From 13,000 to 1500: Adventures in Saying Less
Okay, so I decided to make money writing. There is this contest. (I won’t say which one because I don’t want my other writer friends to know about it because they write in this genre way better than I do, but I need the money more than they do and that gives me the right to be completely selfish.)
So, the only thing I had to do to win it, other than win it, was to cut down a 13,000 word story to 1500 words, or three pages.
Day 1: Oh this is going to be so cool. So doable. This is neat. I am so becoming a real writer now. Oh wow, that’s way too long. So is that. Where are all these words coming from? They are like roaches. How did I get so many? Surely someone should have told me I’m a hoarder before now. …. Oh my god I’ll have to get rid of that and that and that. Christ there won’t be a story anymore. It will be a memorial to the story that was there before I had to cut it into a ridiculous 1500 words. Doesn’t being brief demand that we strip all experiential meaning from what we write and who we are? (Note: the author doesn’t differentiate between the two…which can cause psychological disorders and she has all of them). Christ, it will end up being Cliff Notes. . . here’s what the story would be, if we had the rest of the words, which we, as a writer needing money, cannot apparently afford. Let’s hope we can still win the Pulitzer without any modifiers.
This story will be like an interpretive walk of some battleground, like Gettysburg. While hiking along there will be brief indicators of what happened here (well at this bend in the river, we lost the entire backstory, and over there behind the fallen log, we lost all the turtle metaphors). After reading bits of prose on signs, readers can imagine the rest! Better yet they can write the whole story themselves!
Day 2: It’s currently 9 pages. It needs to be three. Jesus. . . I wonder if Slim Fast will work on words. Or Fen-Phen: kills women but works wonders for word count. Why do I have all these words if I can’t use them? Oh sorry, that’s probably beyond the scope of this pos-
Day 3: I cut a 9 page story down to three words!
Day 4: My editor tells me it’s unprintable.
Day 5: 8 pages. Has anyone ever died in an editing accident?
(My informant, a local writing teacher, says “Yes, around 100 people.” She refers to it as a dangerous sport. I knew it! Where’s my body armour?)
Day 6: Oh my god it’s true! I’m codependent with words I think I have to have!!!! Oh my god, I need you; I want you; you are my life; what would I do if I couldn’t have you…why oh why did God press the delete button? Oh I don’t want to live…hey that sentence looks fantastic. That is the best paragraph ever, minus those six obviously superfluous sentences. No one uses those words anymore anyway. I love my life! Yeah I don’t need YOU GUYS AT ALL! LMAO! Look at me I’m so brief!
Day 7: Apparently 7 single spaced pages is not really brief. Apparently just because there is only half-as-much vocabulary as there was, does not make me a hero. Or a writer.
When I explain to the universe that living in half a house is not really that desirable, I’m told that most authors live in small pup tents.
Day 8: What do you mean that being successful means accepting limitations?
Day 9: Page count: 5. Words: 2942.
Day 10: I think I’m going to have to stop having experiences so I will write less and be able to fit into 3 minute open mics and flash fiction word counts. This is what life imitates art really means. Like a good woman I should bless my semantic girdle and thank god I’m just giving birth to half a baby!
Think of the weight I won’t have to loose.
Day 11: Hey this half of a baby is kinda cute. Charming in her own way. Definitely half as fussy as her corset-infused mother. Yea patriarchy! I’m sure word counts have something to do with the patriarchal oppression of women. If you’d let me have some words back, I could use them to prove it!
Day 12: A friend of mine, well former friend, just informed me that I don’t need to have less experiences since all my work is fiction due to having no life due to being a writer and not working like real adults and since I hate discomfort, I rarely leave the house. Apparently out of the house is where experiences happen. She suggested cutting down on the imagination instead.
Wow. Author Deborah Stehr wins The Awesome Writing Prize with 1/3 the imagination of other authors.
I’ll fucking take that.
Day 13: Well knock me sideways into next Tuesday, it’s 1500 words and the sky hasn’t fallen and since I got rid of my 2/3 of my imagination, I can’t fantasize about the inevitable apocalypse of having to submit a skeleton-who-has-anorexia- story, instead of the full sized model. See I told you it was all about controlling the female body.
Day 14: I submitted my submission via Submittable.
My point exactly.
Day 15-30: I’d better fucking win, that’s all I have to say. No I’m not a good sport. I’m a writer! Let good manners be for people who can make a living doing what they love. Without my bitterness, I’d never find the balls to compete in this contest or get up in the morning just to be ornery and spit on things. If I’m not punching something, including myself, I don’t feel right. If there is no brawl, I’ll invent one. A writer’s life is fueled by a desperate angry dream! Whoohoo! No I am not drinking too much vodka.
Day 31-40: I fought my way to these 1500 words. God I hope they are the right ones! I hope the real story isn’t in the discard pile next to the writing career I could have had if I’d just stood my ground and said, no this is the story I want to tell. Am I looking at the career I could have had if I hadn’t believed in the limitations that someone else set for me?
Day 41-62: Is there some dual life I could have? One life I spent with the longer stories, and the other, succumbing to limitations and editors. Why can’t I be omniscient narrator of my own multiple lives, then choose the one I like the most? Agony!
Why can’t my life be more like editing?
Day 63: I win the contest and a lot of money. In my acceptance speech I say:
“Oh I totally believe in the power of editing. I’ve always felt it was necessary to have self-discipline and not love too much. I think limitations have much to teach us about ourselves. All those trashed words? Piece of cake. . . . .
The Laughing Coyote