Michael Collins: Word limits — The bane of a writer’s existence

Jan. 23, 2014 @ 07:47 AM

Today represents a monumental milestone in my relatively new career as a columnist. You see, this particular installment serves as my very first permanently established, bi-weekly, ”I actually have a deadline now” column.

Here to fore, I had the luxury of sending in something when I felt like it and Jason has always been kind enough to run it when there was space. I have referred to it, tongue in cheek, as “a slow crime week,” meaning there were not enough arrests to push me out of the publication. To all you criminals out there, thanks for taking a day off once in a while, by the way.

With all of my columns so far, there was only one caveat. I had to keep them under 600 words. Admittedly, I have failed at that goal more often than not. For me, being restricted to 600 words is like racing on a 16th of a mile drag strip. It’s like eating a three-ounce fillet or one scoop of orange sherbet. It’s like watching the first five laps of the Daytona 500, then having the power go out for the rest of the afternoon. It’s like sitting through only an hour of Titanic and getting up and walking out of the theater. Ok, I have actually done that last thing and it wasn’t quite so bad. That one was a poor analogy on my part.

When Jason asked if I would be interested in taking this slot, he advised me that I would have less freedom with a deadline but it would bump me up to 900 words. 900 words! That was nearly 50 percent more than I was allowed to write previously. Trust me, I’m an accountant, I know this stuff. A 300-word increase is a huge bump. There was simply no way I could pass it up.

So, I didn’t. And here I sit, typing feverishly and feeling a little bit big for my britches. If I were Barney Fife, Andy would surely have confiscated my bullet by now to ensure that I didn’t blow off a toe in my preoccupied self-adulation.

In all honestly though, for those of you that have followed my work the last six months, I hope you have noticed a theme. It is my desire that my columns have made you laugh frequently, cry occasionally and in rare circumstances, do both. With 300 more words to work with, I have every intention of staying true to that desire going forward.

To ensure that I do not stray from that, I want to make three promises to you in writing. A contractual agreement, if you will.

First, I promise you will never find anything newsworthy in any column I write. If the Pope dies, it will appear in another section of this publication. If a tsunami hits the coast of Japan, I will mourn with you but I will not comment. If Chris Christie gets busted for blocking a bridge in New York to strong arm a local mayor, you’ll hear nothing of it from me. Well, actually, that could potentially be some good material. I’m going to leave political satire on the table but I will visit it infrequently.

Second, I promise that I will work very hard to make sure that my little piece of The Mountain Press will be a place you can come to escape the world for just a few minutes and find something to smile about, or cry about, or both.

Finally, I want to make one final, irrevocable and most astonishingly important promise of all to each of you …

Screeeeetch! Sorry that was your 600 word limit.

See? That’s what happens when a person with too many thoughts and not enough paper is restricted to 600 words. Count ‘em. Its 600, I swear.

Being limited to six hundred words is an atrocity, in my opinion and, I suspect yours too now, since you will never know what I intended to pledge in that final promise. That really stinks for you too, because that one was going to be talked about for ages.

Today is a new day, though, and your loss is my gain. I have three hundred more words to play with. With three hundred extra words, I can accomplish so much more. I can use more adjectives. I can establish a backstory. Heck, I can establish a front story. I can brown nose more readers. Most importantly, though, I can try even harder to make sure that you have something to smile about at least every other week.

Although my column is light at heart, I assure you that I don’t take it lightheartedly and I will always try hard to make sure that I bring you something worthy of your valuable time.

And with all of that said, friends, I am afraid I must bring my first ever permanently established, bi-weekly,” I actually have a deadline now” column to an end. I am quickly approaching my 900 word limit and am not yet ready to rock the boat. So, 854 words it is. Man they went by fast, didn’t they?