Writing is valuable. You give voice to your team, help to your customers, and benefit by getting thoughts to page: writing doesn’t just transfer and refine ideas, it creates them.
Good words are worth much and cost little, so choosing the right words is worth the price you pay in time (and sanity).
Here are a few ideas on writing that I frequently return to:
1. Brevity. Soul. Wit. Nothing drags down writing more than spreading good ideas over too many words.
2. Write to express, not to impress. Communication is a mix of vision and conversation. Having noticed something interesting, you’re now directing the attention of the reader so that they can see it with their own eyes. What you choose to write is for the use of someone else—always choose selflessly. Share your point of view in simple, meaningful words.
3. Structure cannot be an afterthought. The best writing pleases at a glance but further rewards careful study. “A thoughtful list post” may seem like an oxymoron, but this is the internet and attention isn’t guaranteed. Hook people early and keep the format approachable.
4. Don’t bury the lead. Put the reason to read, the incentive, up front. The journey to the end of your piece should be rewarding for reasons other than figuring out what point you’re trying to make.
5. To write more Damn Good Sentences, read them. In the book How To Write a Sentence, New York Times columnist Stanley Fish laments that “many educators approach teaching the craft of writing a memorable sentence the wrong way—by relying on rules rather than examples.” Garbage in, garbage out; you’ll write better sentences if you spend time reading them.
6. “In other words,” you should just use those other words. Insight is memorable when it can be embraced directly. Don’t pad it with “essentially,” “basically,” or “in other words.” Use the right words the first time.
7. “Just write” is tired advice, but still needed. If you’re looking for a way to make hard work easy, you won’t find it in writing. You’ll struggle with the blank page until your ass falls off the chair—but until then, keep sitting down and do the work.
8. Slow endings are boring; approach them quickly. I’ll let Paul Graham bring it home: “Learn to recognize the approach of an ending, and when one appears, grab it.”