When I write magazine feature articles, I always—ALWAYS—write too much. During that first draft, I can’t help but write as much as I want. So my articles start out too long, sometimes by up to 50% (yikes!).
Now, as a former magazine editor, I know enough to cut before I turn them in. But even then, I usually turn in something that includes 10% more words than they asked for in the assignment.
On the opposite end, another editor I know ALWAYS writes way too little when she writes features. She ends up with an article that’s only 50% of what the word count SHOULD be. She has to go back and add more to what she wrote to meet the requirements.
We each have a style – mine is more detailed and maybe poetic, and hers is more factual and direct. Neither is wrong or right, but our styles do impact how hard we have to work (or not work) at being concise.
What’s your writing style? If you’re struggling to be concise, you might be more like me—there’s so MUCH you want to say!
I have a hack for you.
If you commonly read what you’ve written and have no idea what to cut because it all seems important, this method can help you edit down to what’s essential.
But first, you have to shift your perspective a bit and learn to:
Weigh Essential vs. Important
Here’s the scenario I see often: You’re writing your own story so you can show your people the journey you’ve been on and assure them you know your stuff. You’ve got your list of accomplishments handy, your most updated resume, your before and after feelings, and you set out to write.
Three full pages later, you wonder how you’ll ever narrow all that down to three paragraphs!
Here’s step 1:
First, take another look.
Pay close attention here because this is the perspective shift you need to make:
Read like your reader, not yourself. Usually I find that experts are either really attached to a few facts about their experience and are insistent that those being included, OR they feel awkward about certain accomplishments and don’t want to have to talk about them in a bio at all.
Either way, they’re making a mistake—because they’re not thinking about what their READER needs them to include.
Important is NOT the same as essential.
Sure, your experience in the Amazon jungle and that internship after college might be important, but are they essential for your reader to make a decision about working with you? Something that is important isn’t necessarily essential.
Here’s step 2:
Start with goals and work backward.
What do you want someone reading your story to believe? Name three outcomes you want from your story. Maybe you want them to believe that you’re professionally credentialed, a survivor of the same thing your people are struggling with, and an approachable person.
Ask yourself what facts in your story contribute to those three outcomes strongly—not, “Well, this SORT OF shows that I’m approachable…” or “Yeah, but this shows that I’m ALSO able to teach about this or that topic…” There has to be a direct correlation between the fact you include and the goal you want to achieve with that fact.
Cut all the other parts of the story. Once you cut them and read the piece without them, you’ll realize most of them weren’t all that important to begin with. Maybe you’ll add one or two back in, but the result won’t be nearly as humongous as what you started with before applying this method.
Try this method and let me know how it goes. I can’t wait to see what you create!
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