How quickly can you edit and still do a good job? In another life I was an editor for a financial and business news service, and I was amazed at how quickly reporters and editors could churn out thousands of words, yet maintain high standards.
I believe you can learn to write and edit rapidly; it just takes practice, like any other learned skill. While editors usually slowly and carefully peruse copy, learning to polish prose quickly can add firepower to their editing arsenal.
Of course, journalism has certain patterns that make it easier, or at least more structured, for getting words on screen. We’ve all heard about the inverted pyramid, where the most important information comes first, and the 5WH — the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How questions that every story must answer.
Yet I think we can learn to edit almost anything quickly. I’m not advocating that we edit everything machine-gun style, but exercising this ability flexes our editing muscles and gets us thinking in new ways.
How can you learn to smoke the keyboard? Two methods are timed writing and editing, and what I like to call slash-and-burn editing.
In timed writing, you set a goal to write flat out for a certain period. Choose a topic and just go, without stopping to correct or self-edit along the way. I know this is not editing, but it will give you some fresh material to work with when you do get to the speed-editing stage.
If you’re shy about writing, just go online to any newspaper and copy a mid-length (say about 800 to 1,000 words) article and paste it into a Word document that you can practise editing on. But I encourage you to write, because fast editing often means the most effective way to get to your target word count is to rewrite material.
You’ve now got 600 or 800 or however many words in front of you. It’s time to slash and burn! Set that timer to 10 minutes and cut the article in half, without losing any key information. In half! Yes, that’s all the space you have, and you have 10 minutes to deadline to make it work.
Freaking out yet?
Journalists do this many times a day, day in and day out. You can do it, too.
Here are a few tips. Learn to scan for what’s important. It’ll be scary cutting chunks of text or even sentences, so when you cut them, paste them in another open, blank document, so you still have them to go back to if you end up needing them. Why another document? Because that will keep your primary document word count accurate. You are keeping an eye on the count, right?
To get comfortable with fast editing, keep practising. Oh, and if you’re curious, from concept, to blank page, to writing, to a quick edit, this article took me about 30 minutes. Your turn!
Previous post from Paul Cipywnyk: Basic Tools for Productive Editing.
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