pen-1080452__180.jpg red pencil

Parts 1, 2, and 3 are here, here and here.

I sat back and scarfed down two Dove dark chocolates: one as a reward and the other as fortification for the next step, which JFM calls “Panning for Gold.” Our assignment was to get the S out of our FD and craft a concise, golden work of written art not exceeding four hundred words. I knew this going in. Other than being half in love with JFM, the reason I signed up for the course was to learn to use fewer words and make every one of them count.

But wait a minute!  Cut 6141 words down to 400? Some of those words better count four or five times! Hoping for better odds, I calculated how much space 400 words take up on a page. My jam writing was 365 lines on nine single-spaced pages, and by my unclearly defined, arbitrary system of cutting and pasting and checking word count ad nauseam, I determined that, based on the font size I was using, 400 words requires exactly 21 lines. Twenty-one lines? Is JFM crazy? Can he count?

There was no easy way out, so I gritted my teeth, pulverized a few more Doves, and got to work. I organized my little darlings into semi-logical sections, slashed the life out of most of them with a blood-red pencil, reorganized, slashed, reorganized, slashed. Slowly the count came down: 5000, 3600, 1200, 758 . . . finally 400 to the letter!

Hallelujah! Time for another Dove. Then I read my masterpiece, and it was no masterpiece. The humor of being an accidental 38-year-old mother was gone. Keeping an eagle eye on the word count, I fiddled with it for several clinically depressed days until I couldn’t stand to look at it any longer.

That’s when JFM once again emerged from cyberspace with revamped instructions for our final assignment: rewrite what we’d just rewritten and incorporate an assortment of literary techniques such as hypophora, chiasmus, procatalepsis, anadiplosis, mesozeugma, catachresis, and polysendaton. If you ask me, they sound like incurable diseases.

And they just about killed me. The word count went up—425, 450, 500. My only recourse was to fight back, and the red pencil came out again. Slash, slay, decimate, slay, slash. The count came down to 400, then my red pencil made a final sweep and took out four more of the enemy.

Mission accomplished. JFM would be so proud. I was even prouder.