Letter to the Editor

I've learned a few lessons over the last couple years of editing other people's writing. I still have a lot to learn, but this seems like a good rest stop to take a look back.

  • Be direct. Don't hedge. Say what you mean and own your authority.
  • Ruthlessly eliminate unnecessary commas but don't underestimate a well-placed hyphen.
  • If you use the word 'that' in your writing, you can almost always delete it.
  • Write the same thing again and use half as many words.
  • Don't bother with the word 'that.'
  • Once you've completed a draft, delete the first paragraph (or two). You'll often be starting from a better place this way.
  • Show the data.
  • Reading is the best way to improve your writing.
  • Always ask. And try not to take silence personally.
  • Trade secrets aren't real. You don't have trade secrets. Have you noticed how much Apple news leaks to the press? Even their trade secrets aren't secret for very long.
  • Share your knowledge so others can have an equal shot. 
  • Saying less is better than saying more. Always.
  • Being too early is almost as bad as being late.
  • Anyone can do what you do with enough googling. Or by hiring the right people (which too few do). Your experience and perspective will set you apart.

And a couple lessons from others: 

Billionaire investor Chris Sacca, whose investments include Twitter, Kickstarter, and Instagram among others, brought up a good point about why he openly shares his investing strategies and secrets. It really underscored why I share as much as I have, culminating in my 11,000-word essay, The Little Freelance Handbook. You can listen to it in his words on The Tim Ferriss Show, but to paraphrase Chris’ reasoning:

Sharing secrets or strategies only takes you so far. It requires execution to actually have success with those tips. If you don’t have the passion, or frankly, the skill to compete, then it doesn’t matter how much I share. But if you do, and the advice given helps you even just a little bit, you’ll be an ally for life.

Finally, as John McPhee illustrates in Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process, there will always be mistakes:

The worst checking error is calling people dead who are not dead. In the words of Joshua Hersh, “It really annoys them.” Sara remembers a reader in a nursing home who read in The New Yorker that he was “the late” reader in the nursing home. He wrote demanding a correction. The New Yorker, in its next issue, of course complied, inadvertently doubling the error, because the reader died over the weekend while the magazine was being printed.

So make those mistakes, own them, and get better. Every day.

Andy Newman