“My friend Lucy once told me that she falls in love with the way that someone thinks…and that’s what newsletters make possible for me; they’re a record of how strangers see the world…[But] I guess there’s something about newsletters that bugs me, and I can’t put my finger on it…[proceeds to put finger on it, i.e., newsletters are easy to write, notify people of new work and provide a way to pay for content, which are all things they web should do and doesn’t.]—Robin Rendle, “Newsletters; or, an enormous rant about writing on the web that doesn’t really go anywhere and that’s okay with me.” RobinRendle.com. January 1, 2021.
I agree with everything Robin Rendle writes in this essay. And I appreciated the irony that when I wanted to subscribe to his site’s RSS feed, I learned he probably doesn’t have one. He is using netlify, which has some github projects that can generate RSS for a netlify site, but probably not given how his site is set-up without trying to rewrite plug-in code. I guess we can call this Exhibit A for the point he is making?
“It’s the writerly act of organizing and assembling inchoate thought that seems to helps me. That’s what I did with this blog; if I blogged something for “Beyond the Beyond,” then I had tightened it, I had brightened it. I had summarized it in some medium outside my own head. Posting on the blog was a form of psychic relief, a stream of consciousness that had moved from my eyes to my fingertips; by blogging, I removed things from the fog of vague interest and I oriented them toward possible creative use.
Also, the ideal “Beyond the Beyond” reader was never any fan of mine, or even a steady reader of the blog itself. I envisioned him or her as some nameless, unlikely character who darted in orthogonally, saw a link to some odd phenomenon unheard-of to him or her, and then careened off at a new angle, having made that novelty part of his life. They didn’t have to read the byline, or admire the writer’s literary skill, or pony up any money for enlightenment or entertainment. Maybe they would discover some small yet glimmering birthday-candle to set their life alight.
Blogging is akin to stand-up comedy — it’s not coherent drama, it’s a stream of wisecracks. It’s also like street art — just sort of there, stuck in the by-way, begging attention, then crumbling rapidly.”-Bruce Sterling, “Farewell to Beyond the Beyond.” Wired.com. May 17, 2020.
Bruce Sterling really nails the value of a blog, or at least my conception of it. It also makes me realize that I should be writing more for it. Perhaps it is time to start doing that.
…Police-state crematoria…Cyberflesh…Life must be boring before it can be lived…Because language is the most important aspect of death, they taught themselves to amputate in silence…the hallucinated futures of a lunatic…Walt Whitman didn’t kill Che Guevara.”5 ANTI-MANIFESTS — ALIENIST MANIFESTO
I may not understand the words, but I get your meaning.
“Finally, try to write the best version of your paper: the one that you like. You can’t please an anonymous reader, but you should be able to please yourself. Your paper — you hope — is for posterity. Remember how you first read the papers that inspired you while you enjoy the process of writing your own.”-Van Savage and Pamela Yeh, “Novelist Cormac McCarthy’s tips on how to write a great science paper.” Nature. September 26, 2019.
tl;dr, roughly paraphrased: Cut out everything unnecessary. There should be two or three points the reader takes away from reading your post or paper. Limit each paragraph to a single idea, (Minto, anyone?) Keep your sentences short. Don’t digress. Don’t overdo it, or try to anticipate and defend against every tangential question. Use the grammar of speech. Use questions, informal speech with concrete examples. If you use math, separate it out. Read the finished draft aloud and fix what doesn’t sound right.
“Always be networking. Always.”
—”45 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting a Blog – Which You Can Use to Grow Yours to 225,000 Visits / Month, Like We Eventually Did.” CodeInWP.com. April 27, 2019.
Good advice if you want to drive traffic to your site, become an “influencer,” make money off your blog, or be Internet famous.
Or, if you are like me, use it as a guide of things to avoid doing. Except have great content, that’s good advice for everyone.
Barbara Minto‘s “The Minto Pyramid Principle” is a how-to guide for writing concise reports in a management consulting firm that has been around for years. I wrote a one sheet summary of her book over a decade ago that I still sometimes find to be a useful aid for writing. While it might be overkill for most writing we do, it is still a useful reference.
First Things First, Subject/Predicate
- What is the subject you are writing about?
- What is the question you are answering in the reader’s mind about the subject?
- What is the answer?
Make It a Story
- What is a situation where the Subject/Predicate can be illustrated?
- What problems complicate the situation?
- Do the question and answer still follow?
Find The Key Line or Take-Away
- What new question is raised by the answer?
- Will you answer it, inductively or deductively?
- If you answer inductively, what is your plural noun?
- Dramatize the main idea using imagery.
- Imagine a doer – for analysis and writing.
- List all the points you want to make, then find relationships.
- Ideas at any level must always be summaries of the ideas below.
- Ideas in each grouping must always be the same kind of idea.
- Ideas in each grouping must always be logically ordered.
- Always try top down first.
- Use the Situation for thinking through the introduction.
- Don’t omit to think through the introduction.
- Always put historical chronology in the introduction.
- Limit the introduction to what the reader will agree is true.
- Be sure to support all key line points.
- What is the problem?
- Where does it lie?
- Why does it exist?
- What could we do about it?
- What should we do about it?
- Introductions are meant to remind not inform.
- They should contain the three story elements.
- Length of introduction depends on reader and subject.
- Never use only one element for a heading.
- Show parallel ideas in parallel form.
- Limit to the essence of thought.
- Don’t regard headings as part of the text
- Introduce each group of headings.
- Don’t overdo.
- Question the order in a grouping – time, structure, or ranking.
- Question source(s) used in the problem solving process.
- Question the summary statement.
- Question your expression.
Structures for Evaluation
- Financial structure – consider strictly financial issues.
- Task structure – focus on how work gets done.
- Activity structure – focus on what needs to happen to create problem.
- Choice structure – bifurcate choices.
- Sequential structure – combination choice and activity structure.