Art of editing

Today morning, over coffee, I was thinking about my writing habits and where I need to improve. I try my best to write regularly. But, I don’t force myself to write. There is no fixed period in a day during which I would sit down to write. In fact, I write at different times throughout the week. It’s random. I do not like sitting down with an intent to start writing something. I sit down to write only after I think I have enough ideas in my mind and that I have thought enough about them to warrant a new blog post. Then, it’s just about typing out what I already have in my mind. This helps me in two ways. First, I don’t spend too much writing. I do not have to think much to come up with ideas. The actual task of writing (or typing) gets boiled down to structuring ideas in sentences and paragraphs. Second, the act of writing becomes a process for clarifying my thinking on various topics.

One of the side-effects of this practice, in my opinion, is that I tend to mash a lot of different ideas together. I always become too verbose in my writing. I take complex thought processes in my mind and put them on a paper (or screen) and hit publish. I know I can probably make my sentences and paragraphs shorter and make my message clearer. But, I fail to do it well. It’s not that I don’t revise and refine. I do. But, I am still not happy with the outcomes. I am referring to editing ideas. I do not sweat much about grammar. I believe getting grammatical structure right is very important. But, I don’t worry too much about it. I know I need to work on it. But, I can also get someone’s help in that regard. What I think I need to be able to do myself is to edit my ideas really well. Curation is often times more important that mere creation of ideas.

Editing from a curation perspective compels us to question what is really important every step of the way. This could be prioritizing and editing ideas, words, sentences or paragraphs. How do I take a complex idea that I have talked about in five paragraphs and turn it into two paragraphs? How do I take a complex paragraph and distill it down to one simple sentence? This is something I have always struggled with. Even throughout my school life, I would do well on long-form writing but be mediocre at short-form writing.

And, for me, these skill of prioritization and editing go beyond writing. We prioritize all the time. It could be product features. It could be to-do lists. It could be choosing one book, show, or song over the other. It could be prioritizing opportunities in our careers. I think getting better at these skills in writing is just a good way of getting better at certain life skills.

Editing is one of those skills that most know is very important but is very hard to master. It’s just a matter of constant practice and conscious observations. Ultimately, choices and decisions are all about editing. Editing is as much about what not to do as it is about what to do.