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Editing Principle 40: Write Like a Hack (Sometimes)


Lately I’ve worked with a couple of clients struggling through revisions on early drafts. Neither of them had trouble with the topic; they knew their stuff. Both had published books before. Both had a lot riding on the current project. One needed tenure. The other wanted to capture his conflicted feelings about humanitarian aid work after thirty-plus years…


Because Facebook and other social media sites stopped acknowledging the existence of photos smaller than 300×300 pixels. Oh the things we could say about that but won’t (right now). I hope you enjoy the larger pics!

Editing Principle 39: On Ghostwriting, Part I

webuyegate copy

The aspect of Wherewithal’s work that generates the most interest in personal conversation, by far, is ghostwriting. People always have questions. Really? Who for? In some cases they’re hoping I’ll say “Jay-Z” and are mildly disappointed when I give them a name they’ve never heard of or, more often, say I cannot say because of…

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