It happens to everyone (including me).
You’ve got a brilliant idea – one of those big ideas that could help position you as a thought leader. You want to explore the topic deeply, but the word count has gotten ridiculous.
So how can you expand on an idea without getting too wordy?
(1) Writing as fast as possible, write up your idea, in expanded form, as if you were writing an email to a good friend. Don’t edit or censor yet.
Don’t worry about the length. It’s always easier to edit from a long document than to add ideas to a short one.
You may choose to use a timer for a “fast writing” exercise. Some writers get inspired by a deadline. Others freeze.
(2) Give yourself space. Some writers allow a day or more between drafts. Others work with 15-minute breaks. A very rare view write multiple drafts in one sitting.
I prefer long breaks. I’ve never been able to crunch through to the finished product in one long session.
(3) Return to your article and go on the attack. The most effective way to reduce word count is to replace abstract thoughts with word pictures or anecdotes.
For example, for one article, I encouraged readers undergoing midlife crises to be wary of costly career tests and assessments.
First, I wrote, “Some assessments are not especially scientific or valid. Astrology can be just as useful — and a lot cheaper.” Okay, but ho-hum.
I changed this sentence to, “At midlife, the tests invariably demonstrate that you’re very, very good at what you are doing. Many assessments lack scientific validity — they’re no more accurate than a quiz you’d take in a popular magazine.”
And I added a narrative example, a composite of three true stories:
Reginald regretted not only the money spent for assessments, but also the feedback he received.
“They told me I would make a good engineer, which I am,” he said. “But they also suggested I pick an outdoor career. I’m not ready to be a forest ranger!”
(4) Expand an idea by stretching your story.
Stories and examples typically require fewer words than abstract descriptions.
For example, I wanted to say, “People gain self-awareness through action, not assessments.”
The story becomes: “Reginald had three ideas in mind for his future career: architecture, astrology and aeronautical engineering. As he began networking to learn more about each career, he also learned more about himself. He realized that…”
(5) After you’ve cut out abstract ideas, your word count probably will go down.
Begin your attack with your first three paragraphs. Most of us have to write a few hundred words to figure out where we want to begin.
Cut ruthlessly as you move through the article. After awhile, chopping off a few thousand words will be easier than pruning your own rose bushes.
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