Short emails

My challenge for this week: write emails that are to the point. Just like this blog post.

I’ll be drawing inspiration from this post on Medium. Friends, you’re welcome to help with the accountability on this one.


Writing well and with profanities

Today has delivered me a wealth of thoughtful pieces on the art of writing well, though not necessarily politely:

The case for profanity

The New York Times has criticised a range of publications – not least the Times – on the old-fashioned way that media outlets refuse to use profane words like ‘fuck’, and the importance of including them in appropriate contexts. The article links to the ‘Fit to Print’ blog chronicling instances of careful wording the Times has used to avoid profanities, including delightful examples like:

He also told them not to talk nonsense, though he used a less family-friendly word.

And the rather confusing:

Aside from the Internet law signed Monday, the Russian leader also signed a new profanity law that levies heavy fines for using four common vulgarities in the arts including literature, movies, plays and television.


Writing well on a deadline

The annals of the Baltimore Sun seem like an obscure place to find content when you’re on this side of the equator*. However, the former head of the Sun’s copy desk has written an excellent ‘macro checklist‘ for reviewing one’s writing without getting too far into the nitty-gritty.

The list includes some excellent probing points:

How much better would it be if it were shorter?

Does the article conclude merely than trailing off? Does the conclusion in some way reflect the elements of the opening so that the reader is left with a sense of completion?

If you made an outline of the article, would it show a series of subtopics clearly related to the focus? Do you see transitions from one subtopic to the next?

It also checks the bits that it’s easy to overlook when you’re writing for a short deadline:

Does the rest of the article match the opening? Are there elements in the opening that are not developed in the article?

Is the level of abstraction excessive? Are concrete examples presented?

I’m planning to use this checklist for a lot of writing here on. Keep an eye out for some positive improvements right here. And as always, feedback on my writing is very welcome.

No rules

Daniel from Daniel’s Contemplations has sent me this wonderful list of harmful advice for bloggers. Point 4 is especially ironic because I’m using the picture to make sure I write a post here today (otherwise I would have given myself a pass – there’s been plenty of informal writing at work today)


Reblog: musings on how to write

Don’t ever use the word ‘soul,’ if possible. Never quote dialogue you can summarize. Avoid describing crowd scenes but especially party scenes.


If you’re doing your job, the reader feels what you felt. You don’t have to tell the reader how to feel. No one likes to be told how to feel about something. And if you doubt that, just go ahead. Try and tell someone how to feel.


You want vivid writing. How do we get vivid writing? Verbs, first. Precise verbs. All of the action on the page, everything that happens, happens in the verbs. The passive voice needs gerunds to make anything happen. But too many gerunds together on the page makes for tinnitus: Running, sitting, speaking, laughing, inginginginging. No. Don’t do it. The verbs tell a reader whether something happened once or continually, what is in motion, what is at rest. Gerunds are lazy, you don’t have to make a decision and soon, everything is happening at the same time, pell-mell, chaos. Don’t do that. Also, bad verb choices mean adverbs. More often than not, you don’t need them. Did he run quickly or did he sprint? Did he walk slowly or did he stroll or saunter?

Alexander Cheereminisces about studying with Annie Dillard and shares her best writing advice. For the horse’s mouth, see Dillard herself on writing – a fine addition to our ongoing archive of notable wisdom on the craft. (via explore-blog)


a thank you note from amanda:

i haven’t been shy about saying that my college years were dark. one of my biggest retrospective regrets is that I didn’t get to take a class with the famous Annie Dillard. she was there teaching writing – people whispered in reverent tones about her class.

huh who

I knew nothing back then

now, 17 years later, i sit down in a melbourne cafe to get back to writing my first book after a weekend of beautiful debauchery. I feel like a total fucking fraud. I can’t write and I don’t know what business I have pretending I can. so, like a good, disciplined writer, begin the days work by checking my tumblr.

i started following maria’s blog just a year (or so) ago – but sometimes her uncanny timing just rips my heart in two: is she stalking me and posting in-jokes?

alexander’s description of annie’s class is like a little salve on my seemingly un-healable college-regret wound. a stitch or two. I didn’t get a chair at the royal table, but he brought me some dessert in a doggie bag. delivered by maria.

the world today is therefore, as neil would say, a good place.

click on the link and read Alexander’s whole piece. it’s fucking brilliant.

thank you maria
thank you Alexander chee
thank you annie Dillard

today I will write with fervor, verbs and abandon

one strong flat white please thank you

(via amandapalmer)