Don’t let version confusion destroy your writing process

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The most fundamental principle in writing is actually . . . version control? It’s an unwritten rule. Like changing your underwear every day. And if you violate it, you are a barbarian. This is the least sexy writing advice ever. But if you and your collaborators don’t share a common understanding of version control, you’re … Continued

Dot, dot, dot: The ambiguous ellipsis in the Trump Ukraine call summary

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An ellipsis (plural, ellipses) has multiple meanings: it can indicate an unfinished thought, a pause, or, in quoted material, something that’s been omitted. When there’s ambiguity, it’s up to the author to resolve it. Trump’s Ukraine call summary doesn’t, and that’s a problem. The ellipsis for an uncompleted thought is more common in fiction. In … Continued

Nuggets, or how to not write a piece that’s a boring lecture

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A lecture is you standing up and droning on about what you think, based on your voluminous experience. It’s boring in person, and it’s a deadly way to write. In today’s short-attention-span world, a lecture is a good way to get people to click away from the post, stop reading the book, and give up … Continued

Nonfiction writing: It’s narratives all the way down.

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Nonfiction writing is made of stories. All of it. Advice. Logical reasoning. Analysis. It’s all stories. And if you don’t understand what a narrative is, no one will read what you write, and no one will be able to benefit from it. I’m editing a nonfiction manuscript right now in which the parts aren’t written … Continued

Think long term. That’s it. That’s the advice.

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Honestly, I think every stupid decision people make is because they can’t think more than fifteen minutes ahead. To wit: That argument you just “won” against your life’s companion — how’s that going to affect your relationship for the next few years? That clever company name you picked out that just happens to be the … Continued

How to plan and write pieces of any length

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What’s the best process to write something? The answer depends, more than anything else, on how long it is. You need a plan, but that plan depends on the length of what you’re aiming for. (This advice is for nonfiction. If you write fiction, I’m curious how much the process differs for you.) This post … Continued

The em dash is a bit of a jerk — replace it whenever possible

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Unless — and I admit this is possible — you’re trying to annoy the reader, try not to fall in love — or even in like — with the em dash. So many manuscripts I edit suffer from inflammation of the em dash — it’s rampant — as if these little buggers multiply like cockroaches. … Continued

How to fix rambling, repetitive prose

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It’s an editor’s nightmare. The writer produces content . . . reams of it. There are many ideas, but lots of repetition. And there’s no logic connecting it all. How can you turn this rambling wreck into a usable nonfiction narrative? The key is recognize that the problem here is structural, not textual. Editing the … Continued