Chop your words; the skill of editing

29th October

Spend 20% of your time writing and 80% editing. This is one of the best writing tips I have heard. The reason it’s so effective is because most of us love to ramble! We believe that more words make a better story. The opposite is true.

Austin Kleon - Blackout poems


A Newspaper Blackout Poem by Austin Kleon


Austin Kleon is a writer and artist who inspires us to see things differently. For personal entertainment, he began creating ‘newspaper blackout poems‘.
This involves taking a newspaper article and black marker. He scans the piece for a handful of words to string together. He literally edits the text to create short punchy stories. He boxes his chosen words and edits the rest away with his black marker.

This makes so much sense; Why use 100 words if 15 will suffice? Especially if those 15 words now have more impact.

Here’s a humorous quote from The Minimalists on how to declutter your writing –

Avoid throat-clearing. Blogs, books and social media posts are littered with unnecessary intros, solipsistic digressions and avoidable drivel. Ditch the nonsense and state your points. When in doubt, delete your fist two paragraphs and see whether the writing improves.

My writing tips to help you throw away lots of your words:

Step one

What is your key idea for your article? Throw out all ideas on paper or screen. Resist the temptation to edit or structure your text.

Step two

What are the key points that support your idea? Now it’s time to position and piece these together like a jigsaw. How do your ideas flow? Is there a logical progression and clear conclusion?

Step three

How many sentences or words can you remove while retaining the meaning? Choose short active verbs over flowery adjectives. Be ruthless. Come back to the article the next day. Read it aloud. Edit it again.

Clear concise copy is essential for businesses today. Time is a valued commodity – let’s not waste it writing fluffy, stuffy communication! You’ll find an archive of writing advice here on my blog. I am also a communication trainer and consultant. Get in touch if you’d like to chat about my training courses.

Further reading:
An article explaining Austin Kleon’s Newspaper Blackout Poems.
Inormation on Austin’s new book – Newspaper Blackout

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