wherewithal press, inc.

Writing Simple & Direct


I first came across the historian Jacques Barzun (1907 – 2012) because he wrote an introduction to a collection of essays by John Jay Chapman. (I can no longer remember what New York Public Library rabbit hole I fell down to find Chapman, but I used a passage of his for an epigraph in More Than…

Editing Principle 38: Bullets Be Damned

bulletin board

Edward Tufte recently tweeted a snippet of the physicist Richard Feynman grumbling about bullet lists. From the sound of it, Feynman encountered bullets for the first time during his work investigating the Challenger shuttle explosion in 1986, and was not impressed: “Then we learned about ‘bullets’–little black circles in front of phrases that were supposed…

Editing Principle 37: Orwell’s Six Rules


I’m a fan of George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language.” I recommend it all the time, and strongly recommend it to people reluctant to use short words when chewier ones can be found — which is to say that deep down they worry that using “use” doesn’t sound as smart as saying “utilize.” Orwell would disagree. The full…


“I learned with my first novel that it is entirely possible for me to write something and not see what is wrong with it. Before that, I thought I was fairly self-critical, a pretty good judge of my own writing. But what I realized is that the flush of happiness that often follows in the wake of finishing a big piece of writing is a wonderful high, but it can also be blinding. And when you are in that state and you try to read your own work, you read not only your words as they appear on the page but your words suffused with your own emotion, with all these associations and colors that you bring to it. In my experience, you need—at least I need—a much cooler head to really see the thing: to see only the words on the page. And only then can you begin to wrestle with what you have.”

—The amazing Adelle Waldman, author of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.

Draft as Prototype


The word gets used a lot in design circles, and when working with clients active in design world, I find myself starting to say “draft” — then stopping to mumble some hybrid nonsense as I remember that “prototype” means more to them. But the two terms communicate the same basic idea. Hang on, the person presenting…


Sad but true: “Quick, tossed-off, last-minute additions, typed right before you submit the final manuscript, probably aren’t a good idea, no matter how funny or emotionally powerful you might feel they are at the time of impulsively writing them. Always allow time to come back and read something from a distance.”

Geoff Manaugh

Editing Principle 36: Learn to Code


This past summer we decided to make good on our resolution to learn to code. So we began by taking a class at General Assembly. There’s much more to be said about integrating web design into our editing practice, and soon, but meanwhile here’s a link to the final project: www.horta.co. We took material that didn’t present well…

Recent News…

Wherewithal client Jo Piazza got some love from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. We’re moving to DC, figuratively speaking. A fascinating new project focused on wealth, health, and public policy is in the works, and will have us traveling to Capitol Hill. Any suggestions for nearby hotels are much appreciated. The brilliant work Hanna Rose Shell did in…

Editing Principle 35: Referred Pain


There’s a physiological phenomenon in which a problem in one part of the body causes tenderness in a different part. A stressed cervical vertebrae, for instance, may be experienced not as a sore neck but as acute pain in the right shoulder. This is known as “referred pain”; where the source of the pinch and where we feel it are…


“I’m credited with being a director, a producer, cinematographer, and co-writer, but I think the thing that I do is try to figure out what’s in and what’s out. There’s a moment in the Milos Forman film Amadeus where the Emperor critiques Mozart by saying there are ‘too many notes.’ As you write whatever you’re writing, you struggle with more raw material than you have space or time, or more importantly an audience has interest in. And so you will then do what I do every day of my life which is cut and edit and figure out how to have that complexity survive in the service of very challenging narratives, but not have too many notes.”

From this Fast Company interview with Ken Burns: “How to Conquer Your Massive Creative Project the Ken Burns Way”