reproof

v. to proofread, again

The best way to write? Rewrite.
The trick to writing is writing the same idea over and again.

by Matthew Guay · November 15, 2021 · #writing

Intros are the hardest thing to write.

It's rare for me to overthink a random paragraph halfway through an article, beyond keeping an eye on rhythm and repetition. Conclusions are easy enough to write if you simply stop instead of summarizing the piece.

Intros and titles, though, never lost their intimidation. They're your single shot for attention, the entire reason people might keep reading.

Thus the overthinking. It's hard not to overthink things when the stakes are so high.

Then I found a trick that worked: Write multiple takes, ask people their favorite, then pull the best parts together into a final take.


Cheap. Fast. Good.

You can only pick two, they say. Cheap fast food might not be particularly good; cheap good food may likely require a longer wait.

Half of the terror of the blank page, that paralyzing expanse of white pixels and blinking cursor, is that your first bit of writing likely won't turn out that well.

That's to be expected. Quickly written words may not be well written. You're letting your words fall out, honestly. Anything's better than staring at the blank page and leaving it untouched. Cheap and fast is the goal, not good. Writing anything is progress.

"Not that the story need be long," wrote Thoreau in reply to a comment about his writing's length, "but it will take a long while to make it short." Good, fast writing—just not especially polished or concise.

Then revise, rewrite, rephrase your ideas from the ground up. That's where quality comes in.

First drafts get your ideas written down. They're imperfectly written by design, for the focus is on the ideas, not the writing.

Then the second draft, and third, and thirtieth, are where you hone and refine. There are always more ways to state an idea. Your subsequent drafts aren't to change your ideas; they're to change how you present them.

The goal is to write your ideas clearly and coherently enough that they'll click with your readers, become something they talk about, morph into the original meaning of a meme—an idea that spreads. You need to find the best way to state the idea. So you write it over and again, playing with synonyms and structure to see if this time's the charm.


Then ask the people. See what resonates, what falls flat.

Tech thrives on A/B tests, showing "Sign up" to half your visitor, "Free trial" to the other half. Google took it so far, they tested 41 shades of blue to see which gets the most clicks. May the best shade win.

I improvised a simpler way, by asking the people I trusted most—my editorial team. I'd open Slack, jump into our #editorial channel, and share my favorite three titles from the half-dozen I'd written that first pass. Someone would vote on their favorite, another would suggest a remix or different take they thought sounded better. A few minutes later, we'd have a title that, if not perfect, at least likely had a better shot at catching fire than my first solo take.

Intros would go the same. I'd leave all three versions of my intro in the document, share it with my editor, and see if she liked one more than another.

Somehow along the way, we'd distill a reasonably good title and intro, find something that had a half-decent chance at getting read. Something good enough.

I'd never get started, never get anything published, if I waited around for the perfect title and intro. A few hastily-written takes on the same idea, though, and I'd find what I really wanted to say.

And then, on to the next blank page.

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