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Edit This Post on Editing

Edit This Post on Editing

Edit This Post on Editing

    Readers of Tim Ferriss’s 2007 book The Four-Hour Workweek might be familiar with a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery that appears on page 65 of the book: “Perfection is not when there is no more to add, but no more to take away.”  This is especially evident in writing.  Free-writing is the process of assembling raw material, but careful editing is like sculpture or construction.  It is the process of taking unorganized material and fashioning it into something useful.  As people get more productive and as their time gets more valuable, it will become progressively more important to pack as much information into as little space as possible.  Here are a couple of editing steps that can help you write tighter, more lucid prose.

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    1.  Write a Reverse Outline. I learned this a few summers ago when I participated in an Academic Ladder Summer Writing Club.  Basically, you take your finished rough draft and then write an outline based on the draft.  This helps you identify repetition and redundancy, which then gives you what you need in order to move to step 2.

    2.  Eliminate redundant passages that repeat things you have said earlier in the draft unnecessarily.  Redundancy can be the sand in the gears of your rough draft.  Prose that was swift, fluid, and interesting gets dull fast when you’re making ineffective use of redundancy.  That isn’t to say that repetition isn’t useful, but a lot of times you might end up repeating yourself either because you can’t think of anything more interesting to say or because your thoughts are fundamentally disorganized.  So what do you eliminate, and how?

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    3.  Eliminate unnecessary pages and paragraphs.  It’s appropriate to begin the editing process with a chainsaw.  Editing that crappy first draft–and you should always give yourself permission to write a crappy first draft, no matter how bad it is, as long as you get it on paper–is not the time to be delicate.  There are probably large swaths of your draft that can be eliminated without reducing the quality of your final product.  I’ve gotten comments like this at conferences and from journal referees.  In one case, a conference commentator liked a paper I had written but suggested that I eliminate the first nineteen pages.  I received a revise-and-resubmit request on a journal article once suggesting that I eliminate the first fifteen pages.  And so on.  The idea that a piece of writing is good just because it is long might be appropriate for a sixth grade language arts class, but it is wholly inappropriate for serious writing.  Past a certain wordcount, the returns to additional words are sharply diminishing.

    4.  Eliminate unnecessary sentences.  Now it’s time to start being more careful.  You’ve eliminated redundant paragraphs, and now it is time to look within the essential exposition to see where you can clarify.  There is still likely to be some junk here that can be eliminated without compromising your message.  Your readers’ time is very scarce.  Don’t waste it.

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    5.  Eliminate words, then syllables.  Simple expression elucidates powerful thinking, and it has been said–though I forget by whom–that you should never use a ten-cent word when a five-cent word will do.  In the process you will clarify your analysis, clarify your own thinking, and do an important service for your readers.

    You’ve probably noticed, perhaps with irony, that this article is imperfect.  The last couple of times I have taught writing-intensive sections of economics 101, I have given students a bonus assignment in which I give them my own interpretation of the first writing assignment–the last couple of times it has involved Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions, if you’re curious–and asked them to grade my paper according to the rubric by which I grade their work in exchange for a few bonus points.  I think they have fun with it, it’s a nice way to let them peek behind the curtain, so to speak, and suffice it to say it is always fun and informative to read my students’ comments on my own work.  So here’s an exercise for everyone reading: what would happen this article look like if you applied the editing suggestions I gave you above to what I’ve written here?  If you take a shot at it, I would be interested in seeing the results either via email or in the comments.  Happy editing!

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    Art Carden

    Art Carden is an Assistant Professor of Economics and Business at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.

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    Last Updated on July 3, 2020

    30 Small Habits To Lead A More Peaceful Life

    30 Small Habits To Lead A More Peaceful Life

    In today’s world, true peace must come from within us and our own actions. Here are 30 small things you can do on a regular basis to increase your overall sense of harmony, peace, and well-being:

    1. Don’t go to every fight you’re invited to

    Particularly when you’re around those who thrive on chaos, be willing to decline the invitation to join in on the drama.

    2. Focus on your breath

    Throughout the day, stop to take a few deep breaths. Keep stress at bay with techniques such as “square breathing.” Breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, then out for four counts, and hold again for four counts. Repeat this cycle four times.

    3. Get organized and purge old items

    A cluttered space often creates a cluttered spirit. Take the time to get rid of anything you haven’t used in a year and invest in organizational systems that help you sustain a level of neatness.

    4. Stop yourself from being judgmental

    Whenever you are tempted to have an opinion about someone else’s life, check your intentions. Judging others creates and promotes negative energy.

    5. Say ‘thank you’ early and often

    Start and end each day with an attitude of gratitude. Look for opportunities in your daily routine and interactions to express appreciation.

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    6. Smile more

    Even if you have to “fake it until you make it,” there are many scientific benefits of smiling and laughing. Also, pay attention to your facial expression when you are doing neutral activities such as driving and walking. Turn that frown upside down!

    7. Don’t worry about the future

    As difficult as this sounds, there is a direct connection between staying in the present and living a more peaceful life. You cannot control the future. As the old proverb goes, “Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.” Practice gently bringing your thoughts back to the present.

    8. Eat real food

    The closer the food is to the state from which it came from the earth, the better you will feel in eating it. Choose foods that grew from a plant over food that was made in a plant.

    9. Choose being happy over being right

    Too often, we sacrifice inner peace in order to make a point. It’s rarely worth it.

    10. Keep technology out of the bedroom

    Many studies, such as one conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, have connected blue light of electronic devices before bed to adverse sleep and overall health. To make matters worse, many people report that they cannot resist checking email and social media when their cell phone is in reach of their bed, regardless of the time.

    11. Make use of filtering features on social media

    You may not want to “unfriend” someone completely, however you can choose whether you want to follow their posts and/or the sources of information that they share.

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    12. Get comfortable with silence

    When you picture someone who is the ultimate state of peace, typically they aren’t talking.

    13. Listen to understand, not to respond

    So often in conversations, we use our ears to give us cues about when it is our turn to say what we want to say. Practice active listening, ask questions, process, then speak.

    14. Put your troubles in a bubble

    Whenever you start to feel anxious, visualize the situation being wrapped in a bubble and then picture that sphere floating away.

    15. Speak more slowly

    Often a lack of peace manifests itself in fast or clipped speech. Take a breath, slow down, and let your thoughtful consideration drive your words.

    16. Don’t procrastinate

    Nothing adds stress to our lives like waiting until the last minute.

    17. Buy a coloring book

    Mandala coloring books for adults are becoming more popular because of their connection to creating inner peace.

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    18. Prioritize yourself

    You are the only person who you are guaranteed to live with 24 hours a day for the rest of your life.

    19. Forgive others

    Holding a grudge is hurting you exponentially more than anyone else. Let it go.

    20. Check your expectations

    Presumption often leads to drama. Remember the old saying, “Expectations are premeditated resentments.”

    21. Engage in active play

    Let your inner child come out and have some fun. Jump, dance, play, and pretend!

    22. Stop criticizing yourself

    The world is a hard enough place with more than enough critics. Your life is not served well by being one of them.

    23. Focus your energy and attention on what you want

    Thoughts, words, and actions all create energy. Energy attracts like energy. Put out what you want to get back.

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    24. Assign yourself “complaint free” days.

    Make a conscious decision not to complain about anything for a whole day. It might be harder than you think and the awareness will stick with you.

    25. Surround yourself with people you truly enjoy being in the company of

    Personalities tend to be contagious, and not everyone’s is worth catching. Be judicious in your choices.

    26. Manage your money

    Financial concerns rank top on the list of what causes people stress. Take the time each month to do a budget, calculate what you actually spend and sanity check that against the money you have coming in.

    27. Stop trying to control everything

    Not only is your inner control freak sabotaging your sense of peace, it is also likely getting in the way of external relationships as well.

    28. Practice affirmations

    Repeat positive phrases that depict the life and qualities you want to attract. It may not come naturally to you, but it works.

    29. Get up before sunrise

    Personally witnessing the dawn brings a unique sense of awe and appreciation for life.

    30. Be yourself

    Nothing creates more inner discord than trying to be something other than who we really are. Authenticity breeds happiness.

    Featured photo credit: man watching sunrise via stokpic.com

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