Public Relations Tactics

What Closet Tidying Taught Me About Editing

August 3, 2015

[voisin/phanie sart/corbis]
[voisin/phanie sart/corbis]

When Lynn Wylie, aka the best sister ever, sent me a post from the blog Un-Fancy, which argued that all you need to look great every day is a capsule wardrobe of 37 items per season, I scoffed.

After all, dear reader, Aunt Ann is a maximalist. I love Jessica Harper’s quote in “Pennies From Heaven”: “It’s not the money; it’s the stuff!” My jewelry box is seven stories high. When someone asks my husband about my hobbies, he replies, “Ann’s sport is dressing for dinner.”

Focus on what goes in, not what goes out.

However, dear reader, Aunt Ann is also OCD. I love a place for everything, and everything in its place. So when I read how Un-Fancy suggests you get to 37 garments a season, I was intrigued:

  • Empty your closet.
  • Review each item in your wardrobe.
  • Return to your closet only the garments you absolutely love.

In decades of closet-cleaning-as-entertainment, this is by far the best approach I’ve found. I now have all of the clothes I want to wear, and none of the ones I don’t. Plus, my closet is now uncluttered and gorgeous. Shelves once stuffed with T-shirts and yoga pants now display glittering evening bags and bracelets.

Clear out your copy.

So how can we adapt this approach to cutting clutter from our copy?

1. Focus on a single idea. Decide what goes in. In a single piece, you can communicate one idea well, a handful poorly and many not at all.

I was reminded of the importance of finding your focus when an editor asked me to write a story about Kansas City.

“Kansas City,” I said. “Would that be Kansas City barbecue? An insider’s guide to where the bodies are buried? The perfect weekend for lovers? Kansas City on the quick, on the cheap or for the family?”

“Yup,” she said. “Kansas City.”

I know Kansas City. I lived there for 30 years, and I covered it from my desk as a magazine editor for nearly five years. But I’ve never toiled so hard on a simple piece. And I’ve never been so disappointed in the results.

My problem, of course, was that my message lacked focus. And a lack of focus makes it difficult for you to decide what goes into — and what stays out of — your story.

2. Summarize your idea in one sentence. As one of my favorite college professors used to say, “If you can’t summarize your story idea on the back of my business card, you don’t have a clear idea.”

Your summary sentence will keep you from getting scattered and from including information that isn’t pertinent to the message.

3. Make your point. Use your summary sentence as the basis for your headline or deck and lead or nut graph.

4. Test for focus. Finally, make sure every paragraph, sentence and word in your piece works together to support your idea.

But instead of asking, “What goes out?” ask “What stays in?”

That’s the approach George Stenitzer, founder of Crystal Clear Communications, takes. He uses a highlighter to identify what stays in the message, instead of a red pen to identify what goes out.

It seems like a simple shift, but it works. So give it a go. If your message winds up as clean and dazzling as my closet, your readers will love you for it. 

Copyright © 2015 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.


Cut Through the Clutter

Would you like to write, identify, develop and tell stories that will illustrate your points, communicate your messages and sell your products, services and ideas? If so, then join Ann Wylie at “Catch Your Readers,” a two-day Master Class on Oct. 27-28 in Washington, D.C. PRSA members: Save $100.

Ann Wylie

Ann Wylie ( works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. To learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services, contact her at


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