How to beat the 250-word challenge



All freelance writers are grateful for fresh assignments. We like to write and most importantly, we like to eat.

And as always when one particular writing assignment comes in, as it does three or four times a year, I’m pleased as punch to get the work.

It goes to the top of my assignment pile. I put other clients on hold. The editor is a gem to work with. The publication has stature, importance, and show-off-ability pour moi. I’m not naming it here because I’m supposed to be working on the assignment right now...and the editor follows my Facebook page.

Just one little thing: the word count for each article is short. What do I define as short? Well, 250 words (think half a page) sums it up. This is fine, the editor has decreed that this will be the length, and that’s that. It sounds so easy, doesn’t it?

Except when this happens: the subject is a source of serious passion for the spokesperson I’m interviewing. I could be writing about and doing interviews on investment trends,  organic farming, university programs, oil and gas exploration or the latest in retirement living. And have done. 

Inevitably, the  spokesperson loves what they do, and is thrilled to be interviewed. Inevitably, I warn them right off the top that I only have so many words, and that the interview must, therefore, be short. Inevitably, they agree. And inevitably, unless the subject is a real snorefest, we’re still talking half an hour later.

I can’t help it, and neither can they. I get fascinated by their passion for, say, genuine organic farming. Question follows question and I wind up with reams of information that I can’t possibly squeeze in to my allotted word count.

I used to lash myself for my lack of discipline. Now, I’ve decided to look at things differently. In the remote off-chance that my fave editor decides to increase the word count, I’m ready. I’ve given myself lots of choice tidbits for my lede. (That’s off-fashioned journo spelling for lead sentence, in case you were wondering). I won’t be caught short-handed. I’ve explored the subject thoroughly. Given it a good going-over. I know lots of stuff now that I didn’t know before.

The trick, aside from developing a bit more self-discipline, is to set the material aside, put it out of my mind and let the Magic Process take over. The Process happens when you’re thinking about something else. That’s when the most riveting point from the interview jumps into my head and announces, “here I am, here’s your lede.”

At least, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.


About Jane Carthew Davidson

As a former senior public relations specialist with a large publicly traded multi-national chemical company, Jane Carthew Davidson produced the company’s award winning annual report for several years. Later, she was media relations specialist for Ontario’s Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), where she wrote speeches for the executive team, trained spokespersons across the province, and developed talking points and strategies designed to clarify the role played by property assessment within the municipal taxation system. Jane is a former business reporter for the Globe and Mail Report on Business, and the Toronto Star’s Business Today. Her articles have appeared in the Toronto Star, the Medical Post, the Anglican Journal, the Financial Post and most recently, the Globe and Mail’s special supplements on subjects as wide ranging as organic farming and new investment regulations. On several occasions, Jane’s media savvy and quick research skills enabled her to win broad media attention and investment queries from Canada, the Unites States and Europe, for a unique medical device start-up venture. Following Peterborough’s Flood of the Century in 2004, Jane handled media relations for the City of Peterborough, developing and implementing the communications plan for the city’s media outreach to afflicted citizens, concerned insurance companies, city staff and other government stakeholders.
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