Tonight, I am wrestling with words again. I’m working on a grant application for the primary school. One of those never-ending forms that requires pages of repetition and the use of ‘keywords’. It is the kind of writing that does my head in, mostly because it needs to be so precise.
Describe your project in 50 words.
In 150 words, tell us everything you can about your school, your town, your region, your state and your country. Make them count.
Outline in 75 words every single detail about how this five-year program will be managed.
Writing ‘short’ is seriously hard work. When you write ‘long’, words must be managed, planned, projected, plotted and massaged. When you write ‘short’, there is no substitute for precision. Why use four words when one word will do? Is that the best possible arrangement for that sentence? Is it still a sentence now that you’ve removed all the good stuff?
The key to writing short is, strangely, a plan. To me, it’s even more important here than it is when wrangling 90,000 words into a novel. Dot points are your best friend. Write down everything that needs to go into your 50 words, even if you start with 500, and then cut, condense and carve them down, down, down. Like reducing a stock. All the ingredients, nuances and flavours must still be there, but in the most concentrated form.
Twitter, that much-berated water cooler of our time, is a fantastic place to hone short-form copy skills. If you can say it in 140 characters and still manage to insert personality and voice, you’re well on the way.
Which is why I’m heading there right now (@altait if you want to say hi). I’m not procrastinating, you understand… just practising.
[image: cute ring from beautyspot/etsy]