The 5 Minute Edit

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Write it quickly, then rewrite it quickly. Edit for clarity. Publish.

French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery once noted: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” If you want to write clearly, limit your writing time. Leaving any extra will sabotage your efforts. Leave less to take away.

While writing hastily might make you wordy, wordiness is easily corrected. Tangents, on the other hand, fed with your time and attention weave themselves into your prose and are much harder to remove. With a strict deadline, you simply don’t waste your time breathing life into these distractions: they’re dead on arrival. Remove them as you would any other word or phase that doesn’t directly contribute to your point.

Be generous with your time and you’ll over-think style choices when you should be focusing on clarity. Instead, force yourself to get to the point: your inner wordsmith will surprise you with its dexterity.

Lastly, remove any jargon or needless words. (Unless you can’t help yourself. Make sure to point out your hypocrisy.)

This post is an edited version of the previous post. I budgeted 5 minutes—it took 12. Forgive me, but I had to get a glass of water to debate whether or not to include this final remark. It ultimately made the cut because I’m tired and would rather go to sleep than ponder this any longer.

2 comments

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Amanda Schoen
Amanda Schoen

This seems like justification for my procrastination...

Greg Pierce, my psychology professor at Hamilton, used to say, "a paper should be like a mini skirt. Long enough to cover the subject, and short enough to hold my attention."

He borrowed it from someone else, but I thought it was fantastic.

mg
mg

I love Greg Pierce. I had him, too.