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23 Jan 2016 : How Not to Write #
Each week I read a column in the Guardian Weekly called "This column will change your life" by Oliver Burkeman. It's full of insightful but unsubstantiated claims about how efficiency, mental state, tidiness or whatnot can be improved if only you can follow some simple advice. Always a good read.

Oliver Burkeman's Column

This week it explained how getting over writer's block is simply a case of being disciplined: the trick to writing is to write often and in small doses. Not only should you create a schedule to start, but you should also create a schedule to stop. Once your time runs out, stop writing immediately ("even if you've got momentum and could write more"). It's the same advice that was given to me about revision when I was sixteen and is probably as valid now as it was then.

The advice apparently comes from a book by Robert Boice. I was a bit dismissive of the claim in the article that used copies sell for $190, but I've just checked on Amazon and FastShip is selling it for $1163 (Used - Acceptable). That's $4 per page, so it must be saturated with wisdom.

My interest was piqued by the fact that the book's aimed at academics struggling to write. I wouldn't say I struggle to write, but I would say I struggle to write well. Following Boice's advice, writing often and in small doses should probably help with that, but here are a few other things I genuinely think will probably help if - like me - you want to improve your writing ability.

  1. Read a lot. Personally I find it much easier to get started if I already have a style in mind. Mimicking a style makes the process less personal, and that distance can make it easier (at least for me, but this might only work if you suffer from repressed-Britishness). For the record and to avoid any claims of deception from those who know me, I do hardly any reading.
  2. Plan and structure. Breaking things into smaller pieces makes them more manageable and once you have the headings it's just a case of filling in the blanks. Planning what you intend to say will result in better arguments and more coherent ideas.
  3. Leave out loads of ideas. Clear ideas are rarely comprehensive and if you try to say everything you'll end up with a web of thoughts rather than a nice linear progression.
  4. Let it settle overnight. Sometimes the neatest structures and strongest ideas are the result of fermentation rather than sugar content. I don't really know what that means, but hopefully you get the idea.
  5. Don't let it settle for another night. It's better to write something than to allow it to become overwhelming.
  6. And most important of them all... oh, time's up.

How Not to Live Your Life


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