Three Techniques I Use to Edit and Organize Blog Posts and Other Articles
Between work and other projects I’ve been doing quite a bit more writing over the past few weeks than is typical even for me. It’s given me some insight into how I actually put posts together. I thought putting my process down into words might help me improve it and learn from the feedback of others.
My current technical approach to editing and organizing blog posts is dominated by the following techniques.
CTRL+F Editing List
It only took one read-through of Ken Rand’s The 10% Solution to make it my favorite book on writing and editing. Rand got his start in broadcasting and I think his conversational approach to language helped the book click with my verbally-inclined brain. He offers a series of discrete editing techniques supporting the “10% Solution” approach:
- Cut 10% of whatever you just did.
- Do it again.
- Keep doing it until there’s nothing to cut, or it starts to lose clarity.
My favorite technique is the editing list. I have one taped to my monitor. It’s a list of words and word-parts you use as different lenses for editing your document. This is how it works:
- Finish a draft. It can be your first or your hundredth.
- Hit CTRL+F (Find, Find and Replace, or whatever equivalent functionality your editor has) and type in the word or word-part. My list starts with “that”.
- Go through every single instance of the search term in the document, even if it’s not an exact match (like ‘thatch’ coming up in a search for ‘that’). Look at it critically. Does the word need to be there? How about the words around it? Use your instincts. Maybe nothing needs to change. Maybe a whole sentence or paragraph can go. Maybe something needs to be added. Make changes, or don’t, and move to the next entry.
- Rinse and repeat for every word on your list (or at least as many as you can before your deadline).
It’s not about right or wrong, grammar rules, or stylebooks. The editing list helps me get out of my writer’s brain and into my editor’s. Phrases and sentences become abstract pieces of information I can evaluate more objectively.
The more I use my list, the more I find myself not needing to use the list.
Start your list with “that”, “ing”, and “ly”. Pay attention to the changes you make during your editing sessions; add additional problem words to your list as you go. You might want to add something unique to your brand or project worth paying special attention to, such as an oft-abused buzzword.
Begin With an Incident
This summer I was graduated from a Dale Carnegie course on interpersonal interactions and effective communication. I know, right? Beyond the safety net of my friends and family, I’m awful at basic social things like “using someone’s name” and “carrying on a conversation”, so the course was pretty useful on that front. I also pulled a writing trick out of it.
We had to give a presentation every week, often with little time to prepare. A simple technique they offered for starting your presentations made things easier: begin with an incident. “Begin with an incident” means the first thing out of your mouth should tell the audience when, where and/or how our story begins. “So there I was…”
You’ll notice I begin each section in this post by mentioning a specific occurrence, a thing that happened. It helps if your incident is exciting, but it doesn’t have to be (mine aren’t).
People are impatient. Beginning with an incident forces you to cut to the chase and lets people know what they’re in for and if they want to pay attention.
Note: I generally use this technique during editing, not writing. I start my writing sessions by just barfing out whatever occurs to me — don’t get stuck trying to think of the perfect incident to open with.
The Dotted Line
A YouTube video I ran across about a year ago completely changed my approach to organizing blog posts. I’ve since lost the link, but the technique is pretty simple:
- Add a long dotted or dashed line at the end of your editor.
- If you’re not sure where something should go in your post, stick it below the line. I jot down all of my initial thoughts, quotes, and brainstorm below the line.
- Put things above the line when you feel decent about their structure and where they go.
- Move things from above the line to below the line if you’re considering deleting them or putting them somewhere else. Do it immediately. This removes the small anxiety hit normally associated with deleting a sentence, paragraph, section or even just a word your creative little writer’s brain has gotten attached to. Putting it below the line is your internal editor’s way of saying “Hey man, this is pretty good stuff, but maybe it’s not what we need right here. Hold onto it for now.”
Like I said, pretty simple, but if going straight from blank page to blog gold has been a struggle, I definitely recommend trying out the dotted line technique.
Bonus: Clipboard Manager
Not a technique, but rather a tool I find completely invaluable: clipboard managers. I have absolutely no idea how I managed to create internet things before using one. A clipboard manager is a little piece of software that holds multiple things you’ve cut or copied to the clipboard at once. Ideally, it also lets you quickly call them up again when you go to paste. I tried a bunch of shitty and tedious ones before discovering ClipMenu for OSX. It’s fantastic. I hit CMD+Shift+V instead of just CMD+V and a keyboard navigable menu containing the last thirty things I’ve copied pops up.
A clipboard manager combined with the dotted line technique makes for really fast editing and restructuring of your posts. It also makes linking things up super easy. You can hop over to your browser and copy in five or six links you need for your post, hop back to your text editor, and quickly dump them all in to the right spots.
Throughout my workday, I often need to re-paste the same link or text snippet over and over again. A clipboard manager saves loads of time as compared to a scratchpad or sticky note. Give it a try.