Introduction: On Brevity, and Parachuting into a Literary Brush Fire

Let me keep this brief.

Brevity began in Spring 1998, and I’m pretty sure the first issue had ten readers, counting the five authors and me. Though I imagined, at the time, a run of three or four issues before a gentle exit into digital oblivion, Brevity took on a life of its own. Estimating readership of a Web-based journal is always difficult, but more than 2,000 people have requested e-mail notification of each new issue, and the submission rate has climbed to roughly 700 pieces per year. Though it is still my greatest pleasure to publish the occasional newcomer, we have recently been fortunate enough to feature some of strongest names in literary nonfiction. More and more, we are being used in the classroom. Brevity ( will likely stick around.

My sincere thanks go to Lee Gutkind on two counts. First, early in Brevity’s existence, Lee offered to host us on Creative Nonfiction s Web site. I know the connection to Lee’s distinguished print journal has brought attention to Brevity and hope, as well, that Brevity has helped to bring a few Web surfers to Creative Nonfiction. I thank Lee, too, for collecting the Best of Brevity here and presenting it on the printed page. And, of course, I thank the authors, too numerous to mention, who have been generous and supportive at every turn.

What goes into a Brevity essay? I’ve tried to define the equation more than a few times, and always I end up eating my own words. My early editorial dictum was “scene and story over explanation,” which still covers about 80 percent of what we publish, yet I continually learn from the submission pile just what can be done in 750 words or less. Pure narrative has had to make room for the lyric, the experimental and the deeply reflective.

No matter what style or form, a Brevity essay seeks the impact and surprise that comes from sharp description and careful distillation. I like to imagine a brush fire, deep inside a national park. The reader is a firefighter, and the writer’s job is to drop that reader directly at the edge of the blaze to encounter the flames and smoke immediately. There is no time for the long hike in.

Brevity has no formula except, perhaps, one given to us, many years back, by Mark Twain: “To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. Anybody can have ideas—the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.”

Enough said.

About the Author

Dinty W. Moore

Dinty W. Moore is author of the memoirs Between Panic & Desire and To Hell With It, and the writing guides Crafting the Personal Essay and The Mindful Writer, among other books.

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