3 posts tagged

editing

Writing on Resource

I never write when I get a good idea. I only try to write when I find suitable resource to illustrate that idea. With proper resource, writing is fast and persuasive. Without resource, writing is a waste of time.

For about a year, I have had an idea to write an article about emails: what's the best way to start a conversation with someone you don't know. I knew how to explain it. But every time I set to writing that article, I stopped at the first example. It was too hard to create a believable letter to illustrate all of my ideas. I spent hours writing and editing, but never published any of those drafts.

Then one night I got an email from someone I didn't know. The moment I looked at it, I knew it was badly structured, without even reading. It looked like this:

Wow, I thought. I don't need to read it to see it's bad. How did I just learn that? Clearly, it looked messy and long. You don't write such things to people you don't know. Gotcha.

This letter illustrated what I had wanted to say for a long time. In 15 minutes I made a simple image to illustrate the principle:

I wrote two lines of text, threw in that image, and got myself a perfect article: it was short, clear and persuasive. The whole thing took 20 minutes to write.

My previous drafts had a good idea behind them, but no resource. There was no good example, no good illustration of my idea. Creating that illustration took time, and I never liked the result. Then suddenly a good example just kind of... floated by. So I grabbed it, and used it, and it was great.

Then I realized: I've been doing this for a long time:

As I edit articles at work, I collect elegant 'before — after' bits and use them in my editing courses.

I collect curious bits of text and layouts for my future projects and books.

People send me their ads for review. I use those ads as examples for my articles.

When I have a conflict with a client, it becomes a case study for my negotiations course.

This may seem counterintuitive, because normally you write towards a goal, not based on example. But writing towards a goal puts pressure on you, and to me writing is never better when under pressure.

Writing on resource feels better. Also, it's a hundred times faster.

2017   editing   persuasion   work

Don't be afraid to make mistakes

The only way to get good at writing is to write. Write a lot. And then write some more. And then get back to what you've written and rewrite it. Seriously, that's the only way. Ask anyone who's good—he'll probably never answer because he'll be busy writing.

The reason many people fail at getting good—they don't do the writing. The reason for that—their fear of making mistakes.

The Russians I know will take pride in pointing out my mistakes. This is their way of saying they are better than me: more intelligent, better-educated, with more experience. Last article I wrote—oh, had I not gotten my ass handed to me! All those people, salivating with joy, writing up screens and screens of how I went wrong in English, how I don't belong and should stay down, bury myself in Siberian snow and never write again. It pains, but it's good pain.

Here's the deal.

The more you write, the better you get. When you write a lot, you will make mistakes. Your readers will point them out and you will correct your writing. You will get good. You will get better.

So whenever you feel like writing about something that matters, just get your ass to the keyboard and do it. Write it up until you are loving what you see. Make those mistakes. Get shit from your readers. Own that shit. Then clean that shit out and move on.

Here are some tricks that help me cope with my fear of mistakes:

Admit to myself that I make mistakes. Nobody's perfect, unless you have a degree in Linguistics from an Ivy League college, in which case you're wasting your time reading this.

Make sure this is the best I can do. Before I publish, I spend the time to read, re-read and re-write, until I am confident: this is the shit. I can't do it any better.

Thank everyone for input once I get the criticism. People give feedback to feel good, so there is no reason to not let them.

Correct what truly matters, ignore the rest. Some people will spend time arguing about dashes and commas—fuck it. I'm here to get good and help others get even better, not to prove I'm right. Especially not about the dashes and the commas.

And then write some more.

Get shit. Own the shit. Correct the shit. Then write some more

2016   editing   work

What this is about

Hi! My name is Max. I am an editor in Russia. I help businesses talk to their customers.

I created a school of simple, clear and persuasive writing in Russian. For the last seven years, I developed it for Russian editors. I've written three hundred articles, launched a proofing service, a school and a book. Next stop—help my fellow editors write simple, clear and persuasive text for readers outside Russia.

Born in Russia in 1988, to a family of construction engineers. PhD in Linguistics and Teaching English as a Foreign Language. As a native Russian, this is the smiliest he gets

The method: simple

My editing method is based on three ideas: simplicity, clarity and persuasion.

Simplicity means using the simplest words and simplest syntax possible. If you need to say 'talk to your customers', I'll always recommend using 'talk', not 'communicate', 'transmit', 'divulge' or 'enlighten'.

It's harder to miss when you use simple words. Especially when you or your reader don't speak English natively. Between sounding smart and speaking simply, I always recommend simple:

SmartSimple
I will be attempting to provide guidance to fellow ink-slingers, notwithstanding the calamities of transitioning to a dissimilar linguistic system.I will try to help fellow editors, despite the difficulties of changing to a different language.
It is with great assurance that I proclaim the dictatorship of substance over the embodiment of a communicative act.I believe content is more important than style.
Nevertheless, laborious optimization of articulatory properties of written word is still required to improve the manyfold qualities of content consumption.Still, you need to work hard to make your writing readable and easy to understand.

Between sounding smart and sounding simple, always go with simple

The method: clear

Clarity means making ideas easy to understand. To achieve clarity, you will usually need to do three things: remove unnecessary ideas, get right to the point, and use structural elements: paragraphs, sections and headings. I'll talk more about clarity in future articles.

UnclearClear
However strange it might feel, many people struggle with a notion as simple as starting with what they actually have to say. This might be due to a number of issues, including upbringing, schooling or a multitude of typically Eastern cultural traditions to start any communication with a preamble.Starting with what's important is hard for many people.
It is a long way to go, and many topics to cover, including the ones related to clarity, but in time I hope to expand the scope of these articles to cover all.I will talk about clarity in future articles.

Remove clutter, put important stuff first, add headings and quotes. Like this one

The method: persuasive

Persuasion means making sure readers agree with you, or at least consider your ideas. I persuade with stories, examples, illustrations, and other kinds of proof. You will notice that every idea in this article is supported by examples.

Persuasive text avoids abstract ideas. It needs to be grounded in reality and offer relatable examples.

Abstract, unpersuasiveGrounded and persuasive
Clear and simple writing, albeit hard and complicated, is key to successful communication.

However, the tradition of teaching English as a foreign language, especially on higher levels, is hardly adjacent to the ideas of simplicity and clarity.

Many non-English-speakers tend to create smart-sounding text that lacks the properties required for effective communication. Oblivious to the fact, they build on the complexity and clutter, making the communication even less effective.
It's hard to write in English as it is. Especially when it's not your mother tongue, with all the vocabulary and grammar. Heck, the 16 tenses alone are hard enough.

What's worse—nobody ever teaches you to write clearly. If anything, your teacher will make you use smarter words and trickier grammar, not simpler. Traditional English teaching, as I know it from Russia, makes you sound smart, not clear.

I've seen many English-speaking Russians overcomplicate what they write. We try to sound smart in presentations and ads, we send mind-numbing letters and reports. Many take pride in this complexity, while their readers struggle.

Use examples and proof to persuade

This is non-fiction, for non-native speakers

My method is only designed for non-fiction: what you write for business, advertising, websites, apps and interface. To some extent—for journalism, blogging and generally writing for the web.

My method applies to people who are not native speakers: say, a Russian editor writing up a press release for Europe, or a Ukrainian designer building apps for clients in America. (See what I did there? Examples!)

As a native Russian, I realize I can never truly understand English, no matter how many episodes of Sherlock I watch. So I am not looking to teach English to English natives. But I sure hope some of my advice comes in handy.

What now

More articles on clarity, simplicity and persuasion coming up.

Follow @deathbypassive to stay updated

2016   clarity   editing   persuasion   simplicity