The other day I wrote an essay about the demolition of a 19th century sailing ship on the San Francisco waterfront that I had witnessed by chance on the way to work. I was appalled, and moved to write about it because it represented to me how San Francisco is losing touch with its heritage. I got it just the way I wanted it, then showed it to a friend. “This would make a perfect Op-Ed piece in the Chronicle,” he said, and I thought, hey, he’s right. It’s been years since I’ve sent any Op-Ed pieces around, so I called to see what the procedure was. “The essay has to be 650 words or less,” the friendly editor said. Mine was more than 1,200. So I set about the exercise of cutting it down by almost half. I’m a firm believer that a story can always be tightened, and here I was presented with a challenge. Could I cut away half the essay and still make it work? I had to abandon a lot of stuff I liked, but I was able to keep the essence, and if I allow myself to admit it I might say that the shorter piece is better. Try it sometime. Get something just the way you want it and then see if you can cut it in half. It’s a great exercise, and sometimes, though not always, it can be done. The greater lesson is a piece can always be tightened, maybe not by half, but somewhat.Take a look at the process…
Larry’s original piece
The final version that ran in the San Francisco Chronicle.
About Larry’s Corner:
Larry Habegger, executive editor of Travelers’ Tales, has been writing about travel since 1980. He has visited almost fifty countries and six of the seven continents, traveling from the frozen Arctic to equatorial rain forest, the high Himalayas to the Dead Sea. In the early 1980s he co-authored mystery serials for the San Francisco Examiner with James O’Reilly, and since 1985 their syndicated newspaper column, “World Travel Watch,” has appeared in newspapers in five countries, and can also be found on WorldTravelWatch.com and on TravelersTales.com. As series editors of Travelers’ Tales, they have worked on some eighty titles, winning many awards for excellence. Habegger regularly teaches the craft of travel writing at workshops and writers conferences, and he lives with his family in San Francisco. Click here to learn more about Larry Habegger.
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