It took me a little over four uninterrupted hours yesterday to write six sentences – all together 95 words (I was so intent on finishing that I lost track of time and almost missed “Project Runway,” though, really, how boring is this season?). A lot of people, especially those who don’t write often or who self-identify as “bad writers,” think a writing assignment that calls for only a few words is easier than one calling for many, that writing 95 words will take a tenth as long as writing 950 words. Au contraire, mes amis. My journey yesterday reminded me how hard it is to pack in a ton of information using as few words as possible and the need to edit, edit, edit.
No one process exists on how to do this, but here’s how I do it.
First, I more or less write as much as I want, ignoring word count. I just shove in all the information available. This way, when I start to edit, I can judge pieces of information – facts, data, references, opinions, etc. – side by side. I can use my judgment and weigh what’s important as I begin the arduous process of slashing content, rearranging words, and rewriting sentences.
Then I begin the arduous process of slashing content, rearranging words, and rewriting sentences.
If you haven’t been given a lot of direction then it can be hard to know what information is absolutely necessary to retain and what, given the space limitation, you can lose. This is where your smarts and savvy come into play. Oh, and your confidence, since you need to be confident in your decisions. They need to make sense and you need to be able to defend them intelligently when your client asks you where the information about the blah-bi-di-blah-blah-blah is.
I also mow through my copy and delete every adjective and adverb. They’re perfectly (adverb) nice (adjective) parts of speech but when every word counts, most modifiers do not.
In my mind, when I’m writing a short piece that’s intended to pack a wallop, I imagine myself putting words and sentences through a sieve and seeing what shakes out.
Interestingly (to me, at least) is that since I’ve been twittering (at SantowDan), forcing myself to say something compelling in 140 or fewer characters, I’ve also noticed that I’ve gotten more efficient at telegraphing a lot of information using as few words as possible. See, yet another reason to twitter.
Next time I have only 95 or so words to write, I’m hoping I can whittle down the time it takes. After all, “Project Runway” waits for no one. Good-bye, Mood!