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50 – 20 – 10 – 5

This one is for all my friends who write, want to write, think about writing or are teaching writing.

The Perfect Recipe for the Perfect Headline.

It has side benefits.

I wish I could lay claim to this.

Alas, not my brainchild. That honor goes to Internet Psychologist Graham Jones across the pond in Mother England.

But it’s been weeks now that I’ve struggled with this headline issue. I’ve researched and then some.

I’ve experimented with various headline analyzer website. I’ve written about it.

I have –

  • Slept;

  • Eaten;

  • Dreamt (nightmares);

  • Scrapped and started over again;

  • Begged for enlightenment;

  • Prayed (yes, I did) for clarity;

  • Shook my fist;

  • Humbly approached St. Francis de Sales (he’d be the patron saint of writers.)

Yup, not an avenue did I leave unexplored.

In desperation I turned to 50 – 20 – 10 – 5.

Why was this my last resort?


I hated doing book reports.

I hated whittling down pages and pages and pages of writing to one page.

How could I possibly do this to my own brainchild? What of my brilliant prose should I discard? What should I keep? What should I change?

Because that is what 50 – 20 – 10 – 5 forced me to do.

WHAT IS 50 – 20 – 10 – 5?

I had to summarize my story into 50 words.

Was that the end of it? Oh no. Next, I had to –

  • Whittle fifty into twenty;

  • Downsize twenty into ten.

  • SQUEEZE ten into five.

There I could trap the essence of my story. There I could create the perfect headline.

Now for the side benefits.

Long before I got to five words, my story took off in a totally different direction.

It became something else. Much better than the original which I have now filed in “not for publication.”

It forced my creativity into something of value. But who could’ve thought that twenty-six letters could cause so much grief!

Until next week. I’m working on the Christmas Spirit.



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