There’s an internal barometer for BS in all of us. Even if we can’t identify exactly what’s setting it off, the signal is still loud and clear — that spinning red light never lies. It’s in our interpretation of it that things can get sticky, especially when it comes to editing our own podcasts.
Whether you’re editing a tense documentary or an informative investment podcast, correcting your story to rinse out each trace of dullness is a major step toward hooking your viewer on every word. Here are a few tips I’ve stumbled over while plowing the fields of editing.
Create for Expression, Edit for Impression
The desire to express ourselves is an innate drive that’s fueled artistic movements and cultural revolutions. We feel alive when we bring something wholly our own into the world. But expression is only the first step.
Our first draft — whether it’s a script or the podcast episode itself — won’t be ready for public view, not just yet. There’s still some finagling and finessing on our to-do list before it’s ready to create the impression we sought to make. After all, creating is about us. Editing is about them (our audience).
While editing, you’re bound to be uncertain whether you should make a change or not. There are always little golden moments that, in the end, are better left on the editing room floor for the sake of the overall quality of the episode.
It could be an incredible moment with the guest, but was it relevant? Did it add to the episode, or detract from your thesis? Great writers like William Faulkner and Stephen King said it best: “Kill your darlings.” In other words, don’t let your fondness blind you during the editing phase—playing favorites isn’t welcome here.
It could be an incredible moment with the guest, but was it relevant?
Keep these four questions in mind as you make your difficult editing decisions:
- Does this part/line/bite/sequence move things forward?
- Are you using 20 words when 3 will do?
- Is what you’re saying clear? Or is there a better way?
- Is this relevant to the episode?
The more disciplined we become in this stage, the more quickly we’ll get to a polished draft. If all else fails and you can be nothing else, be concise.
Meet Your New Editing Partner: A Ghost
When my old writing partner and I worked on a story, I’d take a first pass at a draft. Even though he was nearly five thousand miles away in France, I could feel him peering over my shoulder as I wrote. His ghost would nudge me. “That’s the best description you’ve got?” he’d say.
Having an actual person standing over you as you write is downright annoying, but imagining someone whose opinion you respect with you as you write gives you the power to be more swift with your decisions. You become a better writer with every keystroke and every audio cut.
Imagining someone whose opinion you respect with you as you write gives you the power to be more swift with your decisions.
Shifting the weight of editor to a “ghost” gives you distance from the story, allowing you to look at it more objectively. The voice keeps you honest with yourself in times of need, asking questions like, “You heard the interviewee’s answer, but did you really listen to it?”
Who’s your ghost? Maybe they’re your editor, mentor, or even “future you.” Whoever it is, consider them your BS hunting partner…and BS season is in full swing. Get out there and clear the woods of every last so-so sentence and flimsy sound bite.
You and your ghost are judge and jury, dusting off the good parts and sending mediocrity on its way. Edit with impunity and conjure your ghost often.
Practice Makes (Almost) Perfect
Editing is accepting that what you’ve created has flaws. Lots of them. And that’s totally normal. After all, the art of writing is rewriting and the art of recording is re-recording until you nail it.
It’s in the edit where you take an initial thought and transform it into a memorable moment. With Michelangelo’s famous statue of David, he took the marble slab and removed every part that wasn’t David. If we do the same when we edit, we’ll reveal the true form of every story we create.
It’s in the edit where you take an initial thought and transform it into a memorable moment.
Mastery of any kind, whether it’s editing or juggling, is an asymptote — that straight line in middle school math class that a curve approaches but never touches. That line is perfection, our podcasts are the curve.
Because you’ll never reach it is the reason it drives you. Working toward it is in itself a never-ending progression and a reward in itself. Tap into these rewards by practicing deliberately and practicing often.
Your podcast will never be perfect — but that shouldn’t stop you from trying. Every thoughtful edit is a gift to the final product. The more we practice, the higher our goals become and the better our stories will be. Never perfect, but always better.
- Create for expression, edit for impression
- Find your editing ghost and conjure them often
- Editing is a process to betterment, not perfection