Ruth’s Truths – Ruth Morris

1000-word-phil-logo1000-word essays are as perfect a size as an iPad. I first took note of the 1000-word essay in a Vanity Fair magazine writing contest, and I’ve decided to make all of my articles 1000 words long until further notice. I think my readers will find my work more concise, less Ruth-ishly wordy. Except for a poem once a year or so, I have tended to expend between 1000 and 2000 words to spin my tales, and sometimes it’s just too long. A reader recently shared that she thought my paragraphs needed to lose some weight, so I plan to take a breath, and change topics more often, which is a nice metaphor for any kind of weight loss.

There are magical numbers in literature. We have three wishes, the five-paragraph essay, seven dwarfs, and Ten Commandments. I once submitted a story to the Los Angeles Times that had a limit of 900 words, but that felt a tad too spare for a story. It is college essay season now, and students are challenged to write from 50 to 650-word responses. Specifying numbers of word is a good thing; those with tons to espouse are made conservative; the tight-pen-tipped are encouraged to be liberal.

Through my English teaching career, I differed with most colleagues in my insistence on getting students to write responses of a specific number of words. Teachers often speak of “paragraphs” and “pages,” and use phrase like, “a couple” or “a few,” and I respect that they didn’t want to “limit” students, but, unless you are writing to your dear diary, I believe that structure is the key to the best writing. When it comes to encouraging people to write, phrases like “minimum” and “maximum” must be employed. There absolutely IS such a thing as writing too much; in fact, for the more prolific of us, editing to pare down and be concise is our challenge, whereas those who don’t feel they have as much to say must find ways to add details, vary word choices, and be explicit.

1000 as a number itself is special, not to be confused with 500 or 999. 1000 is the number of cranes to fold in origami, believed to have healing purposes. Conversely, it is said that “a picture is worth 1000 words,” but that in itself says to me that 1000 words is…something. Jews have numerology, too, 18 symbolizing “life,” which is why I chose 18 of my essays to publish in my first book, entitled Ruth’s Truths, and I will publish 18 more essays republished to exactly 1000 words in length each, so that the book will be composed of 18,000 words.

1000 not only seems enough, in various instances, but it seems plenty, at least to me. Money-wise, so much can be done with $1000; whereas anything costing under $1000 seems small potatoes, and items over $1000 are expensive. Hey, this essay is 500 words long right…NOW!

Moving on to make this an essay of the beautiful, round, and ultimately sufficient 1000 length, let’s not forget Helen of Troy, who had “a face that could launch a thousand ships.” In English, a thousand is sometimes referred to as a “K” or a “G,” and an “M” in Roman numerals. How utterly unique, to have a number that can be expressed in three distinctly different letters!

The University of California applications ask for two essays, totaling 1000 words total. But these are just random facts about how beautiful the number 1000 is. Mathematicians will also corroborate, I am sure, the significance of 1000, and historians, no doubt, love their millennial timelines. The one thing I haven’t found (yet) is a scientific pattern counted in thousands, for example something in biology or chemistry. But, then again, Science was never my strong suit in school, so, what am I doing trying to write about it here?

Japan most commonly used bill is a ¥1000, as common, and close to equivalent value to our $10 bill. In Japanese, the bill can be called “sen (y)en,” which is like “a thousand,” or “issen (y)en,” which is like “one thousand,” whereas you don’t say “one hundred,” (only, “hyaku”), but must say “one ten thousand” (ichiman). All Japanese money under 1000 is now coins, 1000 is the first denomination of a bill. Although when I first lived in Japan, they used to have these cute, blue-colored ¥500 notes that were sadly replaced by coins in 1982.

Now my hyperbolic counting of a thousand unique things about a thousand is getting random, so I’d better get serious and go back to talking about how 1000 words is the perfect size for an essay. My last essay, on gray hair, was well received. People who like my writing may indeed like it unconditionally, as we all wish to be “liked” in real life. Critics of my writing, however, have offered feedback that it is sometimes “all over the place,” or that I could “get by with fewer words,” or that I tend to “repeat myself.” My new and improved 1000 word limit will, I believe, serve to remedy these ills.

I have not yet assigned 1000 a color. I looked up from my writing, searched around my living room, and decided that 1000 has to be a deep turquoise blue; one of my favorite colors to wear. The dust covers of several volumes of Will and Ariel Durant’s renowned history series are this color, which supports the idea of thousands (of years) being turquoise. But then, a quick Google search revealed that paint maker Benjamin Moore has a color associated with “1000.” It is actually a shade of brown! “Northwood Brown” is a warm, rich, medium, shade of brown composed of: 43.92% red, 38.43% green and 32.16% blue. Cloverdale Paint calls the same color Mocha Mousse, which brings the color to our senses. And there you have it; a one thousand word essay.

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2 Comments

  1. So happy to read your thoughts on this subject. I’ve often tried to make myself write different lengths, or different styles, either as an attempt to be more marketable, or simply as a creative exercise. These literary offspring are functional, but they are hard work. I have a theory that certain forms, and certain lengths that are hardwired into each writer. I like your long form essays, and I’m a little jealous that you instinctively write the length that fits nicely into the Atlantic.

    And I gasped at the idea that 1000 is deep turquoise.

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