I’ve always been a strong writer; growing up, my mother was very strict when it came to school work, especially written reports. I remember countless hours spent at the kitchen table, writing and re-writing book reports, history papers and science projects while she coached me:
“That sounds too confusing – what are you trying to say? Okay, then write that.”
“Hold on…if you have to take a breath in the middle of a sentence, it’s too long.”
“You’ve used that word way too many times…find another way to say that.”
“That sounds great…except you didn’t address your teacher’s actual question.”
I learned to write well, to write with style, to write with personality. I learned the importance of grammar and punctuation and story-telling skills, even when writing something objective. I was a straight-A student and when I got older, I took writing classes for fun. But my biggest challenge was always brevity – then and now. I can be a very verbose, long-winded guy. My New Year’s resolution for 2010 is to continue to improve my self-editing skills.
When I was in school, I could count on my mom to review my work before it was turned in. In college, my writing classes, journalism seminars and PR courses typically involved a fair amount of group work, so I benefited from my peers editing me. Throughout my numerous internships and even my first few years at a PR agency, nearly everything I wrote passed through a supervisor, teammate or a mentor who would help fine-tune my pitches, press releases and article drafts. I learned that despite my being a talented writer, it was equally important to have a talented editor on-hand. Of course, now I realize it’s even more important to hone those skills and edit myself as much as I can.
Short. Concise. To-the-point. Direct. Succinct. All of these words run through my head when I’m writing a blog entry, drafting a press release or readying an email. Instead of taking a second look before sending, I’ve been training myself to take a third or fourth. If you scroll through the “Sent” folder in my Outlook account, you’ll see that my emails and subject lines are shorter than they were a year ago. While it’s true I am making a concerted effort to self-edit, the truth is this: the reason I’m getting better at reducing my word count is in large part because of how much time I spend on Twitter. Constantly trimming sentences down to 140 characters or less has forced me to do what for years seemed like the most difficult task of all.
If you’re not very active on Twitter or Facebook, I urge you to try to be in the new year. Not just because these are useful and efficient networking and news-sharing vehicles, but because embracing social media and new tools can often have unintended consequences, like what I described above. They force us to think quicker, shorter, even more creatively sometimes.
And with that, I’m going to sign off. Because another part of self-editing involves knowing when you’ve said enough and it’s time to just press save, send or publish.
Have a great weekend, all!