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7 Surprising Lessons I’ve Learned from Editing Myself

To quote the great philosopher, Buzz Lightyear:

“These [wings] are a terillium-carbonic alloy and I CAN fly.”

When I unwittingly became a full-time video editor without any experience, knowledge, skill, equipment, or authority, I became the raw embodiment of Buzz’s arrogance:

“I CAN fly!”

You remember what happens to Buzz, right?

He tries and falls and tries again and falls again and then eventually loses an arm and then loses his mind (“I’M MISSES NESBIT!”) before finally figuring out that no, he can’t fly, but with a little duct tape, the help of several friends, firepower from an external source, and lots of smoke and mirrors, he can, in fact soar above the trees for a while.

What does he call it, again?

Oh yeah:

“This isn’t flying. It’s falling with style”

When you creating art of any kind, you are leaping off a cliff.

When you edit, you can make everyone believe you are flying.

(If only for a few moments).

#1 Nobody is a natural

Here’s one I can’t help but lead with. Somebody said it to me yesterday:

“Todd, you’re such a natural on camera.”

Yeah, okay.

Here’s a quick clip from one of the first things I ever recorded:

This is the end of a Snapchat segment called Motivation Monday. I actually thought the hood was cool.

A couple years later, I figured out a few more things:

Although I still didn’t know how to hold a camera without my arms going to Jello, at least I could speak in a straight line.

Moving on to something within the last year…

What happened in between those videos? Seven years of experience and practice and learning*.

A reminder: Nobody is “a natural” at anything.

(*And better gear. But don’t yell at me, that’s another post for another time).

#2 You will hate yourself at the start of any new endeavour

Let’s pick on audio since many people will refuse to start a podcast because they think they sound dumb.

As much grief as many people feel for disliking their looks, I’ve found the self-hatred of a voice to be even more prevalent. Let me take 2 seconds to point out why this is:

Whenever you hear your own voice, you hear it through the vibrations of your vocal chords, AND through your ears. (This is why you can sound like a god in conversation, but a pixie on recording).

Most people, upon discovering what they *really* sound like for the first time, are repulsed at the voice-stealing chipmunk coming out of the speaker.

But here’s the trick: everyone else has been hearing your voice for years. Nobody has complained about it yet.

Whenever you start hearing your own voice on a regular basis, you are only listening to what every single person in your life has been hearing and enjoying since they’ve known you.

In short — get over yourself. Just start.

#3 Every edit is a lie

Okay I’m going to take a risk now that might drive you away. Here’s a peek at a pretty mild video edit once I’m almost finished

All the footage in the bottom right corner

This is 30+ minutes of footage which I had to figure out how to cook down to about three minutes. How to achieve this?


Lie and lie and lie.

Splice sentences together. Cut to a reaction shot while casually removing 7 minutes of nonsense rambling. Pick out 12 words from take 4 and inject them into the 6 good words. When all is said and done, the result is seamless.

This is a fun trick to make this concept tangible — keep a timer next time you read a blog post. All done? Good, now take the time it took you to read the post and multiply it by 50. That’s writing time. Now double it. That’s the time the author spent editing it to make sure it was worthy of your eyes.

On behalf of all of us, you’re welcome.

#4 Every edit is the truth

You don’t WANT to see Ed Helms standing in frame on set of The Office for 10 minutes saying “test, test.”

You don’t WANT to read the first draft of a John Green novel, with heavy-handed prose and weak metaphor.

You don’t WANT to listen to Taylor Swift’s sound check for 6 hours before she plays the actual show. (I mean, I would. But that’s not the point)

Every time I edit something, I am closer to what I meant to say. No, not what I said but what I meant to say.

Here is the lifecycle of this three minute post:

At its best, the iteration of editing crafts a message pure and clear — the very soul of an idea, or as close as we can get to it.

Your first drafts are probably very good. But they are never as good as your second draft will be.

#5 You CAN edit and create at the same time

I think this is one of the great myths of our time. While composing this post, I’ve probably hit the backspace button 42 times. I did it in the previous sentence, actually. And that next one. And now that I’m thinking about it, apparently I am unable to spell at all or write a complete sentence without doing so.

This comes back to experience. Whose first draft of a novel do you think will be better? Stephen King’s or the 22-year old Wisconsin University graduate who has never written a novel before?

Odds are, it’s Stephen*.

“But you should never delete your work, Todd! You never know what might come of it!”

Yes I do. Garbage.

The editing process, not the creating process, gives you a finely tuned sense of what will work and what will not. The more you know what works, the easier it is to turn in a cleaner “first draft.”

(*For the record, if I were omnipotent, I would swap out the soft “ph” in King’s name to the more violent and horrible “V.” It is more fitting. Every time I spell his name, I think about this*)

#6) Be the team

There is a little phrase we like to throw around our office, a faux title:

“Expert by default”

That means, if nobody else is doing what needs to be done, and you are 10% competent in that role, congratulations! You are the expert by default!

  • Before I had a sound guy, I was the sound guy.
  • Before I someone set up the equipment, I set up the equipment.
  • Before I had someone create lower thirds, I created them.
  • Before I had a library of content, I scoured the web for free stock footage.

You think:

“But I’m not nearly as good as ____”

Stop. This is a trick of the internet.

1,000 years ago, John Smith didn’t worry whether or not he grew carrots as well as John Brown up the street. He only wanted to feed his family. Like only ONE person can own a skill. Wrong. And the person you are aspiring to be stole her skills from someone else as well.

There is only supply and demand. If you find a demand, be the supply.

#7) Build the team

Today, James Patterson doesn’t have to edit his own books.

Eif Rivera doesn’t have to edit his own footage.

Eric Thomas doesn’t have to edit his own slide presentations.

As you ascend the position of “expert by default,” it will become necessary to hand off power. This will be a hard transition. You will have to give up some control. Worse, the end product will not be as good as it was when you were handling everything.

Then it will return to the quality of your liking.

Then it will become better than you would have ever dreamed.

Much love as always ❤

— Todd B

Infinite Ideas

If I am elite in any area it is because of my ideas, both the quality and the quantity.

I finally got my idea-generating process down in an ebook: The Ultimate Guide to Infinite Ideas, which I’m giving away for the price of an email address.

Get your copy here.

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