Friday, October 7, 2016

What? Cut My Precious Words?

I've used this poster quote before, but it seemed a good one for today's topic. Cutting your precious words! Earlier this week, an editor asked me to send him a piece he could use in a memories section of a senior newspaper. I sent him one on my memories of November during my growing-up years in Chicago.

He wrote back that it was fine, that he'd like to use it but it needed to be cut to 750 words. The version I'd sent him had close to 1,050 words. My first reaction was What? Cut 300 of my precious words? I feared I'd lose important parts of this personal essay. I sent a message to him that I'd work on it and get it to him in a couple of days.

The next day, I avoided the task completely. On the second day, I knew there was no more putting it off. I started with the opening paragraph and chopped off an entire sentence. On to the next para where I axed another 25 words, keeping watch on the word count in the lower left corner of the Word document. I wanted to see the numbers go down!

By the time I'd reached the end, I had 742 words left. I managed to reach the golden number but it was then time to read the piece from start to finish and see if it all made sense. Were things still clear? For the most part, they were. I cut a bit more, then added a little to clarify certain areas but still kept the word count down.

Cutting a lot of words is a daunting task but you often find that you end up with a stronger piece of writing than the original. I tried changing a full phrase to one or two words--ending up with the same meaning but fewer words. I reversed the order of some sentences which allowed me to chop a few words. I dropped an adjective here and there. It all adds up to more words cut than you thought was possible. I looked for redundant areas which were easy places to lose words. Why say the same thing twice, even if with different words?

I ended up being grateful to the editor for asking me to cut the word count because I think I sent him a better piece of writing than the wordy original.

When you revise and edit a first draft, consider cutting words. Those first drafts tend to be very wordy. We feel the need to go on and on when a shorter bit would be more interesting and impressive. Quite often, we must write to a certain word count. Editors have only so much space and your work has to fit into that already-designated space. Contests put a word limit on entries.

One of our best writing tools is the ability to cut our own precious words.

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