Writing, and the Editing Process

One of the more interesting things about the writing is that it can be a solo exercise as well as a collaborative process.

As a solo exercise, this can veer into self indulgence — it involves allowing the mind to wander where it will, fleshing out an idea, having some fun with it — and then trusting the editor to keep the piece tight, focused and flowing. When you have but 1000 words, there is not a lot of room for indulgences.

I have learned how to never have writers block: Just crank it out. Let the editor worry about cutting it down, just let it out (with or without caffeine). When it comes to being edited, over the years I have come to trust (very) few other people’s judgment: Tom Donlan at Barron’s, Aaron Task at TheStreet.com/Yahoo (he edited Bailout Nation), and Kelly Johnson at Washington Post.

As an example of how this process works, consider this draft from tomorrow’s WaPo column on The Rise of the Cranks. The final version is much tighter and cleaner, but the process fo getting from writing to editing to published work is what I want to reference tonight.

Here’s an excerpt of the draft::

“You humans are a hardy breed. No matter how bad things might appear, your species has managed to prosper.

You survived the Ice Age, the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, the Age of Aquarius (as well as Disco and Polyester). Mother nature has thrown floods, earthquakes, droughts, tornadoes, asteroids, tsunamis, hurricanes, melting glaciers, and global warming at you, and the worst it has done is to momentarily slow you down. Not to mention two World Wars, and widespread nuclear proliferation. Economically, you humans withstood the Panics of 1819, 1825, 1837, 1847, 1857, 1866, 1873, 1884, 1890, 1893, 1896, 1907, 1929, 1933, 1938, 1973, 1987, 1998, 2000, and 2007-09 – and that is just over the past two centuries. You also got through the Tulip Bubble, the South Sea Bubble, the Great Depression and the Great Recession, the Nifty-Fifty, Asian Contagion, the Dotcom Bubble, the sub-prime fiasco, and Bernie Madoff. Despite the best efforts of various micro-organisms, the Human population has, rather astonishingly, continued to grow: The Bubonic Plague, Great Flu Pandemic, Cholera, Typhus, Smallpox, Tuberculosis, Leprosy, Malaria, Yellow fever, SARS, Bird Flu, and AIDs have all been unable to stop you. Politically, you even managed to survive George W. Bush, and you are currently surviving Barack Obama.

What the hell is it going to take to kill your species off?

Yet despite this amazing ability to overcome all manner of adversity, we still get these “end of world” forecasts with surprisingly regularity. Given this long and storied history of survival, one has to wonder why anyone pays attention to the dang fools predicting mankind’s demise.

I found that long middle paragraph amusing That is pretty indulgent as a writer; but what came out of the editing process is much more focused and easier to read. (It should be out sometime this evening; I’ll excerpt it tomorrow AM).

When it comes to the blog, other than spelling and grammar, its pretty much my unvarnished psyche. But for print publication, its an entirely different voice — and process.

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