We're doing the last reads and space-fitting on our December articles this week at The Writer and my scalpel has gotten dull and eyes glazed over from what feels like a thousand micro-trims. If, as an editor, you want to avoid cutting into the muscle of an article that has run-over—which is the much quicker solution—then your option is often lots of micro-trims around the muscle, which is a much slower process and must be done meticulously. I think I spent two or three hours on our lead story alone.
Editors know dozens of tricks for tightening and saying the same thing in fewer words, so this "weapon of compression" is also brought into play.
If a publication has a strong preference on widows, then the trimming work gets even more intensive. A widow is a line of type at the end of a paragraph that has just one word on it. Some people in publishing think it's a big deal and looks bad; others, like The New Yorker, don't seem to care. The company that publishes The Writer is very anti-widow (and I've learned that resistance is futile!). So we typically do a tiny rewrite or play with hyphenation to get rid of widows whenever possible.
There are a lot of other problems, too, that can slow up space-fitting, including how separate sections with subheads line up and break into the next column. But if I went into all of those, then your eyes would quickly glaze over.
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