19 very brief thoughts on writing
Not rules, guidance or advice, just some thoughts.
This post has been hanging around in my ‘drafts’ list on Substack for a few months now (which means I actually broke with number 4 on list below). I’m hesitating. I definitely don't have any particular insights into how to write. Writers, of course, write differently - I listen to a lot of author podcasts that reveal the extent of these differences. My own approach has plenty of insurmountable problems. But I thought I'd share some things that I try to keep in mind when writing, in case, by small chance, they are of use to anyone else (even if just to reject them). These aren’t rules, advice or guidance, just some thoughts.
Some of the below I keep at the forefront of my mind when writing, others required me to reflect a bit on my approach, and others I've adapted from things I’ve heard or seen over the years (Stuart Elden’s blog has a very useful section with posts and links about writing) . I should also say that these are not necessarily things I actually manage to achieve, but I use them more as a set of things to keep in mind or, in some cases, to aim for. For what they’re worth, here they are…
Try not to worry about how bad something is when writing it, it can be sorted out later.
Writing and editing don’t mix. Always keep writing and editing separate from one another. Don’t try to edit something until it exists as a first full draft.
Try to get a structure in place as early as possible. The structure can adapt but always have a working structure. Only change it if a better structure comes along.
Think about the reader but don’t worry about being read.
When editing, don't be afraid to delete content. See it as blowing away the loose chippings to reveal the carving underneath.
Always read everything three times before sending it off - with each edit aiming to get lighter (as discussed in this previous post on reading and editing).
Don't edit chapters, sections, pages or paragraphs…edit sentences.
If possible, printout and do the final read through on paper and mark-up changes with a red pen. Printed versions create distance and make the spatial aspects of the writing visible.
If you aren’t enjoying the writing, change the writing plan to bring forward a project you will enjoy (or, alternatively, adapt the thing being written to make it more engaging).
Have a writing plan that prioritises topics that make writing enjoyable.
Enjoying the writing makes for better outcomes.
Plan the writing to give you a reason to read the things you most want to read.
Try to think about what the next project might be, but never go beyond planning it until the current writing project is complete. Use the next project as motivation if things get tricky.
Try to have only one substantial writing project on the go at any one time. Always know what the writing priority is before sitting down to write.
Try to write differently and try to experiment with style, even if it doesn’t work out. Bringing in alternative modes of writing can open-up ideas as well as the possibility for communication.
When editing, try to switch the phrasing for alternatives - especially if the same phrases keep cropping up.
If you get stuck, draw on other people’s voices to find a way. Find interesting things to cite and use those sources as a platform.
Don’t be afraid to break writing habits, it might help the writing. Don’t stick to any of these guidelines if they get in the way.
Writing is difficult. Embrace the difficulty.
I’ve written about the band The Bug Club for the culture magazine Louder Than War. The piece looks at their releases so far - discussing their recent track Intelectuals and their prior album and EP. In the piece I wonder if the band have read the music streaming instruction manual…
I also collaborated with Jenn Chubb on a short piece for the LSE Impact Blog that looks at how AI are being used as automated narrators of research findings, with the impact of seemingly accelerating dissemination and bringing particular notions of accessibility to the fore.
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