How to say what you want to say in three paragraphs

Man typing on a laptop computer What would you do if you were told you only had three short paragraphs in which to explain something, describe something, report on something? Would you curl into a whimpering ball under your desk or would you tackle the problem head on?

I’m hoping you’d tackle the problem head on.

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Why you should write morning pages

Writing A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with another writer and I casually mentioned that I’ve been writing professionally for a long time. Since 1989/1990. A lot has changed since then. I’m a different person, and a different writer, than the uncertain young man I was all those years ago.

I still have a lot to learn about the craft of writing. That said, I like to think that I know a thing or two about it as well. Over the last year or so, I’ve been informally coaching a few people who aspire to write. Most of them want to go pro at some point. The others write because they enjoy it and want to improve. Or, they need to beef up their skills for work.

The one piece of advice give all of them is to write every day. That’s the key to improving as a writer. Practice. Practice. And more practice. Then lather, rinse, and repeat.

For a few of those folks, finding time to write is a challenge. We all lead busy lives, and writing takes focus. It takes time. So I’ve been advising them write morning pages.

The idea behind morning pages is simple: first thing in the morning, sit down with pen and paper and just write. Anything. Whatever is in your head. Morning pages are a good tool for getting through a creative block. They can also be a cathartic therapy.

But morning pages are an excellent way to practice writing, too. If nothing else, writing morning pages clears cruft from brain so you can get the words that you want down on a page or on the screen.

Even though I’ve been writing professionally for a few decades, I find morning pages to be very worthwhile. I write and post something several mornings a week. The wider web sees my unvarnished thoughts, which is fine with me. You don’t have to make your morning pages public if you don’t want to, though.

It doesn’t matter how much you write — it can be 100 words or 500 words or more. It doesn’t matter how you write. You can craft your morning pages by hand in journal or on legal pad. You can write using a text editor or word processor. You can use online tools like Morning Pages or 750 Words. The key is to sit in front of your keyboard, type, and get words from brain on to screen. The goal is to write. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Doing that every day builds the discipline of writing. Having that discipline is key to 1) improving as a writer, and 2) being able to take a stab at writing professionally.

(A quick plug: If you haven’t already, think about subscribing to my bi-weekly email newsletter. It’s free and I won’t use your information to spam you. Promise!)

A few links for the end of the week

A thought about word count

Typing How much should I write? That’s a question people constantly ask me. And, often, they’re surprised at what I say.

I look at it in this way: if you need 1,000 words to properly present an argument or effectively make a point, then by all means use those 1,000 words. If you only need 250 words, then that’s fine too.

Don’t just listen to me. Consider these wise words:

When you’re ready to stop, stop. If you have presented all the facts and made the point you want to make, look for the nearest exit.

— the late William Zinsser, from On Writing Well

There’s no hard and fast rule. Enough is enough. With practice, and the experience that comes from practice, you’ll know when to stop.

(A quick plug: If you haven’t already, think about subscribing to my bi-weekly email newsletter. It’s free and I won’t use your information to spam you. Promise!)

Analog note taking and bad handwriting

(Note: This post was first published at Notes from a Floating Life and appears here via a Creative Commons license.)

It all started with this tweet by Scott Berkun:

A tweet about bad handwriting by Scott Berkun

As much as I like jotting notes in a Moleskine or Field Notes notebook, I have to admit that I sometimes have trouble reading my own writing. I joke that the only person in the world who can read my handwriting isn’t me; it’s my wife. In fact, my handwriting is so illegible sometimes that I’ve lost important information or writing ideas because couldn’t I read what I’d jotted down.

There are people out there, including I’m sure a few of fives who read this blog, who are saying that I could have easily avoided those situations. How? By using a digital tool like Simplenote or Evernote or Google Keep. Not really. I’m not always connected, and I don’t always have a device with which to capture those ideas. Anyway, writing by hand is faster than typing on a small screen.

Luckily, I learn from my (many) mistakes. Well, most of the time. Here are three tips for taking notes with pen and paper if you have bad handwriting.

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A few links for the end of the week

Editing others to become a better writer

edit Someone once wrote that the true student must teach in order to learn. I don’t recall where I read that, but in the 30 years since I did it’s stuck with me.

The person who wrote it was referring to martial arts. But he could also have been talking about writing. You don’t have to become a writing instructor or tutor to teach. You can do that by editing the work of another writer.

And by editing others, you can improve your own writing.

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Announcing my new ebook, Learning Markdown

The cover of Learning Markdown I’m excited to share my new ebook, Learning Markdown, with you.

No matter what you write for the web, you need a quick and easy way to format it. Why learn HTML or use cumbersome editors when you can use Markdown? With Markdown, you use keyboard symbols to format your content — you can write rich content faster and with simple tools.

Learning Markdown teaches you how to quickly format content for the web. You’ll learn what I believe is the most efficient way to use Markdown. And unlike the various cheatsheets available online, this book explains the how and the why of using Markdown.

Learning Markdown takes you from the beginning — how to set up a page, how to format text, work with images and links and lists, and more. Each chapter ends with an exercise that gets you to use and build on what you’ve learned.

Want to learn more? You can do just that, and view the book’s table of contents, here. You can also grab a copy of Learning Markdown from: