My biggest challenge.
Yesterday, I began writing an article for a travel magazine. The magazine is relatively well-known and it pays pretty darn well. I’ve never written about travel — beyond what you’ll find in this blog — but I think I’m up to the task.
But I am facing a challenge: word count. The article cannot be more than 1,500 words.
I’m not accustomed to working with length constraints. On my blog, I can make an article as long or as short as I want to. The same goes for the articles I write for InformIt and other Web-based publishers. (That’s one of the benefits of publishing on the Web — it costs the same to publish no matter how long it is.) Even my book publishers don’t usually limit my page count.
But this is a print publication and the limits are real. And I seriously doubt that the editors there will love my words enough to make an exception for me.
Keeping It Short
The way I see it, there are two ways to keep an article short:
- Write it short. I’m using Word 2004 (old habits really do die hard) to write the piece. Word includes a live word count feature, so I can monitor word count as I type. This is how I’m trying to write the piece. What I’m finding is that I’m about 1/4 finished writing, but have used up more than half my alloted words. As a result, I keep going back and shortening up earlier paragraphs and sentences to make room for the rest of the story. I don’t think this is the best approach.
- Write it without worrying about page count, then go back and edit the hell out of it. This is how I usually tackle length problems — especially when I have to shorten up text that appears on a page I’m laying out. In those instances, I’m cutting out 10 to 30 words. But at the rate I’m going with this article, I’ll have to cut more than 1,000 words. This can’t possibly be productive. After all, I’m writing material that I’m just discarding.
It occurs to me that there probably is another way to keep it short: rethink the entire article and reduce the amount of information I want to provide.
This is probably a more professional way to go about it. It requires me to come up with an outline of what I want to discuss and budget a certain amount of words for each part. If there are too many parts, I need to cut out the parts that don’t really communicate the theme of the piece. Once I have a handle on how to approach the article, I should be able to write it close to the proper length. I can then edit it down as needed.
The key, of course, it to stay within budget for each part of the article.
And I think this is a good example of how blogging and writing for the Web can hurt a writer. When I blog, I have no editor — it’s just me. I can write whatever I want, whatever way I want to write it. Sentence fragments? No problem. Slang? Go for it! Extensive use of parenthetical commentary? Why not (since I always have more than just one thing to say)? Bloggers who are also professional writers can lose the discipline they need to produce high-quality work for publisher with very specific needs.
But I think I’ll tackle blogging and how it affects writing skills in another post.
Do any writers out there have some advice for me? Speak up! Use the Comments link or form.