Writing Assignment: Cut, Remove, Delete

by Randy Murray on October 14, 2011

This may be the most difficult writing assignment that I’ve issued to date.

Cutting your own material is very hard. You wrote those words, that way, for a reason. But the result might not be good enough. Sometimes you write for yourself. That’s reason enough to get it right, do your best job. But sometimes you write for others with strict requirements. No more thea 250 words. “I like it, but it’s too long.” “It’s too wordy.”

And so you cut, you remove, you simplify, you delete. And it’s really hard work.

On the other hand, it’s often very easy to take someone else’s material and cut it down. That’s why newspaper editors are both admired and reviled by journalists. They’re ruthless. They only have so much space and they have no qualms about slicing a story to the bone to make it fit. But it’s not limited to them. I find it almost irresistible to cut and rewrite other people’s work. When someone gives me a piece and asks me, “what do you think?” I find it very difficult not to pull out my red pen and make it bleed. But for my own work, it’s much more difficult. And yet, I’ve learned to do that, too.

It’s sometimes easier to throw that first draft away and start again, but you don’t always have that as an option. You may have limited time, or you may need to retain the key pieces of your original draft. You just have to make it shorter.

Professionals learn to cut, edit, and boil down their own work. You should learn to do it, too.

For today’s assignment, take a piece of your own that is at least 500 words long and cut it down to no more than 250. Not 251. No more than 250 (and no fewer than 240).

Try and retain all of the good qualities of the original, but make it shorter, tighter. You can write new transitions, but the goal is to cut, not to simply write a new piece.

For extra credit, do this under a time deadline. Give yourself just thirty minutes. Start the clock. We can’t hold those presses forever!

You can leave your completed assignments in the comments below.


Click here to view and complete previous writing assignments.

And buy a copy of the Writing Assignments book!


The Writing Assignment: Cut, Remove, Delete by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: