How to Edit (Yourself)
Hello Friends,

I am on vacation. Well...sort of. My husband is on vacation. I am working from the road. That means I get to experience such things as early morning editing sessions while sitting outside the hotel elevators. (Because the lobby is too loud -- even at 7am.)
Laptop sitting by a window. Bridge in distance.
Yes, that's really my laptop sitting on the ledge outside the 6th floor elevators at the Moxy hotel in Louisville. Photo by me...obviously.
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So, anyway, I've been thinking a lot about editing lately.

And I'm just gonna be real here. Editing is HARD.

The first time I had to edit the work of another reporter, I saw a couple of words I might like to change -- but nothing of substance. So I told him to record the story as-is.

This was way back in the day when reporters had to send their audio via FedEx instead of FTP...or Dropbox or WeTransfer or Google Drive or any other miraculous invention of the modern age.

When that Fed Ex envelope arrived, I ripped it open and discovered that the reporter had made dozens of changes to his script...all meticulously noted in red pen.

(I learned later that this particular reporter also taught journalism in college. Hi, Nick Roman!)

Every change that this reporter had made -- to his own script, nonetheless -- had made it better. Not just different. But better.

On that day, I learned my lesson. Even if something is good, it can always be improved with some careful editing.

Over the years I have gotten a LOT better at editing. (And I've also gotten better at being edited. But that's a story for another day.)

Anyway, I know a lot of y'all don't have the benefit of a professional editor. Or maybe you just want to make sure your script is as pretty as it can be before sending it off to be evaluated by someone like me.

So, for you, I have compiled my top tips for story editing...especially when you don't have the benefit of a story editor.
1. Have a plan.

Yes, I know this is a list of story editing tips. But I'm going to start (as I always do) by talking about story structure.

Before you put your first words on the page, you should have a plan. You should know what story beats you're going to include (and what bits you can skip over.) You should know what themes you want to explore. Your story should have a point -- and you should be able to explain your that point easily and succinctly.

I can't tell you how many scripts I've edited that lacked any sort of clear plan. It's a struggle for me -- as the editor -- to figure out what these stories are trying to say.

But it's an even bigger struggle for the reporter who gets a script back that looks nothing like what they sent in. So do yourself (and your editor) a favor...and figure out the big stuff before you start writing.
2. Take a break.

After you've finished your rough draft, the very best thing you can do for yourself is to walk away.

I'm serious.

Walk away.

Very, very far away.

Ideally, you're gonna let that thing marinate overnight...or for at least 12 hours.

Even better...12 days.

Seriously, you're just too close to it. Especially if you're acting as your own editor, the longer you can go without looking at it again, the better.

When you come back to it, you're going to notice all sorts of horrible things that seemed a-okay when you wrote them in your first draft.

Time is your friend. If you have it, use it.
3. Tackle the big picture first.

This is the biggest struggle for newbie editors. We get all bogged down in whether we should use an "and" or a "but." We endlessly rewrite awkward sentences. We obsess over word choice.

And we miss the big picture.

So, as hard as it is (and I know, it's really, really, really hard) I want you to ignore those awkward sentences. I want you to read right past the transition that doesn't quite work and the sound bite that's boring the heck out of you.

I want you to leave all those awful things exactly as they are. And I want you to ask yourself the important questions.

Is this story starting in the right place?
Am I telling it in the right order?
Does it have tension?
Are the characters compelling?
Does the plot carry the action forward?
When do I feel bored?
Have I given the listener a reason to care?


No one's going to care about the "ands" and the "buts." But if your story lacks tension, if it doesn't make sense, if I don't care about what happens next...I'm going to stop listening.

It's as simple as that.
4. Turn subtext into actual text.

I see this allllll the time. You have a story. Your story has a point. But no one understands that point... except for you.

You've gotta be really explicit. State your point clearly. Be direct.

Remember, you're condensing weeks..or months..or YEARS of research and interviews into something that's most likely less than 45 minutes long. (Please tell me your episode is less than 45 minutes long. Please!)

The listener doesn't need to know everything that you know. Your job is to figure out the bare minimum that they need to know to understand the point of your story.

Sometimes that means you're simply going to have to take them by the hand and say something out loud that seems patently obvious to you.
5. Pay attention to transitions.

Oh man, I am so guilty of this. Sometimes, when I don't know how to transition between two sections of my story, I'll put in a note in the script that says…

<music>

Or…

<beat>

Hey, look, that's fine when you want to remind yourself to add a little space to your mix.

But when you need to change topics. Or signal the passage of time. Or do something else that could benefit from some signposting.

Write a f---ing transition.

Really.

(I'm talking to myself here. I am soooo bad at this.)
7. Check your facts!!!

If you're your own story editor, chances are that you're your own fact-checker, too. Now's the time to go back and make sure you've got it all right. Examine every fact. Double-check names and numbers. Challenge your assumptions.

Do not skip this step. I know you're tired. I know you hate everything about your story by now. You just want this all to be over!

But do it. You'll thank me later.
7. Read your script out loud.

Okay, I know a lot of writing instructors will tell you to do this first. But I'm gonna tell you to do it last.

Pretty sentences don't mean a damn if they don't have a decent story structure behind them. They don't make a difference if the listener is bored...or confused...or simply uninterested.

So don't worry about making your sentences pretty until you get all those other things squared away.

And then -- and only then -- focus on writing nice sentences,

And best way to do that is to actually read your script outloud.

Word for word.

Even better if you can listen to your clips while you're reading.
Okay, I know that was SEVEN steps. And seven seems like a lot.

As I said at the beginning, editing is HARD.

But good editing is worth the effort.

I know you're busy. I know it feels like you're juggling 100,000 different things. But there's nothing worse than noticing that one, little thing you wish you would have changed after a story you've edited goes viral and gets 2 million page views in two days.

Not that that's happened to me.

Oh, wait...it has.

Don't be like me!

Karen