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Dana Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist for over 25 years and has covered the online world professionally since 1985. He founded the "Interactive Age Daily" for CMP Media, and has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age, and dozens of other publications over the years.
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Moore’s Law defines the history of technology. It held that the number of circuits etched on a given piece of silicon could double every 18 months as far as its author, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, could see. Moore’s Law has spawned constant revolutions since then, not just in computing but in communications, in science, in a host of areas. Moore’s Law applies to radios, and to optical fiber, but there are some areas where it doesn’t apply. In this blog we’ll take a daily look at new implications of Moore’s Law in real time, as it rolls forward to create our future.
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February 18, 2006

Dana's Quick Writing Course

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Posted by Dana Blankenhorn

dana%20closeup%20xmas%202.jpgI've been writing for over 40 years, professionally for 30. If you're interested in doing the same, here's a simple four-step process that will make your writing all it can be.

Writing is easy to learn, easy to do. But it's the work of a lifetime. I'm still learning, and will be until I die. So get started now.

  1. Write. Don't think, write. Write everything about what you want to say. Don't worry about grammar, or spelling. Just think about everything you want to say and say it. This is sometimes called "writing down the bones." It's simple, it's pure, it's exhausting, it's exhilirating. And when you're done you may have an unholy mess. Don't worry about it.
  2. Find the story. After you finish your draft, and after you take some time away from it (an hour, a day, or even several days, depending on how long it is) go through what you have and find the story there. Look for the beginning, middle, and end.

    • If you're writing non-fiction, find your lead. Move your key point to the front. If this is a news story, you then take the next most important point, and the next, and the next, in order. (The inverted pyramid lets an editor chop from the bottom.)
    • If this is a magazine story, your lead is a sales pitch for what follows. You next want to tell the story in a coherent order, and finish with a revelation, a present for ther reader who finishes it, sometimes called a tag ending or rim shot.
    • If this is fiction, find a key moment of high tension and start there. Then tell the back story, and lead your reader toward the climax.

  3. Again, after a rest, read it out loud. This is where you find your tone. Give voice to your story and you'll give your story a voice. If you sound stilted, or stuck-up, or lost, that's a problem you need to fix. Work with your draft until you can read it as a story, until you feel it's ready for an audience.
  4. Finally, polish. Now is when you worry about grammar, and spelling, about subject-verb agreement. Now is when you think about whether you want to violate some grammatical rules in the name of character, or story-telling, or a Tom Wolfe homage. Now is where you make everything sing. Now is where you might print out a copy and work from that, then print out a final copy.


It took me 40 years to work out the obvious. Don't waste that much time. Learn to write now. Write clearly, simply, and learn to enjoy writing. This is the path to leadership in whatever field you've chosen. This is how you give your life meaning.

Good luck.

Comments (8) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Consulting | Journalism | blogging | fiction | fun stuff | personal


COMMENTS

1. maria zuppello on February 20, 2006 01:24 AM writes...

Hi, my name is maria Zuppello and I'm the first Italian reporter getting alone, with a small digital camera, without a crew to Antarctica.
I'm writing from New York where I'm working on a documentary about bioweapons with Danny Schechter. Former CNN and CBS producer Danny won 2 Emmy Awards and he's famous all around the world to be "the news dissector": every day he criticizes the American Media System.
I have been creating a blog about my experience with him
htttp://videojournalist.blogs.it
and he still has his own blog
www.mediachannel.org
You can write in Italian as well as in English
Keep in touch!
Maria

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2. Tom Mariner on February 24, 2006 08:50 AM writes...

I am both a keen observer of effective writing and a techie. Actually much of my work involves organizing technical projects and making sure they get done so my approach to almost everything is top down, beginning with an outline and carefully populating the resultant branches with concise details.

Since I admire Dana's manner of committing thoughts to groups of words, I have to pay attention to particulary his first point of "just say it". Although it violates my long ingrained thought pattern, I am going to try it. Oh OK, I am going to plan to try it!

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3. Stu Savory on February 28, 2006 04:06 AM writes...

And if you are writing a lesson, or a chapter in a textbook, or similar, the recipe is :-

1) Tell them what you're going to tell them.
2) Tell them.
3) Tell them what you told them.
4) Test them on what you (just) told them.

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4. Andrew on February 28, 2006 08:11 AM writes...

Nice pointers. The only thing I would add is to keep writing, even when you don't feel like it.

Keep the ink flowing,

AC

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5. Ed Bremson on February 28, 2006 02:31 PM writes...

I don't know if you've covered this, but two of the best books on writing that I've ever seen are Writing the Natural Way, by Gabriele Lusser Rico, and If you want to write, by Brenda Ueland. The former book deals with clustering, and the latter deals heavily with using the imagination. I particularly wish I had read the Ueland book earlier in my writing career.

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6. Ed Bremson on February 28, 2006 02:32 PM writes...

I don't know if you've covered this, but two of the best books on writing that I've ever seen are Writing the Natural Way, by Gabriele Lusser Rico, and If you want to write, by Brenda Ueland. The former book deals with clustering, and the latter deals heavily with using the imagination. I particularly wish I had read the Ueland book earlier in my writing career.

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7. Ed Bremson on February 28, 2006 02:33 PM writes...

I don't know if you've covered this, but two of the best books on writing that I've ever seen are Writing the Natural Way, by Gabriele Lusser Rico, and If you want to write, by Brenda Ueland. The former book deals with clustering, and the latter deals heavily with using the imagination. I particularly wish I had read the Ueland book earlier in my writing career.

Permalink to Comment

8. Michael O'Connor Clarke on February 28, 2006 02:56 PM writes...

Excellent, Dana. Thanks. It's good to be reminded of the essentials - and to have them so succinctly summarized.

Reminds me of (a much longer) something Doc Searls wrote a while ago, here.

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