(Check out the promo poster they made! Love it!)
One of the most difficult writing tasks is revision - especially when one has to meet a maximum word-count. Even more challenging is when minutes read aloud, not word-count, determines the length. I've not given a one-hour talk before, and it's complicated because one hour thins down to about 40 minutes when taking into account the introduction and Q&A - so it was pure guesstimation on my part about how long it should be. I knew what I wanted to say, the structure and content, but one never knows how long it'll end up after one's research and writing are complete. To get a handle on this, I used some other people's keynote talks as guidelines.
Everyone reads at different speeds, and because I learned to talk in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I speak more quickly than some. I figured I could use a few more words than my models if needed.
My first draft came to 9000 words, quite a bit longer than my generous target. Typical. When I've tried to write short-short stories (or flash fiction), I end up with a couple thousand words. My short stories turn into novelettes, novelettes into novellas, and novels into giant bricks of interwoven stories. Revision usually lengthens them as I enrich the setting or character or fill in plot holes.
Read aloud, 9000 words amounted to about 80 minutes - though a lot of that was stopping to make changes, or hearing clevermanka's feedback. Even so, it would surely run longer than an hour read as-is.
After a revision (that added words) and some cutting, I got down to 8800 words, which took almost exactly one hour to deliver. CRAP.
CR suggested some major cuts, I cringed, but one cannot create time, so back to the cutting table. I targeted about 15-20% shorter, because that's how many minutes I needed to trim.
After two more passes, I got it down to 6900 words. Pretty close. After one more set of brutal cuts this morning, it's down to less than 6500 words: a full 20% off the top.
I can't tell you how helpful it is to have another set of eyes, another perspective, to determine what's really necessary and what just gets in the way. It's also incredibly useful to get the kind of completely honest suggestions that only clevermanka can offer, because she doesn't feel the need to sugar-coat her candor. Ahem. Thanks to her, I now feel confident not only in my delivery (she patiently listened to me read it twice), but also the content.
And, y'know, being able to finish the talk during the time alotted.
Can't wait! It's called, "Science Fiction: Mythologies for a Changing Age." I think it's a really good talk. Hope the audience finds it inspiring.