An exercise in brevity…

Every year, just after Thanksgiving, our local weekly newspaper calls for submissions to their Readers’ Writes issue. They cynical side of me thinks it’s because the regular staff writers wanted a vacation from the ice box that is Ithaca in winter and fled to the south, leaving the editors behind to scramble for stories. The less skeptical part hopes they do it because they know that this town is crawling with talented people and what better way to showcase this talent?

Whatever the reason, this year I decided to participate, so I did what any author should do: I looked up the submission requirement. This, in their entirety, was what they said:

Submissions sought for year-end Readers’ Writes issue of the ‘Times’

Since 1981, the Ithaca Times has closed the year with the “Readers’ Writes” issue, featuring submissions from our most valuable commodity, you. Stories, poems, drawings and photographs are welcome. It’s a chance for you to have a voice in the paper other than the letters page.

This year’s theme is “Stories of Redemption”

That can be as loosely interpreted as tradition here dictates. Of course, a wide range of submissions will be accepted. Send submissions to Attn: Readers’ Writes, the Ithaca Times, PO Box 27, Ithaca, New York 14850. Or, you can email submissions, with a subject line of “Readers’ Writes” to


This year’s deadline for submission is Thursday Dec. 19, 2013

So, I got writing! I wrote a story based on this definition of redemption: “the repurchase of something sold”. It was a great story! It was a lovely story! It was a fantastic 3400-word story! Puffed up with pride, I sent it off to the editor, certain it would be received with fanfare and confetti.

I think it took maybe an hour for a reply:

I’m sorry, but we can’t fit anything that long into the issue. There are a lot of submissions and the issue is only 20 pages long.
If you have anything under 1200 words, please submit it.

Deflated balloon would aptly describe my ego when I read that. Anyone who has worked with me, knows what happened next. I had a hissy fit.

Dammit! I wrote 3400 fantastic words! I sweated and slaved over each one of those 3400 words! I rewrote and rearranged and reworked every damned one of those 3400 freakin’ fantastic words! How dare he — this… this… this… BILL person — how DARE he tell ME there are too many of them?

Then it hit me: it’s a challenge! Well, challenge accepted.

It took me one full day of ruthless slashing and reworking, much hair-pulling and, of course, table-chomping to cut it down to 1181 words. Along the way, I learned how to tighten up a story until it was gasping for breath and begging for mercy. What I got was the bare story, stripped of embellishment and flowery phrases, a spare tale of redemption.

As of this writing, I have not heard back from Bill the Editor, but I’m quite certain he will find my story worthy. How can he not? It’s brilliant!

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