Friday, May 20, 2005

Word pukers

You know what’s ironical about the people who never adhere to specified word counts? They are, almost without exception, the most mediocre writers, the ones whose sentences overflow with redundancies. Tell them the space can accommodate 500 words max and they’ll file 900 words; sighing in the fashion of misunderstood geniuses whose creativity has been shackled by page layouts and small-minded editors, they’ll tell you there was no way they could possibly have done justice to the story/review/column within the specified word limit.

Then you turn to the atrociously written piece, start copy-editing it, tighten the writing, take out the many repeated phrases - and voila, when you’re done you’ll find the story is down to...exactly 500 words. And this without even having to excise anything of substance.

So why am I grumbling, it all works out anyway.

But seriously, it’s telling that the best writers among columnists/reporters will invariably stick to the word limit. More than once I’ve copy-pasted a column from a word file onto QuarkXpress to find - and it’s scary when this happens - that it exactly fits the pre-set space. No kerning required, no adding/removing para breaks or randomly taking out articles (the way sub-editors in this country like to do). This level of obsessive perfectionism derives at least partly from the fear common to the best writers that someone might cut their copy if it significantly overrides the word count. It should also derive from common sense, but that’s probably asking too much.

(Now no sarcastic remarks please about the size of some of my recent blog posts.)


  1. I'm very upset now, coz I ALWAYS exceed the word limit :(

  2. eM: My inner Vader is dying to say "Muhahahaha! Got ya, scum!" but the Nice Boy murmurs softly "Sorry, no offence meant to thee and thine." But seriously, a basic question: don't you break out in spots when someone cuts your copy, and isn't it better therefore to stick to the word-length? Unless of course you don't care about some of the routine stories you have to file, in which case it's understandable.

  3. since sarcasm about recent long blogs is proscribed, i'll gently remind you of a certain Singh (damn good writer as he was/is) who changed jobs because he wanted to do "substantive" writing and hated word limits set by a certain tabloid. so coming from you, must say, i liked the transformation.

  4. Venkat saar? Is that you? Commenting on my humble blog? I'm so touched! No, really. *wipes tear from cheek and then burbles helplessly*

  5. Well, the other day, a poor woman in my office wrote a 1500-word story for the Sunday edition, only to be told later that the word limit was 500! And the senior copy ed got it down to 800, and the woman refused to let it be slashed further. Lol. Will know the fate of the story tomorrow. Lol.

    Last week, I got down a 175-word paragraph to 45 words. Phew!

  6. I think the 'how you are writing' is utterly inseparable from the 'what you are writing'. That's the whole bloody trouble in the first place. Otherwise, who would mind a few epithets being slashed? Na? :)