Writing Math

You probably think writing happens without any sort of mathematical calculation. Not at all true! There’s a lot of figuring going on in writers’ minds.

Word count – One page in a newsletter or magazine usually holds 500 words. That’s before any photos, charts or other graphics are added.

Quotes – Most stories include quotes from people involved with, or who have experience in, the topic. A good, concise quote usually requires 30-40 words, with attribution (name of speaker, plus title or other reason the reader should take what they say seriously). Many quotes run longer than that, and interview subjects are often quoted more than once. Usually the writer must set-up the quote, which can take another 30 words or so. So figure 75-100 words per person quoted.

Interviews – If the writer knows that the story is going to run on just one page, a calculation is made: No more than two interviews, please. Quotes from two people will take at least 200 words right off the bat. Even with minimal design on the page — a small photo, a headline and subhead — that’s nearly half the story. Any more interviews, and the math evolves from simple addition to calculus. How do you fit three or four, much less five or more, people’s sparkling bon mots into this enclosed text space?

Sometimes the writer finds a way to make it all add up. And usually that means a division with the art director.

But subtraction of the multiplying sources is the only real solution.