How I Write

By Neuroskeptic | April 14, 2010 9:05 pm

I thought I’d share some of the things I keep in mind when writing my posts. These are lessons I’ve learned through trial and error in the 18 months I’ve been blogging, and that I wish I’d been told when I started out.

In no particular order:

  • Write little and often. I find that I’m most productive at the beginning and the end of a session of writing: in the middle, it’s easy to lose steam and spend a long time doing very little. So I now generally write in regular short bursts (20 minutes or so). Each post will take as many bursts as it needs to be finished, which is usually 2 or 3, but sometimes more.
  • Keep it brief. Two short posts are better than one long one, because a lot of people (e.g. me) just don’t read long posts. At the moment, I aim for about 500 words per post with a maximum limit of 1,000 words. If that’s not enough space, I’ll split the ideas over multiple posts. This is easier to read, and I find it makes it easier to write too, once you get into the swing of it. Some might worry that this makes it impossible to express complex ideas, but I really don’t think it does. You just need to express them clearly.
  • Think, then write. You should know what you’re going to write about before you start typing: it’s hard to write and think at the same time. This is easier said than done, and often you’ll think of new ideas while writing, so it’s not an absolute rule. But you should know the major points you’ll be making before writing.
  • Don’t start at the beginning. Don’t write the first sentence first, spending ages reworking it until it’s perfect, and only then move on to the second sentence. Write the basic skeleton first, no matter how badly it reads, and then tidy it up afterwards. It’s a lot easier to do the tidying up once you know how it all fits together.
  • If in doubt, leave it out. Some people would disagree with this, and it’s ultimately a matter of personal style, but this is my rule: if I’m not sure how confident I am in something, or if I’m not sure it’s interesting enough to bother with, I won’t post it. If I’m not sure a paragraph is a good addition to a post, I’ll cut it.

417 words… I’m done.

  • AK47

    mwa ha ha! Good precision.

  • NeuroK├╝z

    Very helpful tips for a new blogger such as myself.

    I've also discovered that it's helpful to jot things down when I have ideas at random times (e.g. in the shower), even if I'm not working on a piece at that time… this gives me material to work with come writing time.

  • Roga

    Thank you Mr. Kick Brain.

  • makislav

    Thanks for these good tips!

    When I started blogging I felt that I lost some of my perfectionism. Relatively short texts will engage the author for more efficient and productive writings; want-to-know-all style of working will just hamstring all the projects that are beginning to take form in the mind.

  • Neuroskeptic

    makislav: Perfectionism is a double-edged sword, on the one hand if you take it too far you'll never finish anything, but if you don't have enough of it, you'll produce loads of crap.

    I think you're right that keeping things short is key. It's hard to be satisfied with a really long piece because there are so many things to get right, and you'll always want to add more and more discussion. If you set yourself a defined limit – this is going to be under 1000 words, no matter what – it liberates you from most of those worries.

  • Dirk Hanson

    “If in doubt, leave it out.”

    As a journalist with 35 years of experience, I would say that you have hit upon one of the crucial rules of good writing.

  • makislav

    Ns: thanks for the response!

    Yes, there is something in perfectionism (and even in melancoly) that keeps the ambitious crazynes going on and eventually is even necessary for the influental futur results.

    Accordingly, it feels to me that having started bloggin was like activating the chainsaw – it gave birth to more active writing thus avancing the megalomaniac goals that are wondering inside my head. :) So in eather way, little steps are essential for the possible big strides in the future.



No brain. No gain.

About Neuroskeptic

Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.


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