bore them or they will HATE you.”
Glossing over details and instituting time limits isn’t doing anyone any favors. A one-minute video of a stone-faced thought leader droning on in monotone helps no one. A 30-minute video full of creative examples, relatable language, and a riveting speaker? The time will fly by; it won’t even seem like enough.
Recently I watched a few videos on LinkedIn Learning about how to jazz up a PowerPoint. I was shocked at how much can be done to make a more compelling presentation – and these were easy tips, not anything requiring a graphic design background! A friend of mine is following a TikTok creator who’s teaching her how to preserve food – it’s nothing fancy! But the videos are compelling, my friend is hooked, AND she’s learning a cool new skill… She’s on a deep dive!
I don’t profess to have all of the answers. Many, many people have expounded on this topic before me. However, I do think it’s downright lazy to “make it short, because nobody has an attention span.” People are hungry for knowledge. It’s up to me to make that information palatable.