Training and the Editor’s Red Pen

Think about the last time you put a training or development session together. Did you find changes you wished you’d made? Back when I taught High School I was covering the Cold War and put a lesson plan together about something I knew well. A few hours the night before class and I was good to go for the next day. I didn’t have more time than that anyway. Everyone is “busy”, but trainers and managers even more so than most. We don’t have time to pour over something repeatedly, right? We concentrate, get it right the first time, and move on.

child with laptop

Certainly the greatest writers do this too: write it, a quick touch up, and they are done. Amazing masters of their craft. Or maybe not. Consider this:

Ernest Hemingway rewrote the last page of Farewell to Arms 39 times before “the words were right.”

In an interview in June of 2005, John Irving said “There’s no reason you shouldn’t, as a writer, not be aware of the necessity to revise yourself constantly. More than a half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn’t say I have a talent that’s special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina. I can rewrite sentences over and over again, and I do. . . . And I think what I’ve always recognized about writing is that I don’t put much value in so-called inspiration. The value is in how many times you can redo something.”

Robert Louis Stevenson said “The swiftly done work of the journalist, and the cheap finish and ready-made methods to which it leads, you must try to counteract in private by writing with the most considerate slowness and on the most ambitious models. And when I say “writing”–O believe me, it is rewriting that I have chiefly in mind.”

Even Stephen King said “to write is human, to edit is divine.”

You see, its not about how quickly you put the course together claiming efficiency, nor is it about getting ten things done today and pushing them out the door. Education in any form is first about quality. Bad education is not better than no education at all.  The first draft is never your best work.

Dave Ramsey (@daveramsey,) known world-wide for his bestselling book and training program Total Money Makeover, tells an interesting story in his newest book EntreLeadership. He describes how the first version of Total Money Makeover was actually a class he started called Life After Debt. He announced it on the radio, set the room for 135 people, made special binders, and got ready for the big in-rush of people. Six showed up. Six months and many customers later he had rewritten the course to become what we now know as Total Money Makeover. Right now the book has over 740 reviews on rating it 4.5 out of 5 stars and has sold over 6 million copies. Good thing he rewrote it isn’t it?

So here is the challenge: next time you plan training, a presentation, a speech, or anything else that others will see, put it together and then walk away for a day or two. Come back to it prepared to rip it to shreds and redo most of it. I promise you it will be better when you finish. (Oh, and the Cold War lesson – totally flopped. I reviewed it and saw huge holes that needed to be filled. Unfortunately I never got to teach it again.)

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5 Responses to Training and the Editor’s Red Pen

  1. Charles Lehmann says:

    As a person who has published over 30 bible studies and two books, I can say with confidence that I’m not a good writer. I’m a passable rewriter. Hemingway’s words have been in my mind for years. They are important to remember.

  2. Stu says:

    Thank you I now understand the writing of the Ten Commandments:

    “The mount was covered by the cloud for six days, after which Moses went into the midst of the cloud and was “in the mount forty days and forty nights.” (Exodus 24:16-18) And Moses said, “the LORD delivered unto me two tables of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the LORD spake with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly.” (Deuteronomy 9:10)

    I now know why it took 40 days and nights to write. I will often ponder what the first draft included. The final edition is outstanding.


  3. Creating training needs to be a group activity between learners and training professionals. Trainers don’t know the work well enough to sit alone in their cube and create something perfect. This is the Lean concept of the Gemba walk. Go where the learners are and work with them to create something that’s going to meet their needs. And it may not be perfect, but that’s irrelevant if it works.

    • That’s a great point Todd. I’d say it absolutely applies for trainers who don’t work in the environment in which they are training. However, for a line manager training their own staff it’s not quite as true. It depends on the trainer’s distance from the task. I appreciate the comment!

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