Says the Little Professor:
Generally speaking, it is easier to write an article of the appropriate length than it is to edit an article of, oh, 11000+ words down to something resembling a not altogether inappropriate length.
This is–to put it mildly–my experience exactly. So much so, in fact, that it was one of the major points I tried to get across in the classes in journalistic criticism that I taught a few years ago at Rutgers/Newark. Having spent a good deal of my life writing short pieces on serious subjects for newspapers and magazines, I’ve learned from experience to write organically short–that is, to write a five-hundred-word draft of a five-hundred-word piece instead of writing a thousand-word draft and cutting it in half. Not only does this reduce waste motion, but the finished product is almost always better. When you write a long piece and chop it down to size, it tends to read…well, choppily.
So why do inexperienced authors write long? I suspect it’s because they assume that they’ll get only one chance to impress the editor, which causes them to empty their bag of tricks every time they write a piece. (This reminds me of another of my critical commandments: Don’t tell everything you know.) Flashiness is a sin of youth. The older and more self-assured a writer is, the more likely he is to appreciate the virtues of simplicity and economy.
I don’t know whether it’s possible to teach this lesson to young writers. The older I get, the more I wonder whether anything can be taught to anyone. Still, I did my best to get it across to my students, and I like to think that at least some of them were paying attention.