While updating my LinkedIn profile I got an alert about a new topic in the “Writers and Authors Circle”. The post was a brief one, more like a status update, entitled “A Brave Novella World”. The author basically argued that due to shrinking attention spans novellas will become more popular than novels since they are shorter. A novella is typically between 20000-5000 words, while most novels are at least 60,000 words.
So it makes sense that people will be able to read novellas easier than they read books, but it is not this point that bothers me. What bothered me about this article was the mindset that writers have to accommodate for shrinking attention spans. As I wrote in a reply, it is like saying we have to mark homework easier so children get better grades. Children get better grades but they do not learn as much. They will graduate and keep moving up the academic ladder, but that is how we end up with university graduates with poor writing and communication skills. After serving as a teaching assistant at McMaster University, the poor level of writing skill from some students baffled me. Simple matters of grammar and punctuation eluded some of them, and as I read through the post on LinkedIn it was easy to see why. We live in a culture where many people are apparently not taught to try to improve on themselves. Instead of working to improve our attention spans, or to improve our writing skills, we are taught to blame the systems that judge us for our deficiencies.
This is what leads to grown men and women (not just teens) embracing this LinkedIn post. This is what leads to people supporting the post and sharing details or their own short attention spans. Letting us know it is important to make literary works shorter so that there is more time “to text friends and enjoy movies and TV”. What a dreadful world it would be if we had to sacrifice those amenities in order to read a “300 page book”. Never mind the fact that you can read a 300-page book in ten days if you read just 30 pages a day. Or you can even read just ten pages a day for a month if your attention span is truly suffering.
I am not trying to sound superior in anyway. I have also struggled with the issue of a shrinking attention span as well. Since I started using Instagram to promote the blog I have also found myself compulsively checking my phone for updates or to mindlessly scroll through pictures. I even did that once while writing this piece. However, I am not deliberately making this piece shorter so I can go back to things like texting and movies. As with any of my blog posts, I could write longer pieces since the topics are often so broad. However, I choose to keep the pieces somewhat concise. While I do not want to appease A.D.D I also do not want to write a dissertation for every blog post. A big part of the reason for that is because I want people to read the whole thing and I realize getting readers to consume a very long piece every week might be asking a bit much. Another reason is the fact that I am also trying to make time for other productive duties, like writing my second book, learning French, practicing the guitar, going to the gym etc.
I have acknowledged that my attention span is dwindling but I am not avoiding reading or seeking out shorter books so that I can appease this shrinking attention span. I am trying to fight against it. I am making a conscious effort to read every day, in order to ensure that I read one book every month. I am fighting against the system, not embracing it. It is the same principle we adopt for fighting unjust laws. Instead of going along with them and accepting it as part of the system, we do our best to raise awareness of alternatives and make those alternatives a reality. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that a shrinking attention span must be embraced. Realize that you have the time, and more importantly the will, to fight it.