Save time — and words — with structure
As a reality TV superfan, I’ve learned a lot about writing from “Project Runway” episodes.
For one thing, time management counts. The most talented designers sometimes trip over deadlines: If your model walks down the runway in a bra and a button, you’re going home no matter how brilliant your sketch looked.
The same thing’s true in writing. It’s what you deliver — on deadline — that counts.
One way to write better, easier and faster, then, is not to overdesign. A big piece of time management boils down to knowing whether you’re creating a wedding gown or a shift, a dissertation or a direct mail letter.
Hitting your number — aka writing to length — can save you an enormous amount of time. So instead of overwriting, then underwriting, map out a plan for the length of your piece before you write a single word.
1. Budget your word count.
To write to length, start with your assigned word count. Then allocate a word count to each section of your piece.
2. Map out your story.
Now determine how you’re going to use those words — which statistics, success stories and other facts and ideas will make up each paragraph.
At this point, you’ll start to see that some things won’t fit. I call this “editing before you write,” because it allows you to make most of your decisions about what goes in and what stays out before you write the first word.
The alternative: Burning time writing everything, then burning more time cutting elements after you’ve already written them.
3. Track your budget.
Once you start writing, check your word count after you finish each section. That lets you know how well you’re spending your words and whether you have more or fewer words than budgeted for the next sections.
Count me in
I don’t claim that this system allows me to hit the word count perfectly on each piece I write. But I come pretty close — plus or minus 10%, maybe.
Over the course of my career, that’s saved me hundreds and hundreds of hours of overwriting, then cutting. That’s certainly more time by far than I’ve invested in mapping out my pieces before I write.