Prior to giving a briefing in Vietnam in front of a team of his superiors, my dad put his words in front of his commanding officer. 45 minutes later when his boss finished reading, he turned to him and said, “This is good, but cut it down to 3 minutes.”
My dad was dumbstruck, and despite wanting to argue, he turned around and went back to his desk and went to work.
A few hours later, having followed the directions given, all parties commended him for telling them exactly what they needed to know and nothing more.
According to my dad, that lesson kick-started his career and to this day says it was the most important advice he has ever received.
As someone who just discovered a passion for writing this past year, learning how to say more with less is a constant challenge, but every time I sit down to write I hear my dad’s voice.
“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” — Mark Twain
I am nowhere close to where I want to be as a writer. However, my dad’s lesson of “Cut, cut, cut and then cut some more,” along with the 6 lessons below have helped me to get closer to reaching my goal of writing concise, actionable and honest articles.
1. “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” — Phillip Seymour Hoffman(Almost Famous)
Up until this past year I had spent my life trying to fit in, instead of trying to find out where I belonged. A great deal of this much needed switch I owe to putting my true thoughts and feelings down on paper and allowing myself to be vulnerable.
This has taught me that the last thing I want to write about, is the exact thing I should write about. After all, fear is simply the path to truth. The quote above reminds me of this, and that the fastest way to become the person I want to be — is to write about the person I really am.
2. “Just because Mark Manson used the word “f+ck” in the title of his book, does not mean you should too.” — Ryan Holiday
Recently Pharrell gave a Master Class at NYU to a group of music students in which after listening to their work he provided advice. When it came time to critique the work of a girl named, “Maggie Rogers” he turned to her and said, “I have absolutely zero notes for you. And I am going to tell you why. You are doing your own thing. It’s singular.”
With the exception of George C. Marshall’s biographer referring to him as an, “Unnatural Genius,” I do not think I have ever come across a greater compliment.
Suck everything you can out of your mentors. Read every book you can get your hands on. But remember the words of artist and author, Austin Kleon, when sitting down to write, “You do not want to look like your heroes. You want to see like your heroes.”
3. “To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.” — Allen Ginsberg
Without fail every time I try and write an article with a particular audience in mind, I blow it. I end up writing for them, not for me and it shows. Like Joseph Campbell said, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are,” and if you want to connect with someone else you have to first be connected to yourself.
4. “You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” — Saul Bellow
My most read articles on Medium and the handful that have been published in magazines with large audiences are the ones that have taken me the least amount of time to write. On the flip-side the one’s that I have spent the most time trying to put a square peg into a round hole have gotten me crickets.
The quote above reminds me of the importance of listening to the voice inside my head, and when it gets loud enough, to pull up a seat and get to work.
5. “If you do not have time to read, you do not have time to write.Simple as that.” — Stephen King
6. “Substitute `damn’ every time you’re inclined to use the word `very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should it.” — Mark Twain
Recently I came across on article on Fast Company about how weak the word “just” makes us sound. After reading this I went to my sent box and scrolled through my old emials and was blown away by often I use it (among others) and how weak it made me appear.
“I just want to talk to you.” “I just wanted to see if you had received my previous email.” “I was just wondering…….”
If you are like me and have a tendency to say less by writing more, start by doing a command+F search of the words you use as a crutch and stop using them.
7. “Discipline creates freedom” — Jocko Willink (or just hang a photo of Jocko on your wall)
One evening after doing his stand-up routine, Brad Isaac, came face to face with one of his heroes, Jerry Seinfeld. After gearing up the courage he asked Jerry the question that was burning on the minds of every comedian, “How do you do it?” Jerry’s response was immediate: “The way to be a better comic is to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes is to write every day.”
I am sure we all know that in order to become a better writer we need to write more. But writing more is not easy, and just one look at Jocko reminds me that nothing worth having is.
I am done bleeding for today.
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