Despite the fiendish feeling in the air this week, I have not died and left you, nor been consumed by a ravening werewolf. I have been writing The Paper. My professor did knowingly and with malice aforethought set us a paper on an extraordinarily complicated topic—the topic the entire class is centred around—and instructed us to sum it up in 1000 words.
Will I have to do the same in my future career as an academic? Yes. Did that make it easier this time? Absolutely not. Outline and research completed, I finally sat down to a marathon writing session, not stopping when the words wouldn’t come or when the entire topic passed the point of making sense. (And no, Mumsy Dearest, I did not marathon because I left it until the last minute. Although if I had had another week, I’d not have found the impetus to write through the pain.) Then I went to bed.
And in the morning, cut it down from 1472 words to 1082*. Pascal had it right when he wrote, ‘I have written you a long letter because I haven’t time to write a short one.’ It was like playing a devilish word game for Halloween. Singulars in generalisations were reduced to plurals, relative clauses to pre-noun modifiers, dignified two-word expressions to contractions. (Repeat after me: I
must not mustn’t use extra words.) Passives became active, regardless of their agentive role. I learned also that hypenated compound words count as a single word, and that formatting a citation in the form (Jones:2), with no space, nets an extra point word.
I was ruthless.
In two-and-a-half hours, I went from Dickens to Hemingway. Then I worked through my lunch hour to get it bibliographed and printed—I had never used the school print queue before, and golly, those computers take forever to load a person’s profile. Not because it was in danger of being late; I had 26 hours to go. I just wanted it gone.
So that’s the densest prose of my young life, successfully sent. And that’s me returned to the land of the living.
* 10% leeway is permitted. I assume they don’t give the possible values as a range precisely so that one feels one has leeway and doesn’t push her luck.