Category: Editorial Tricks

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Do Not Overtighten

Having recently dropped a kid off at college for the first time, I know what it’s like to put together some IKEA furniture…with the added handicap of trying to read the directions through a film of tears. Not joking.


Something about the directions for her bed struck me as useful for writers. In an early step (#5 of #21), they tell you not to overtighten the hex bolts. This is because one piece has to fit into another and there has to be some give — you get to the tightening of both pieces later.

You see where I’m going with this, right? I see a lot of writers overtightening their first draft: wordsmithing, agonizing over the perfect dialogue snippets or vocation for a minor character. Those answers will come over the course of the drafting process if you leave things a little loose. If you overtighten, you will just have to go back to a much earlier step and undo everything you have done between now and then — or worse, snap a piece off in your hand and have to go back to that giant parking lot with the weird trolley carts that don’t hold a damn thing comfortably.

Do not overtighten.

Revision is Not a Secret

Revision is not something you do after you are done writing. Revision is writing.

A paragraph does not come tumbling out in perfect form the first time you glimpse its need and some of its contents. You (might) get one perfect sentence.

And then in the next draft, you follow the clues and nail another one.

And then in the third draft you have lived an extra day or week and you get another sentence that fits into the groove left by the first two.

And then maybe you show this paragraph to someone you trust and they say, what about?… And you say, Can I use that? And you have your fourth sentence. And if your paragraph was only supposed to have four sentences — you’re done.

To read a longer blog on this process to remind you of what you already know, go here: Four Versions of a Paragraph.

Writing is Hard, But


Writing is hard. Even writing a paragraph.

You get an idea. You sketch it out until you’ve covered the ground…then you wait.

You take the best parts up a level…then you wait.

As the rest of the piece comes together, you start to know what this paragraph is really doing, so you revise your paragraph some more, planting seeds or tightening connections…then you wait.

And finally, you recite it to yourself for the real music and meaning.

So yes, writing is hard. But it’s easier if you pick stuff you care about. In fact, that might be the only way we ever finish with style.


Mary Poppins on the Magic



“First of all, let me make one thing perfectly clear. I never explain anything.” — Mary Poppins

“Show, don’t tell” is likely the most commonly used writing axiom, but it is not new. In fact, it is old as rhetoric. Bringing people to conclusions via sensual imagery, momentous actions telling dialogue, or irrefutable logic has been advocated for thousands of years.

No one wants to be spoon-fed…but we are hungry. How can you bring us into the scene or make your point in a way that feels inescapable — and so we think it was our idea in the first place?