How To Edit

“Good writing should be convincing, certainly, but it should be convincing because you got the right answers, not because you did a good job of arguing. When I give a draft of an essay to friends, there are two things I want to know: which parts bore them, and which seem unconvincing. The boring bits can usually be fixed by cutting. But I don’t try to fix the unconvincing bits by arguing more cleverly. I need to talk the matter over.”

“at the very least I must have explained something badly. In that case, in the course of the conversation I’ll be forced to come up a with a clearer explanation, which I can just incorporate in the essay. More often than not I have to change what I was saying as well. But the aim is never to be convincing per se. As the reader gets smarter, convincing and true become identical, so if I can convince smart readers I must be near the truth.” -Paul Graham

I don’t want to assume my audience has infinite intelligence [1], but I want that to be a close approximation. I also don’t want to assume zero knowledge of my audience: In general it makes sense to lean hard on related concepts my readers may already be familiar with. But I do not want to ignore implicit assumptions that are insufficient, inconsistent, or that may keep me from navigating an interesting space.

Types of feedback: (1) ask questions when confused. (2) tell me where you were bored, unconvinced, surprised, interested, distracted. (3) give me structure or direction in some way. (4) what sentences do you think I will regret most?

[1] “Write for a reader who won’t read the essay as carefully as you do, just as pop songs are designed to sound ok on crappy car radios.” -Paul Graham


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