I never thought much about the power of editing on any level until a few days ago when I heard Jason Fried, founder of 37 Signals talk about it on Mixergy.

Me and Jason Fried at SxSWi 2010


If you’ve never heard of Mixergy, I strongly urge you to watch the most NON-BORING interviews on business and startups.  You will learn A LOT!  The interviews are time sensitive and are not accessible indefinitely unless you are a member.

Here is a transcribed segment of the interview of Jason describing an edit methodology that can be applied to anything such as a book, a presentation, an album, or a film, etc. I hope you find it as useful as I did:

“… there’s this class I’ve wanted
to teach for a long time. If I ever taught a class, like a writing class or
something, I would love to teach it this way. Every writing assignment
would involve multiple deliverables. You could pick any topic you want. I
don’t care what it is. There’d be a ten page version of that paper. There’d
be a five page version. There’d be a one page version. There’d be a three
paragraph version, a one paragraph version, a one sentence version and a
one word version. All on the same topic. You start with the ten page
version and then you keep trying to cut it back and cut it back and cut it
back until you can just get to the one word that represents the whole
thing, as best you can.

I think the one sentence or the one paragraph version of that is the most
interesting to me because that’s where you take this big idea and you
constantly pare it down and pare it down and see how close you can get to
saying the whole thing in one paragraph. That’s the kind of challenge I
think it’s really interesting when you’re working with products. It could
be on the design side, if you have a bunch of elements, how can you get it
down to fewer elements? If it’s on the [??] side, how can you break it down
into fewer sentences or fewer words, or even fewer ideas and just say one
thing at a time? Maybe bullet points make more sense than a paragraph. All
those things are [??] design problems and I think if you have people who
are really interested in solving those problems, then they’re really
excited to take on that challenge.

Andrew: First of all, I would take that class. I don’t know why you haven’t
started teaching it because then you’d have to read ten pages from 20-50
people, at least.

Jason: It’d be such a blast, though. I love editing, so for me it’d be a
real [??].

Andrew: You do?

Jason: I think editing is something that should be taught in school more.
To me, everything you do is about editing. I don’t know how many people you
want to interview but you’ve got to edit that down. What’s the process for
that? Whatever you write, you could write a really long email or a really
short email. What’s the process for that? If you’re designing something,
what do you want to include on the page? The process of reevaluating
everything as an individual element and as part of a whole is really a good
skill to have, no matter what it is that you do. I don’t remember ever
learning that in school. You would take writing classes, you would take
design class but you would never take editing classes. I think that’d be really cool just to edit stuff, to make that more of the curriculum.

Andrew: I can see that. I can see, too, that my work gets better when I
edit it down, but I don’t put the effort into it because I forget how
important it is.

Jason: Everything that you see out there that’s good, was edited. The album
you buy with 12 tracks, started probably with 32 tracks. The movie you
watch that’s an hour and 45 minutes, 300 hours of footage was shot and then
it was narrowed down to 100 hours, then it was down to four hours, then
probably three hours, then probably two hours and that last 15 minutes they
had to cut was probably the most important 15 minutes. What made it and
what didn’t? Music, movies, books. Books start out way longer than they end
up. It’s all about editing. That’s what makes things great. I think the
more comfortable you get with the idea of the editing process, and the more
you realize how valuable it is, the more you’ll actually enjoy it.”

How do you go about editing your work? Do you have any tips that have worked well for you? Please share your comments below.


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