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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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    Last Updated on June 23, 2019

    20 Things People Regret the Most Before They Die

    20 Things People Regret the Most Before They Die

    Close your eyes and imagine that you’re at your own funeral—a bit morbid I know, but there’s a reason for it. Now think about what you’d like people to say about you. What kind of a life do you want to lead? People die with all kinds of regrets. Don’t be one of them.

    1. I wish I’d cared less about what other people think.

    It’s only when you realise how little other people are really thinking of you (in a negative sense) that you realise how much time you spent caring and wasting energy worrying about this.

    2. I wish I had accomplished more.

    You don’t have to have won an Oscar, built up a business or run a marathon, but having small personal accomplishments is important.

    3. I wish I had told __ how I truly felt.

    Even if the “one” doesn’t exist, telling someone how you truly feel will always save you from that gut wrenching”but what if…” feeling that could linger for life if you stay quiet.

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    4. I wish I had stood up for myself more.

    Sometimes, it’s too easy to think that if you go all out to please everyone you’ll be liked more or your partner won’t run off with anyone else. I think age probably teaches us to be nice but not at the expense of our own happiness.

    5. I wish I had followed my passion in life.

    It’s so easy to be seduced by a stable salary, a solid routine and a comfortable life, but at what expense?

    6. I wish our last conversation hadn’t been an argument.

    Life is short, and you never really know when the last time you speak to someone you love will be. It’s these moments that really stay clear in peoples’ minds.

    7. I wish I had let my children grow up to be who they wanted to be.

    The realisation that love, compassion and empathy are so much more important than clashes in values or belief systems can hit home hard.

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    8. I wish I had lived more in the moment.

    Watching children grow up makes you realise how short-lived and precious time really is, and as we age, many of us live less and less in the present.

    9. I wish I had worked less.

    There’s always a desire to have loosened up a bit more with this one and the realisation that financial success or career accomplishment doesn’t necessarily equal a fulfilled life.

    10. I wish I had traveled more.

    It can be done at any age, with kids or not but many talk themselves out of it for all kinds of reasons such as lack of money, mortgage, children, etc. When there’s a regret, you know it could have been possible at some stage.

    11. I wish I had trusted my gut rather than listening to everyone else.

    Making your own decisions and feeling confident in the decisions you make gives us fulfilment and joy from life. Going against your gut only breeds resentment and bitterness.

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    12. I wish I’d taken better care of myself.

    Premature health problems or ageing always makes you wonder if you’d eaten healthier, exercised more and been less stressed, would you be where you are today?

    13. I wish I’d taken more risks.

    Everyone has their own idea of what’s risky, but you know when you’re living too much in your comfort zone. In hindsight, some people feel they missed out on a lot of adventure life has to offer.

    14. I wish I’d had more time.

    Many people say time speeds up as we age. The six weeks of summer holidays we had as kids certainly seemed to last a lifetime. If time speeds up, then it’s even more important to make the most of every moment.

    15. I wish I hadn’t worried so much.

    If you’ve ever kept a diary and looked back, you’ll probably wonder why you ever got so worked up over X.

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    16. I wish I’d appreciated ___ more.

    The consequences of taking people for granted are always hard to deal with.

    17. I wish I’d spent more time with my family.

    Some people get caught up with work, move to other parts of the world, grow old with grudges against family members only to realise their priorities were in the wrong place.

    18. I wish I hadn’t taken myself so seriously.

    Life is just more fun when you can laugh at yourself.

    19. I wish I’d done more for other people.

    Doing things for others just makes life more meaningful.

    20. I wish I could have felt happier.

    The realisation that happiness is a state of mind that you can control sometimes doesn’t occur to people until it’s too late.

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