Don’t cede control of your story

A common theme in my writing classes is Barney Kilgore’s admonition: “Remember: The easiest thing for the reader is to quit reading.”

I lecture on how to “kill your darlings.”

But occasionally I encounter a student who thinks his anecdotes are so telling, his writing so compelling, and his style so seamless that he can’t cut the extra 300 words to get it down to the 1,000-word limit. Even when I encourage him to be ruthless.

This is what I say next.

As a journalist, you want to control your story. When you send a story that’s 30 percent longer than the assigned length, you cede control of your story to the editor? Why would you do that? It’s possible she will be impressed with your story and give you the extra space, but it’s not likely. Instead, she’s going to cut it. Maybe she’ll consult you on the cuts; maybe she won’t.
Meanwhile, the editor sees you as THAT guy — the one who doesn’t deliver what’s been asked for and then one she has to fight with over the cuts. She doesn’t have time for that; she has a dozen other things to do. She wants a guy who delivers a story on time within the length limit. She wants a writer who is reliable.
You want to be THAT guy.

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