Advice From A Master

Our topic for July is advice to writers. Over the years, I’ve received a lot of good advice on writing from books, published authors, editors and agents.  But my very favorite advice was, and still is, the words I heard YA novelist Richard Peck say at the SCBWI annual summer conference in 1996.  He said:

“You can always cut ten more words from the tightest page you ever wrote.”

For me, this proved to be excellent advice, especially when I began writing short, short children’s fiction for the Los Angeles Times.  Depending on the editor and situation at the Times, these stories have ranged from 300-600 words, and they needed to be the exact word count. 

At first, I had dismissed what he said as impossible.  After all, once a writer has cut everything she can, how can she cut even more and still keep the story intact?  Well, faced with my word count for the Times being over the limit, I found that it can be done.  By reading and re-reading, I found that often one word could do the work of two, sometimes tags such as “he said” could be eliminated without destroying the continuity, and those pesky adverbs were still lurking in places I hadn’t noticed before!  It all worked towards creating a stronger story.

I have repeated this advice, with permission from Richard Peck and attributing it to him, in some of my own articles on writing and in presentations.  And Richard even invited me to do a mini-presentation on how his words had affected my work when he was doing an all-day SCBWI workshop in Pacific Palisades a few years ago.  A heady experience, for sure!

I continue to keep this excellent advice as my motto in all the writing that I do.

Contributed by Marjorie Flathers


2 responses to “Advice From A Master

  1. gloriastockstill

    Marge, it is obvious you have heeded Richard’s advice. Your manuscripts are chopped until there is no “fat”, which makes them a great read!

  2. Shirley Shibley

    Yes–cut and tighten. I was just checking out my current article in Clubhouse mag. and noticed how the editor did some of that. Rearranging nearly a whole sentence really made a difference.


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