Minimum Viable Editing (MVE)

When I first started my blog in December 2019, it marked the beginning of several months publishing pretty prolifically. Specifically, I published a blog post every weekday for more than 6 months straight. It’s hard to do that in general, but there was one main thing I did to make it a bit easier. Or rather, one main thing that I didn’t do — edit. I wrote a lot, but I didn’t edit much. Said another way, I was able to write a lot because I didn’t edit much.

Every weekday, I would sit down to write, and I would edit a bit as I went, just as I am doing now. I might also give it a full read through once I was done, and make a few changes as I did. But I did not belabor the thing. The initial rationale was purely practical. First of all, I had committed indefinitely to a weekdaily publishing cadence, so there was no putting a piece away and revisiting it another day — no sleeping on it and reviewing it with a pair of fresh eyes in the morning. I didn’t have some big backlog of written pieces waiting to be published. For the most part, I wrote every weekday, and I published what I wrote that same day. The second reason I didn’t edit much was that I had roughly no subscribers, no followers, no audience of any kind. I was writing without expectations that anyone would read what I wrote anytime soon, so who cares? I had the desire to write, and again, that includes a fair bit of editing as one goes, but I did not have the desire to edit much after the fact. So that was that. It was write and publish. Just write and publish. One piece out. Onto the next.

Later, when I started my podcast, I applied some of the same principles in regards to editing, and as a result I did not do much of it. For podcasting, I had even further support for this approach. First, Joe Rogan’s podcast is mostly unedited and he has the most popular podcast in the world, so why should I edit? Second, I personally prefer less edited podcasts over the ones that cut out every single pause and filler word and even full segments of the conversation. To me, that feels over-“optimized” and unnatural — plus, a well-timed pause can hold a lot of value in a conversation. Without hearing a conversation as it was, a lot of context can be lost, and a big part of the value of podcasts compared to shorter-form content like tweets or tiktoks is that it provides that context — so why edit it out? Last but not least, and perhaps most importantly, moreso than editing writing, I really dislike editing audio or video. Whereas editing writing feels skillful, editing audio or video, at least in the context of editing a podcast, for me feels like a completely commoditized skill, a robot task, and a waste of my time. 

I feared that, if I made editing a material part of my recurring podcasting process required for every episode, I would end up quitting podcasting all together sooner than later because a large part of the process felt dreadful for me. Why spend time on a recurring basis doing something I don’t enjoy when it is not even clear that it will improve the quality or potential popularity of the podcast (i.e. Joe Rogan), and it may actually make it worse for some people’s preferences (i.e. my own)? So I made the decision to do minimal viable editing — a cut at the beginning, a cut at the end, and only editing anything in the middle that stood out as something that obviously should be edited out, like pausing the conversation to fix a problem with our audio connection, or a dog barking and interrupting the conversation, things like that.

In both writing and podcasting, I believe editing is a counterforce against publishing. In other words, the more you edit, the less you’ll publish, and vice versa. You’re only going to spend so much time on either writing or podcasting as activities overall, and the higher percentage of that time you spend editing, the less time you’ll spend writing, or thinking of new ideas, or finding and sending invites to new podcast guests, or preparing for the conversations. Plus, it’s possible that, like podcasting, over-editing writing can be more harmful than helpful past a certain point, and so the same argument holds as to why one should not waste one’s time on it.

While I have held strong on this principle in podcasting, I lost it a bit with writing. As I gained a small following, knowing that some people would be reading my writing stopped me from feeling as free to publish with minimal viable editing. Somewhere along the way, I lost the feeling that I had nothing to lose.

So this is my public commitment, not to publishing on a particular cadence again, but to publishing with less time dedicated to editing in general. That might seem easier in that it requires less time but it is hard in that you need to sum up the courage to post something you haven’t painstakingly scrubbed for anything that might be poorly written, make you seem stupid, or be otherwise bad. It helps to remind myself of something else I wrote: Nobody Cares.

In closing, I should say that this does not mean I am going to start posting garbage. In fact, I believe most of the best writing of my life was published during those initial 6 months of mostly posting with very little editing. When I know I’m not going to edit much after, I tend to be a bit more thoughtful as I am writing, in a way that is helpful to keeping things cleaner as I go, and I also edit as I go, but in a way that still feels like a part of the “writing” more than explicit editing. The primary thing I want to do less of is the after-editing. For this one, I’m just finishing doing a full read through. It took more time and I made more edits than I would have liked to, but just like anything, writing and publishing with minimal viable editing is a practice. It’s a muscle I haven’t exercised in a while, and I’ve built some “bad habits” of spending substantial time editing, and not feeling as free to press “publish”. I’m hoping to start changing that.

I doubt you’ll notice a difference from all this — only that hopefully I’ll be publishing more writing more often. You might find a few more typos. Then you might tell me, and I might fix it. So be it. The fact is that I don’t love editing and I don’t love reading my own writing right after I write it, just as I don’t love listening to my own podcast episodes right after I record them. I enjoy writing and I enjoy preparing for and recording podcasts. That’s it. More generally, I just love creating things and putting them out into the world. I believe focusing on the parts of the creative process that I enjoy is the best way to ensure that I will keep creating and sharing for a long time, so that is what I plan to do.

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