Saturday, October 20, 2007

weekly writing coach: cut it in half

We learned -- the hard way and on deadline -- the value of self-editing when an article assigned at 2,000 words needed to fit a 1,000-word space. (Given the chance to cut our own writing, we did.) This week, take one piece you've written recently and imagine you need to do the same: Cut it in half. Some options you might consider:
- Summarize rather than describe. Can lists turn into bullets? Will an added link to more information handle the detail in a word?
- Omit needless words. This famed instruction from the original version of William Strunk's The Elements of Style demands "that every word tell." We say you can start by omitting adverbs and adjectives, using active verbs and more descriptive nouns to carry the point.
- Consider the content. If you're covering more than one topic, might you limit this piece to one subject, saving another for a different format? Can your letter work as two short emails, or your article become a series of shorter pieces?
Make the pain less painful, and do this exercise in less than an hour, the editorial equivalent of pulling off a bandage quickly. Speed will help you identify repetitive patterns that can be cut.

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