AdventWord 2022: Winnowing

Photo: Hannah Grace - A good approach to life as well as writing!

What do we mean by winnowing? Well, put simply, to winnow is to separate a large number of things, into a smaller amount of things. 

Let us take editing as an example. Editing is an art. I know, I know, of course, an editor would say that. But I find that people often misunderstand the goal of editing.

The challenge…

The challenge is two-fold. You want to preserve the meaning and the authors’ voice, whilst making the piece understandable for your audience. Sometimes that’s simple (adding an apostrophe to “its”) and sometimes it’s complex and challenging (“I understand what you’re trying to say, but only because I know you well. How can we rework this entire section so it’s still ‘yours’ yet other people can understand it?”).

When you’re working for an organisation, you have the added challenge of adjusting pieces so they fit the “house style” (that’s your org’s rules for formatting and communication) without negating the author’s work. How far should you go? How uniform do your communications need to be? What individual writing quirks should be kept, and which should be removed?

This idiom adds “colour” and therefore interest… but will the audience know what it means?

Using metaphors helps to understand… unless the subject(s) of the metaphor are unfamiliar to the reader. Active voice engages attention… but if the rest of the piece was written in the passive voice the shift can be jarring and throw you off.

The question…

When editing, the question is always about what should be polished, removed entirely, or left well alone. Questions apply to so much more of life, and are particularly poignant now, as we approach the Winter Solstice and calendar New Year. At this time of cycles restarting and joined ends/beginnings, I like to pause and look at my life as I do draft work which is placed in front of me. Because what is life, if not a work in progress? It should be something we are continually seeking to further and improve.

What should I keep? What should I change, or even remove? Is everything here adding meaning to the overall piece? Or has something snuck in which detracts from the message I want my life to send to the world? Do the interwoven sections harmonise with each other? Is there balance, or is one section pulling a little hard on the rest?

Let’s give it a go…

Feel free to join me in this exercise. Get yourself a drink, and possibly a snack. Sit and ponder your life, laying it out on paper (or electronic) if that helps, either in words or images. Look over it with appreciative criticism, as you would a piece of work that someone you value had asked you to review for them.

What here is at its best, and so should be retained? What would you like to expand on? Does it fit? Should it be set aside or removed entirely? Is there anything new you would like to add, and can you find a good space for it?

Don’t rush. Take your time. Even set it aside and come back to it later if you need to clear your head. Winnowing is an art, after all. One I find deeply rewarding. I hope you do too.

Lee Heywood

Lee Heywood

MBS Admin Team

Mindful Business Services (MBS) is a family-owned private limited company that focuses on serving, not fixing or helping. We love helping people get things done to have more time for the fun things in life…



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