Want to improve your writing? Read a lot. And slowly.

Learning to write sound, interesting, sometimes elegant prose is the work of a lifetime. The only way I know to do it is to read a vast deal of the best writing available, prose and poetry, with keen attention, and find a way to make use of this reading in one’s own writing.

The first step is to become a slow reader. No good writer is a fast reader, at least not of work with the standing of literature.

Writers perforce read differently from everyone else. Most people ask three questions of what they read: (1) What is being said? (2) Does it interest me? (3) Is it well constructed?

Writers also ask these questions, but two others along with them: (4) How did the author achieve the effects he has? And (5) What can I steal, properly camouflaged of course, from the best of what I am reading for my own writing? This can slow things down a good bit.

More here.

Make your 300 months genuinely shine for you

 

“Human lifetime is less than 1,000 months long. For only 1/3 of those 1,000 months will you have time for serious thinking, serious loving and serious acting – that gives you only 300 months.” (…)

The rest of the time you’ll spend doing things like sleeping, eating or being stuck in a traffic jam.

via WSJ.

Challenge: a day without distraction

Here are the rules: All work must be done in blocks of at least 30 minutes.

If I start editing a paper, for example, I have to spend at least 30 minutes editing. If I need to complete a small task, like handing in a form, I have to spend at least 30 minutes doing small tasks.

See the conclusions here.

Sneak preview:

if you survive the annoyance, (…) your work will be of a much higher quality.

We’re busy. We hurry. Are we missing moments?

I read this from Emerson in a post on busyness:

Life goes headlong. Each of us is always to be found hurrying headlong in the chase of some fact, hunted by some fear or command behind us. Suddenly we meet a friend. We pause. Our hurry & embarrassment look ridiculous.

Now pause, now possession is required, and the power to swell the moment from the resources of our own heart until it supersedes sun & moon & solar system in its expanding immensity. The moment is all, in all noble relations.

and it reminded me (in choice of words and in content) of one of my favorite passages from Hamlet:

 If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.

More here.

See also:

 

We work too much. And it’s our fault

 

America works too much. Half of salaried workers report putting in at least 50 hours a week, and surveys of white collar professionals report even higher figures. Long hours deplete our ability to make good choices and make it harder to fit in a full night of sleep. As a result, workers are less productive, less healthy, even less ethical.

(…)

Management seems intent on imposing long hours on workers, regardless of overtime rules, which isn’t surprising given that managers are often working brutal hours themselves. In fact, the cult of overwork is as much cultural as economic. As a paper on overtime in Britain put it, “the overtime premium is essentially the outcome of established custom and practice,” just one more aspect of the labor market that depends, at least in part, on social norms.

More here.

On the power of analyzing what you do

 

Don’t recreate what just worked. Analyze the process you went through to create that result.

If you go for the result, it ain’t gonna work. It might, but it’s luck, it’s not technique. Process.

From a master class here.

See also the reflective power of keeping a journal.

Ernest Hemingway’s suggested readings

These are readings Hemingway recommended to a young person aspiring to be a writer. The whole story here.

Links for the book will take you to Project Gutenberg.