Friday, November 9, 2007

Writing Long vs. Writing Short

My husband calls me the Queen of Verbosity. When it comes to writing (or speaking, I suppose), I’m never at a loss for words. In fact, I rarely suffer from so-called writer’s block. I’ve always got something to say – usually too much to say.

I bring this up, because I swore I would begin posting some shorter blogs. I simply cannot keep writing so much every day here and keep up with my editing work load and actually write and complete my own nonfiction project this month. However, as soon as I made this oath, the next thing I knew I had written another long blog (the one I posted last).

Yesterday, I didn’t write a blog at all. That’s really short! (I was going to write this blog yesterday, but I just didn’t get a chance).

I believe writing long serves a nonfiction writer – and probably a fiction writer as well -- more than writing short, and here’s why. I find it easier to cut and slash and tighten than to have to write more once I’ve finished. You see, if I’ve finished writing, I must have run out of things to write about. (Yes, I do sometime run out of words to put on paper.) For example, if my contract for an article requires 2,000 words and I’ve only written 1,500, I don’t want to have to write another 500 words when I’ve said all I’ve I had to say on the topic already. Those words will be forced and the content won’t be as strong. Plus, writing more might require me doing more research or conducting more interviews.

If, however, I’ve written 2,500 – a much more common problem of mine – and I only need 2,000, I can usually find at least 300 or 400 words to cut that are unnecessary, drivel, redundant, or off the point. More often than not, I can slash whole sentences or paragraphs and solve my overwriting problem. If after this process I find I have written such wonderful copy that I am still left with 100-200 words to cut, I usually can get rid of these by simply tightening sentences and paragraphs. This takes a whole lot more time, but I don’t mind. You know why? When I’m done looking at every sentence and every word in every sentence to see how I can reduce the number of words used, my copy is SO MUCH BETTER. Really.

Also, I have found that editors usually like getting a little more copy than they need. They really hate having to ask a writer to send them more copy because they didn’t get the agreed-upon amount, but they don’t mind cutting a little bit themselves if they get more than the agreed-upon amount. (I was an editor on several publications, and I can assure you that getting too little copy from a writer doesn’t ingratiate you to an editor.) And if they find themselves with some extra space in their magazine or newspaper, they are usually pleased to have an extra 200 words on hand or a sidebar that you just happened to send along. (By the way, you can sometimes earn yourself a little extra money by offering an editor a sidebar, and it might simply be those 300-400 words you just cut from your original article to meet the required word count.)

Well…I could go on…but I won’t. I’ll honor my oath. Except that I wanted to tell you… (You also have to know when to stop writing – when you (and your manuscript) are done. That’s an important thing for a nonfiction writer to learn.)

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