The 10 Minute Rewrite

Filed under: experiments,thoughts Topics: ,

Write it in 10 minutes. Rewrite it in 10. If it’s successful, publish.

French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery once noted: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” If you want to reduce cruft in your prose, limit your writing time. You’ll get to the point much more quickly when you don’t have time to do much else.

While haste yields wordiness, it’s easily corrected. You’re no longer reigning in ill-born concepts that have threaded themselves deep within your thesis: when you write quickly, those tangents don’t have time to stifle your point for very long. Eradicate them, ruthlessly! Take away anything that doesn’t directly contribute to your point. Rewrite if confusing.

Give yourself too much time to write and you’ll get cute—you’ll be more concerned with style rather than with clarity. But, pressure fosters creativity: force yourself to get to the point and your brain will wordsmith a clever way to express whatever it is you want to say. You might surprise yourself how artful you can be.

This post was rewritten from the former in 10 minutes. How’d I do?

The 10 Minute Blog Post

Filed under: experiments,thoughts Topics: ,

Don’t think too hard—just write it. And publish it. In 10 minutes.

The most difficult part of writing is knowing when you’re done. There’s a famous quote (which this exercise prohibits my diligence in looking up the speaker and the exact quote) that says: “Perfection is achieved not when there’s nothing to add, but when there’s nothing left to take away.” If you want to reduce the cruft in your writing, limit the time in which you have to write it.

The result? Clarity increases. Your points, articulated cleanly, strengthen themselves.

While wordiness may increase due to your haste in expressing yourself, your thought process is not littered with tangents and ill-born concepts that get in the way of your message. Editing then becomes simple: take away anything that doesn’t directly contribute to your point. Rewrite if confusing.

When you give yourself too much time, you get cute. You write sloppily. You think: “oh, there must be a better, more colorful way of saying it.” There might be, but 9 times out of 10 you were better off with the first thing you wrote. Your brain is special like that: the magic comes from forcing yourself to express it quickly and thoroughly, and you will surprise yourself in how artful you can be when you limit the time in which you have to think about the language to use.

This post was written in 9 minutes. How did I do?

Form v. Function v. Font

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Composing in a specific aesthetic influences tone, so select your font and format before you write.

It’s probably been a while since you’ve used a word processor as your primary vehicle to process words. More likely, you’re using a webmail client, IM chat, or an e-mail client where the formatting’s fixed and the written word rules. I challenge you: change your font—see what happens.

This is Times New Roman, Microsoft Office’s default font. This font has been beaten to death and does nothing for you. It doesn’t hurt you, either.   Helvetica and Arial fit into the same camp: standard word processor fonts. Their ubiquity and blandness doesn’t hurt nor help your writing. This blog, for compatibility and web-readability reasons, relies on sans-serif’s friendliness on the web-o-sphere. (I also like to think my imagery transcends the page in all cases, regardless of font selection; but, we’ll leave that for you to decide.)  However, switch to Cochin, and you will find that your sentences read more intelligent because the font face is under fewer writer’s employ. Its serifs and subtle curves gently emphasize your free-form prose, and flowery language doesn’t seem as flowery when it’s written in a flowery font face; rather, it flows. In addition, you will notice a proclivity towards logorrheic phrasing and a dearth of contractions; thusly, take heed that these types of font faces are not for novices, but rather the ruthless darling-murdering red-faced penmen who do not wait for second-passes as it is far too easy to get carried away.  Contrast that with Impact. Tell a story, but tell it quickly. Use it for headlines. Use sparingly.    By the same token, everything looks stupid in Comic Sans MS. Also, we often write stupid things here. And we never get away with it. ROFFLES!!11!!1!1!!eleven

Interestingly, the font face influences you more in the composition phase than it influences the reader when reading. Consider:

I’m having a terrible day. My dog ran away and I miss him. I’m having a terrible day. My dog ran away and I miss him. I’m having a terrible day. My dog ran away and I miss him. Im having a terrible day. My dog ran away and I miss him.

To me, all of these sentences have the near-equivalent emotional impact.

I’ll admit: the aforementioned examples are a bit contrived. But, for me, I find that if I compose in a particular font modify margin width and line height, your writing will tailor itself to the message’s function.

For general writing, I use Helvetica Neue (Light) size 12, set to 6.5 inches of writable horizontal space (1 inch margins on an standard 8.5 x 11). For news and newsletter-style stories, I’ll break the page into two columns and my sentences become 30% shorter, my paragraphs drop to a sentence or three, and I’ll get to the point within the first vertical inch. For book and paper-writing that demands a bit more clarification (but not necessarily ‘clarity’), nothing has yet beaten Cochin (or Sylfaen, for those on a Windows box).

Succinctly, your language accommodates the area you have to work with. So form your working area accordingly.

(It’s true for me, at least.)