The Only Writing Exercise I Remember

When you look back at your education, certain teachers stand out.

Some were quirky. Some shared your interests. 

Others you developed relationships with outside the classroom through sports or extra-curricular activities.

But rarely does a particular part of what you learned stand out. At least for me.

I do often think about one.

I took history in high school. Some kind of history is mandatory, but it’s often Canadian history. 

I studied history as part of the International Baccalaureate program, which meant most of what we studied was international history.

But it wasn’t the history itself that I remembered.

It was one exercise in particular.

In this exercise, we read a piece of source material—usually not more than 5 or so pages—and wrote a summary. An assessment of the material.

The key part: it had to be less than half a page. Less than 150 words or so.

It was memorable because it was the first time we had to write less.

It was the first time I had to think carefully about the sentences that were worthy of taking up space.

It was also the opposite of every other piece of writing I’d done in school. 

Those all had word maximums, and as a result, encouraged padding and flowery writing.

As I’ve got back to writing, in both a personal and professional context, I think back to those exercises:

Does this sentence need to be here?