Hacking away

I’m a novelist and a journalist, so it should come as no great surprise that I can get a little long-winded in some of my articles. It’s a constant struggle. It used to be a sloppy mess in the beginning—why use five words when you can use 50?—but thanks to soaring appreciation for basic outlines, I’ve conquered that. No, my problem goes a bit deeper: I am gifted at writing that journalistic anomaly: the creative, well-crafted, well-structured piece peppered with rhythmic, interesting language and colorful quotes that just so happens to be wayyyyy toooo loooooong for its own good.

It’s rooted in a good purpose—I just have this burning desire to reveal so much of what I’ve learned about a topic in an article. And that’s fine for a first draft.

But when an article gets past two single-spaced typewritten pages, that’s a huge stretch for a reader’s patience. Who would really read a news article much past two pages or 1,200 words in length? They might skim the whole thing if you’re lucky, but any longer than two pages and you’re really just writing for yourself.

Some advice: start hacking. Distance yourself from the piece you’ve written, and then reapproach it with a calculating, logical, no-nonsense eye toward cutting out everything uninteresting, irrelevant or slightly off-topic. It just doesn’t belong.

When it comes to quotes, cut there, too—that’s why they invented ellipses, please! Some sources can be horribly verbose. It’s your job to whittle down what they say so it’s succinct, thought-provoking and understandable.

Tighten. Lose the thats. Lose the passive voice. Stay sharp.

If you don’t hack away at your own writing, it won’t get read, and then where will you be?