Writing quickly

Every blog I read eventually contains a post about i) navigating the blog, and ii) the author’s policy on writing. Consider this my attempt at the latter.

I have mentioned before that I find that writing benefits my long-term thought processes. It is meditative. I am forced to formalise my thoughts and chase-up loose ends. I have never considered myself to be good at writing – I failed English in school – but I find my confidence growing as I get older.

I have two basic types of article that I try to write on this site. I have my major pieces, each of which takes me about 3 hours to write the basic structure and which I then edit multiple times over subsequent days. Some examples are my series on Mathematics and Biology or the write-up of my talk on AI in Healthcare. Three hours is still not a lot of time to write an article, so please understand that even these articles are intended for blog usage.

Then there are my shorter pieces. For these I often set a clock and work for maximally one hour. The challenge here is to develop a coherent article which will not drive a reader crazy with misdirection and misunderstandings. I usually want to reward my reader with a single clear thought. But sometimes the temptation is to show-off and bring in ancillary topics. Upon re-reading I often regret giving-in to this instinct.

The greater goal of these shorter pieces is practice. As Ira Glass says about Storytelling you need to wade through an enormous amount of work before you are able to product at a top-level. I really like his explanation that, although you were attracted to a creative field due to exquisite taste, you cannot perform up to this standard until you have tried and learned many times over.

Writing quickly is not just practice for coherently writing on an idea. I am frequenly called upon to bring my analytic acumen to problems in a very concentrated time period. By writing up my ideas, I am also training my ability to deliver a concentrated nugget of analysis without asking for 18 months to mull it over – a common academic trait.

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