In my day job, I tell writers, “Too much is better than not enough. I can always work with too much. But not enough is just not enough.”
That’s when a writer has turned in a draft that’s lacking in some way and I’ve given her feedback and she says, “If I answer all your questions, that’s going to push it over the word limit.” I issue my advice so she won’t get too hung up on length when it’s more important to add missing details, feeling, color, or whatever. At that point, I know what I want, I know what she’s turned in, and I know how to make it stronger. Then I can trim.
But if you get an assignment of 1,000 words and turn in 2,400, saying, “It’s too long, but you’re a whiz at cutting!,” you haven’t done your job. Going a couple hundred words over is usually not a big deal for a 2,400-word piece, but 1,000 words over is. (Then again, a couple hundred over for a 300-word piece can be a big deal—it’s relative.)
If your first draft is wildly off the mark in length, cut it down close to the assigned word count before turning it in. (See tip number 9, “Editing Yourself,” for an exercise that may help.) If the editor wants more, he’ll tell you.
One of my pet peeves is articles that say twice that someone said something.
For example, “Jackson says he likes the way his career has been going. ‘I started out with no plan, just doing what I enjoyed,’ he says. ‘Now I realize that’s exactly what got me where I am today.’ ”
Notice the repetition of “says”?
Much better would be “Jackson says he likes the way his career has been going: ‘I started out with no plan, just doing what I enjoyed. Now I realize that’s exactly what got me where I am today.’ ”
Or “Jackson says he likes the way his career has been going. ‘I started out with no plan, just doing what I enjoyed,’ he explains. ‘Now I realize that’s exactly what got me where I am today.’ ”
The first option adds a colon before the quote, eliminating the duplicate attribution. The second keeps the original structure but replaces the redundant “says” with “explains,” avoiding the echo.
There, I said it.
Even though I posted tip number 25 only yesterday, I was determined to do number 26 on June 1. The reason: I started these random writing tips last December 1, continuing weekly from there, give or take a couple of days. Then around number 17 or so, I fell behind, which is why May became a jam-packed race to catch up.
When I sat down that first Saturday in December, I didn’t have this Apropos of Nothing project in mind. I was simply responding to a 30-day creativity challenge on social media by the brilliant teacher, performer, and writer Susan Blackwell, and this was the first thing that came out of me. (And yes, I did try to do something creative every day; this part of it just happened to feel like a weekly thing.)
So I’ll pass on to you what she passed on to me and her other Twitter and Instagram followers: Try to do one thing creative every day (or hey, every week; I don’t judge).
See where it takes you.