Hey, Happy Tuesday!
Hope you enjoy this week’s letter. As always, if you have any feedback, please let me know.
> “It’s important to remember the connections between your tasks and the goals that they are meant to achieve. When you feel yourself losing sight of that, stop and ask yourself “why?” Lose sight of the why and you will surely lose sight of your goals.” > > Principles by Ray Dalio
🏁 Just finished reading and compiling my notes on an awesome book “Economical Writing”. A lot of good lessons, I’d love to share with you.
🧠 Writing Is Thinking. Many people see it the other way round, do all the thinking before putting it on paper. The reality is that however much you think when you write new thoughts, ideas will arise. Don’t delay writing, do it as early as possible.
😃 Be Thou Clear; But for Lord’s Sake Have Fun, Too. “Therefore one ought to take care to write not merely so that the reader can understand but so that he cannot possibly misunderstand” (Quintilian, Book VIII, ii, 24). If a conscientious reader finds a passage unclear, it has to be re-written.
📜 The Rules Are Factual Rather Than Logical. Good style is what good writers do. Double negatives, for example, aren’t “illogical” (modern French and ancient Greek have them); they are social mistakes, at least right now. If Orwell and his kind start using “I ain’t no fool,” no amount of schoolmaster logic can stand in the way of its imitation. In matters of taste, the only standard is the practice of good people.
🤺 Speak to an Audience of Human Beings. Choose a reader and stick with her. Changing your implied reader is in an economic sense inefficient. There is no point in telling your reader in a paper on the oil industry that oil is a black, burnable fluid, then turning to an exposition that assumes the reader understands supply and demand curves. If you’ve started with a pre-schooler for an implied reader have to keep her around.
🍽️ Avoid Boilerplate. Never start a paper with that all-purpose filler for the bankrupt imagination, “This paper. .. .” Describing the art of writing book reviews, Jacques Barzun and Henry Graff note (p. 272) that “the opening statement takes the reader from where he presumably stands in point of knowledge and brings him to the book under review” (p. 272). In journalism it’s called the “hook.”
😮 Control Your Tone. The tone of the writing and much of its clarity depends on choosing and then keeping an appropriate implied author, the character you pretend to be while writing: the Enthusiastic Student, the Earnest Scientist, the Reasonable and Modest Journeyman, the Genius, the Math Jock, the Professor, the Breezy Journalist.
✴️ Paragraphs Should Have Points. The reader will skip around when her attention wanders and will skip to the next paragraph. If your paragraphs are too long (as they will tend to be from a word processor, by the way) the reader will skip a lot of your stuff to get to the next break. Paragraphs, though, should not be too short too often.
👣 Footnotes Are Nests for Pedants. Footnotes should not be used as a substitute for good arrangement. If the idea doesn’t fit maybe it doesn’t belong.
📣 Read, Out Loud. Reading out loud is a powerful technique of revision. By reading out loud you hear your writing as others hear it internally, and if your ear is good you’ll detect the bad spots.
😫 Avoid This, That, These, Those. Another plague is this-ism. These bad writers think this reader needs repeated reminders that it is this idea, not that one, which is being discussed. Circle the “this” and “these” in your draft: you’ll be surprised at their number. The “this” points the reader back to the thing referred to, for no good reason. No writer wants her reader to look back, for looking back is looking away, interrupting the forward flow and leaving the reader looking for her place.
There’s been a lot of talk building an audience before making a product. It also makes sense to approach this the other way round. Build a product (read: write a course), advertise it, and convert people to an audience.
pbpaste | json_ppfor me, usually — json_pp is available out of the box on OS X
This tweet will make sense to programmers who develop on mac. Great tip!