I’m still struggling with trimming an essay to meet word count. This essay’s parking lot is full! So I decided to employ the Paramedic Method that I teach in my composition classes at Kaplan University. I’m not sure why it’s called “paramedic” since to me it seems more surgical, but perhaps it’s meant as a first aid for beginning writers, when for me it’s more of a last ditch surgical procedure.

The Paramedic Method is an editing method to aid in writing more concisely.

Of course I instinctively use it when I edit, but still, my word count is at 807, and I have to get to 800, so perhaps applying the Paramedic Method will help.

Here goes:

Step 1: Find all the prepositions and see if you can contract or replace them with a stronger verb:

Example: …laid claim to   ” claimed (from 3 words to 1)

…putting in pipes   ” laying pipes (1 word less)

Step 2: Look for forms of the verbs “to be” and “to have.” The search function comes in handy here. See if they can be replaced, eliminated, or substituted with stronger verbs.

Example: It wasn’t until I saw the house that I realized… (10 words)

” Not
until I saw the house did I realize… (9 words)

OK, only one word less with this particular rephrasing, but hey, I’m down to the wire. Incidentally, as I search through the text for “was,” I find another spot where I could trim:

…because the house was a mess.   ”  …because the house was messy.

But, do I really want to? “Messy” sounds different than “was a mess.” Now I’m back to the fact that text is not just text, but hopefully literary writing, and what a phrase sounds like does matter as well.

I might have to resort to cutting another qualifier or description. I’ve already dropped descriptions like “my father as a boy, in a cable-knit sweater” to read just “my father as a boy.” I rather hate that, because “in a cable-knit sweater” provides a nice visual as well as a cultural reference, but alas, it is not strictly necessary to move the story forward. Neither is “walking down the street” in “as we left, walking down the street,” so perhaps that will be my next victim.

For today, however, I’ll give the essay a break. Only time can provide the necessary distance to see the piece more clearly, and to spot another few words that can go. Then I can consider whether to pop in that one “yet” I’d really like to have in the first sentence.