Russell Conjugation

“Sentence 1: I am firm.

Sentence 2: You are obstinate.

Sentence 3: He/She/It is pigheaded.

-Bertrand Russell, quoted in David Perell, “News in the Age of Abundance.” Perell.com. February 4, 2020.

“Most people will have a positive emotion to the first sentence, a mild reaction to the second, and a negative reaction to the third. Likewise, writers can vary the meaning of their words by changing the length or structure of their sentences. Once their words are set in print, they can enhance their messaging with images that manipulate the reader’s emotions.”

ibid.

Many if not most people form their opinions based solely on whatever [Emotive] Conjugation is presented to them and not on the underlying facts.

Most words and phrases are actually defined not by a single dictionary description, but rather two distinct attributes:

 1. The factual content of the word or phrase.

2. The emotional content of the construction.

-Eric Weinstein, ibid.

A Page A Day = A Book A Year

“Lately, I’ve been following a dictum I first heard from writing coach Donald M. Murray. “A page a day,” he said, “is a book a year.”As the author of more than a dozen books, Murray knew what he was talking about. A double-spaced page of prose is 250 words. Multiply that by 365 days and you could produce 91,250 words in 2020. Give yourself vacation time and days off and you can still generate enough copy for the writing project you’ve been putting off, a body of work that you can revise.  A page a day is doable as I’ve learned over the past month, and it’s not uncommon to double that. My resolution is to keep it up. Perhaps it will work for you.”

—Donald M. Murray quoted in Chip Scanlon, “#15 A Page a Day, The Iceberg Theory of Writing, John Branch on Believing In What You Write, The Loneliness of Writing.” Chip in Your Inbox. January 3, 2020

Chip Scanlon’s newsletter is pure gold.

cafebedouin.org: 2019 Year in Review and Looking Ahead to 2020

In 2019, I posted 931 entries, all post views were up to +14,000 views by +9,000 visitors to cafebedouin.org, roughly three times the level of last year. Most of the views are concentrated either on the main page or the most popular posts:

My favorite posts of the year:

In 2019, I went for a twice a day posting schedule that expanded to three times a day mid-year as I incorporated a review of my photo archive. Frankly, this is a brutal posting schedule. I could probably do twice a day comfortably, but I think I’m going to focus a bit more on quality and only commit to doing a single post a day and maybe do something original once a week in the coming year.

I still would like to move to a format where half the posts are in a Foucault hupomnemata-style, i.e., “to capture the already-said, to collect what one has managed to hear or read, and for a purpose that is nothing less than the shaping of the self.” And I think some of the sources I have mentioned last year are still worth exploring:

  • I have been collecting rules and maxims for life over the last 1.5 years or so, and there are now over 400 of them. I could do a year just using these as writing prompts.
  • I still haven’t included very much material from the commonplace book I kept for years before starting cafebedouin.org. Adding in material from it with some reflection now that it has been several years might be interesting.
  • Open-ended stream-of-consciousness writing. However, it probably won’t be much fun to read. I beg your pardon.

Offline, I did Postcard Friday, on more of a monthly basis this year. And I think this was both good and something to do more of, perhaps with tie-in to the blog. Still thinking through how this might work, so maybe something for next year?

In short, expect some changes and fewer posts in the coming year.

Cormac McCarthy’s Tips on How to Write a [Great Blog Post]

“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.

We’re at Peak Newsletter, and I Feel Fine | Vanity Fair

“‘No one needs more shit to read,’ wrote Erica Buist in a widely circulated Medium post entitled ‘The Personal Newsletter Fad Needs to End,’ citing Twitter, print magazines, and her nightstand book stack as competing entities.

It’s true that my Pocket app, Chrome tabs, bookshelves, and feeds are all crammed with reading material. Yet somehow I never begrudge a new newsletter landing in my inbox.”

—Claire Landsbaum, “We’re at Peak Newsletter, and I Feel Fine.” Vanity Fair. July 11, 2019

Even if you aren’t looking for another newsletter to subscribe to, you are bound to find something of interest in this article, such as the How to Stay Married Forever edition of Ask Molly.

Steven Pinker’s Rules For Writing

  1. Reverse-engineer what you read. If it feels like good writing, what makes it good? If it’s awful, why?
  2. Prose is a window onto the world. Let your readers see what you are seeing by using visual, concrete language.
  3. Don’t go meta. Minimize concepts about concepts, like “approach, assumption, concept, condition, context, framework, issue, level, model, perspective, process, range, role, strategy, tendency,” and “variable.”
  4. Let verbs be verbs. “Appear,” not “make an appearance.”
  5. Beware of the Curse of Knowledge: when you know something, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like not to know it. Minimize acronyms & technical terms. Use “for example” liberally. Show a draft around, & prepare to learn that what’s obvious to you may not be obvious to anyone else.
  6. Omit needless words (Will Strunk was right about this).
  7. Avoid clichés like the plague (thanks, William Safire).
  8. Old information at the beginning of the sentence, new information at the end.
  9. Save the heaviest for last: a complex phrase should go at the end of the sentence.
  10. Prose must cohere: readers must know how each sentence is related to the preceding one. If it’s not obvious, use “that is, for example, in general, on the other hand, nevertheless, as a result, because, nonetheless,” or “despite.”
  11. Revise several times with the single goal of improving the prose.
  12. Read it aloud.
  13. Find the best word, which is not always the fanciest word. Consult a dictionary with usage notes, and a thesaurus.

Steve Pinker

OpenBSD’s Guide to Netiquette

The OpenBSD’s mailing list page netiquette section is excellent. It is a distillation of how to communicate online, i.e.:

  • Plain text, 72 characters per line [or simplest formatting available]
  • Do your homework before writing
  • Include a useful subject line [or headline]
  • Trim your signature
  • Stay on topic
  • Include important information
  • Respect differences in opinion and philosophy

Using only plain text is extreme outside of email. But, the idea that formatting should not get in the way of content is good. Know what you are talking about. Help others to understand. Give them all the relevant information. Trim out anything that does not move the discussion forward or is confusing. Treat everyone with respect.

It’s good advice for any kind of communication and for life. It’s relevant to writing an email, a newsletter, a blog post, an article or anything else you may do.