Essay: Condensing

Sep 25, 2020

In 2003, I was writing a weekly column for the Traverse City Record-Eagle when I received a call from Peter Payette, the news director for Interlochen Public Radio.  He complimented my work and said, “I think your columns could be adapted for radio.”  Was I interested?

  I was very interested.  I knew a lot about newspapers but almost nothing about radio.  The invitation to share my ideas in my own voice was appealing—and also daunting.  What Peter didn’t tell me was that my 700-word columns would need to be shortened to 200 words in order to fit between the NPR news stories.

It was an adventure in learning to be brief—and also clear, not only in my writing but my thinking.  A listener doesn’t have written copy to refer to or reread, so complicated sentences are not an option.  I needed the advice Winston Churchill found time to give his staff—in the middle of World War II—about condensing official correspondence.  “Let us not shrink,” he wrote, “from using the short expressive phrase!”

It was a lesson in living as well as writing.  Less clutter in my sentences and in my life has brought me greater focus and deeper meanings. 

All things considered, but only a few selected.