Writing

I came to writing relatively late in life. Of course I wrote for work and during school. But I always saw writing as a chore and did not feel that I was particularly good at it. I went to a mediocre high school and then to engineering school where writing was technical, not creative. We wrote in business school, but I don't recall a lot of effort being put into making us better writers. And for almost two decades in venture capital, writing meant memos and quarterly reports and not much more.

Then, at age 42, I started blogging. And I've been writing daily ever since. Something like 5,600 blog posts have been entered into my Typepad CMS. Almost all of them by me. I'm getting close to Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours. My writing has improved immeasurably. But more importantly, I have learned to love writing. It's creative. It's a puzzle. How do I tell the story? How do I get my point across? How do I do it crisply and clearly? How do I end it on a strong note?

I've been thinking about this because my son, who is in high school, has been working hard on his writing skills. And my daughter, who is in college, has shared a few of her papers with me recently. My daughter's writing has improved so much in the past few years. She writes so beautifully now, with poise and confidence. And my oldest daughter writes in her journal every day, keeping a private record of her life. My son is still working to find his voice, his style, his flow. I've noticed that the high school my children go to/went to really emphasizes writing and communication skills. I think that's great. I wish I had that kind of high school education. Better late than never.

But I still struggle to help my children with their written work. I find it easy to help with Math and Science homework. I know how to ask them the questions that lead to the insights that help them answer the questions themselves. But when I read a draft paper that isn't the best they can do, I struggle to help them. I certainly don't want to edit the paper. I want them to edit it. But it's hard to find the words, the strategies, and the ways to inspire them to improve it. I've noticed that the best english and history teachers usually ask their students to hand in a draft, which they mark up, and then the students are asked to write a final version. I think that's a great way to go. I guess I suffer from never having had an editor or an editor's job. I'm just a self taught writer.

Communication skills are so important in life. The investment I've made in my communication skills over the past eight years is paying huge dividends for me now. I want to help my kids make the same investment, just much earlier in life. I know it will come in handy and I know it will be a great source of pleasure for them thoughout their life.

#Random Posts

Comments (Archived):

  1. Julien

    Have you noticed a change in your reading habits as well, since you started writing? It is common sense that in a communication activity, you improve each “end” in parallel. 

    1. Rohan

      Yes!

    2. fredwilson

      Not as much. I read a ton of blogs and news. But only about a dozen real books a year

      1. leigh

        Reading fiction not only helps my writing, but when i get a good book, inspires me in so many ways (work and otherwise).  I get depressed when i haven’t read a good book in a while.

      2. Dave Kim

        I think there is definitely something to be said about reading things offline; there is just something different in the way authors write novels and short stories versus news articles and blog posts. You’re right that one of the goals of writing well should be to find your voice and to figure out how to communicate your message effectively. Newspapers and blogs will help you do that. However, in my experience, I’ve found that short stories and novels have helped me to not only show / tell information, but to transport the reader and embed her into the story itself. I currently have Kundera, Vonnegut, and Doctorow on my bedside table next to some pop anthropology books, and I’ve found that my writing style will shift ever so slightly depending on the primary book in rotation. 

        1. Tom Labus

          Fiction is great source of pleasure for me and provides so many insights that I would have missed without it.

  2. RichardF

    Communication seems to have been the overriding theme to your investments as well.

    1. fredwilson

      True. We are doing some things to move into new areas though

    2. FAKE GRIMLOCK

      COMMUNICATION PRIMARY AREA OF INNOVATION IN WORLD NOW.

      1. RichardF

        I could not agree with you more 😉

  3. Rohan

    Wonderful post, Fred. 🙂 Thank you for sharing. Seth Godin had a brilliant post on Talker’s block that I shared on my blog (http://www.alearningaday.co… A couple of highlights from it. “The reason we don’t get talker’s block is that we’re in the habit of talking without a lot of concern for whether or not our inane blather will come back to haunt us. Talk is cheap. Talk is ephemeral. Talk can be easily denied.”I believe that everyone should write in public. Get a blog. Or use Squidoo or Tumblr or a microblogging site. Use an alias if you like. Turn off comments, certainly–you don’t need more criticism, you need more writing.Do it every day. Every single day. Not a diary, not fiction, but analysis. Clear, crisp, honest writing about what you see in the world. Or want to see. Or teach (in writing). Tell us how to do something.Write like you talk. Often.” –I started my daily learning blog when I was 19, 2nd year kid in university. Every time I’m in need of a smile, I go down to the Archives as it almost chronicles my growing up..my first writings were really bad! But it’s gotten better..The blog’s been a very special part of my growing up and has changed my life as I try to be worthy of the blog every single day. And as Joanne put it nicely when we spoke about blogging daily, it gives you so many things to think about.Changed my life, this has. And with it has come probably my biggest learning of them all..Never older, only better.. 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      “Write like you talk, often”Thats awesome

      1. kirklove

        I’ll second that.Writing like you talk is the most liberating advice you can give. Another big one – edit. If you can say something in 5 words instead of 10 that’s always better.Bonus: Never use “so”. It’s a useless word.

        1. Tereza

          You’re so right. My writing didn’t really go anywhere until one day in high school I just started to write what was really in my head. Instead of what I thought the teachers wanted me to write. Then it started to flow and got really fun.

        2. Dave Pinsen

          How so?

          1. kirklove

            Not sure if you’re joking. If not, here’s two examples:1. So, I’m going…2. I told them so…In both cases “so” is not needed.

          2. Dave Pinsen

            I gave you a counter example so you’d see that “so” isn’t a “useless word”. So much for that! Some people are so sure they’re right there’s no way to convince them otherwise.

          3. kirklove

            You could have said, “Why?” One less word and more clear. ;)I’m not right or wrong. I suppose I should have said preference. Apologies. So is useless to me. It’s the equivalent of saying, “Ummmm” when talking. It doesn’t add anything of value.

          4. Dave Pinsen

            I could have, sure. But in each of the cases I’ve used it, “so” isn’t a useless word, which refutes your blanket statement that it is.It’s true that “so” can be used superfluously in some cases, but the same is true of “why” (e.g., “Why, of course!”, “Why, it’s great to see you!”). That doesn’t make “why” a useless word though. It’s necessary in other cases.You’re real beef is with superfluity; don’t take it out on the word “so”.

          5. ShanaC

            bwahahaha

          6. Aaron Klein

            I was going to reply “so right…” to your final comment below but I thought that would be so over the top. 😉

          7. Rohan

            hahaha

          8. Rohan

            So right, Dave.And so cool @aaronklein:disqus 

        3. FAKE GRIMLOCK

          LESS MORE.

      2. William Mougayar

        …but keep it under 800 words when you write 🙂 

  4. Trish Burgess-Curran

    The combination of good technical / scientific skills and good oral / written communication skills is fantastic. Learning – and truly understanding – math, physics and science in general at an early age help shape your thought process and help you become more analytical, more grounded. If then you can easily communicate those thoughts to your family, friends, colleagues and community, then you have it made! The sky is the limit!

      1. Patricia Burgess-Curran

        I wasn’t aware of it!  Did you go?Hey, if you are up to it, why don’t you send me an e-mail and see if we can meet up?  Being both in London, it should be easy!  [email protected]

        1. Rohan

          Couldn’t! Was too last notice.I’ll send you a note. 🙂 Thanks Patricia! 

  5. gregorylent

    feeling .. if you can look at art, if you can listen to music, you can discover the place of feeling that makes for good writing …so tell your kids, feel, don’t think .. and then get out of the way 🙂

  6. Dave Pinsen

    Being strong in science can help in teaching writing. The best writing instructor I had in college critiqued my papers with such precision that I figured he had a math or science background, so I asked him about that. It turned out that he had double majored in chemical engineering and English at Rice. He initially intended to go to law school and work as an attorney in the petroleum industry, but decided to go for a Ph.D. in English instead (his thesis was about the role of science in 19th century novels). 

    1. awaldstein

      You are one of the most literate, most articulate people I know Dave.Whoever you hold responsible for that, I applaud.

      1. Dave Pinsen

        Thanks, Arnold. Nice of you to say. You are an excellent writer yourself.As for the writing instructor I mentioned above, if memory serves, he gave me a C+. Tough grader. A quick anecdote about that class:The theme was psychology, and three books were assigned: something by Karen Horney, something incredibly tedious by Freud (The Interpretation of Dreams? I just remember I had to write a big “X” on each page after I read it, so I didn’t accidentally keep reading the same page over and over), and Margaret Atwood’s novel Surfacing. The title of one of my papers was “Horney about Freud”.Years later, the company I worked for was hosting an event in New York for financial advisers (our clients) from all over the country. After a business dinner in the company HQ, followed by drinks nearby, my clients wanted to go to a well-known gentlemen’s club on the East Side. In the taxi over we drove by the Karen Horney clinic (which I hadn’t known existed), and I mentioned the title of that paper. They got a chuckle out of that.

      2. Donna Brewington White

        I wholeheartedly agree with you about @daveinhackensack:disqus .   You’re not too bad yourself, Waldstein.  Pretty amazing, actually.

        1. awaldstein

          Thnx Donna. You Californian’s know how to flatter with style 😉

          1. Rohan

            agreeee w @donnawhite:disqus !

          2. Donna Brewington White

            In this Californian’s case, Midwestern roots help keep me honest.

          3. awaldstein

            Midwestern roots looking fashionably Malibu. 

    2. Tereza

      Great persuasive writing is great *thinking*.

      1. Dave Pinsen

        Any great writing is thinking recorded, sure. 

        1. Tereza

          Conversely, getting your writing from just words to being organized and persuasive, is what sharpens your thoughts. It *is* a thinking process, it just happens outside your head on the screen/on paper. The same way a financial model does.

      2. FAKE GRIMLOCK

        NO CAN CHANGE OTHER MIND UNTIL UNDERSTAND OWN.

        1. panterosa,

          I am more and more fond of subversive GiDoBot. Tell me, are there more of your species?

          1. FAKE GRIMLOCK

            MOST WONDERFUL THING ABOUT ME, GRIMLOCK IS… ME THE ONLY ONE.

          2. Rohan

            Oh no.A cool dude like you doesn’t have girlfriends? NO SHE DINO’S?

          3. FAKE GRIMLOCK

            @rrohan189:disqus  THAT IS NOT LOGICAL CONCLUSION FROM STATEMENT.ALSO NOT CORRECT.

          4. Rohan

            Good to know Grimster.  :DHappy for you, I am. 

          5. panterosa,

            like tigger.

        2. LE

          To me writing is like selling which to be successful at you have to understand the point of view, objections, and hot buttons of the other side.So I would have written this as “no can p0wn other mind until understand other mind and own mind”.

    3. Luke Chamberlin

      I worked as a writing tutor during my time in college.The best writers by far were the science and engineering students, because they knew how to structure their thoughts. Hypothesis, analysis of the problem, proposed solution, analysis of the solution, conclusion. They wrote perfect essays.The worst writers were the communications majors. I learned how to spot them just by their writing samples. They favored cliches, hyperbole and the sound of their own voice over clarity of thought.The irony was, the engineering students thought they were poor writers and the communications majors thought they were great writers.

    1. Prashant Gandhi

      i will be there

      1. Rohan

        Ah okay. I’m half half. Just heard of it today. If I do make it, do let me know where I should look for you. 🙂

      2. Rohan

        Looks like I won’t be able to. How do I keep myself posted of such events int he future? 

  7. Tim Huntley

    Hey Fred,Amen – I feel like I missed the boat on writing during my high school, college, and entrepreneurial years. I am currently at the “it’s painful but possible” stage of writing but finding it easier every day.All the best,…Tim

    1. fredwilson

      Keep it up. It pays many dividends

  8. ROBOTUNICORN

    I think we’re all incredibly grateful that you’ve dedicated yourself to this craft.  Your children are lucky to have you as an example to follow. 

  9. Dan Lewis

    One of my big problems with the American education system is how little emphasis we spend on writing, and how freaking much we spend on thinking about writing.  Publishing is only allowed after a multi-step process which demands perfection instead of experimentation.   I found the image attached in a 10-second google image search; it’s pretty common in US schools.We’re teaching kids to be afraid of their creativity *and*, simultaneously, not actually teaching them how to write.  It’d be tenfold better if students simply had to publish daily journals.(edit: I should add that I’m a self-taught writer who now publishes something, daily, which goes to 15,000+ people. If you saw how poor of a writer I was in college, you’d plotz.)

    1. Tom Labus

      You’re real good now.

    2. awaldstein

      I’m a fan of anyone who uses ‘plotz’ in a sentence.In fact, I’m ‘kvelling’ over that a bit.

    3. BillSeitz

      I strongly agree. This is a huge peeve of mine. My kids have 2 separate periods every day: English (or “Reading”) and “Language Arts”. Two separate teachers. Yet not nearly enough actual reading and writing. I think 1 day of parts-of-speech and 1 day of verb-tenses should be the full extent of “grammar” teaching.Kids should be reading something other than a textbook every day. Ideally something that engages them, but is written a bit above their writing-level. I think short stories have a lot of potential here.And they should be writing something every week. Writing a draft in 2 days, then getting some review (even if it’s peer review), then re-drafting. As with reading, it’s best if it’s something the student actually cares about.My own writing tends toward over-brevity structured as a bullet list. Some people love it, others are freaked by it.

      1. ShanaC

        I’m still confused as to why we teach grammar.  What is really being taught is writing and speaking flow.  So why don’t we as a society teach that.  (I’m figuring english and other languages would be much easier to pick up if that were the case)

        1. sigmaalgebra

          It’s just CRUCIAL to teach grammar very, very carefully for the classic goal of making English grammar more like Latin grammar!!!! Latin is based on ‘cases’, and English is based on relative positions!  

      2. Donna Brewington White

        “My own writing tends toward over-brevity”How I envy people like you.

        1. Aaron Klein

          Agreed. I tend to “write like I speak” and that can be really wordy. Have to always edit that down and make it concise. 🙂

        2. Rohan

          Haha. Don’t we all 😉

    4. Donna Brewington White

      Many of us had the creativity educated out of us.  I’ve spent much of my adult life trying to regain it.  Trying not to let this happen to my own kids.  It’s a battle.And, good for you, Dan!  That’s inspiring.

    5. Cam MacRae

      Have you seen Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk about schools killing creativity? Aside from being incredibly funny, it’s a worthy use of 20 minutes: http://www.ted.com/talks/ke…

      1. panterosa,

        I saw those talks and loved them.

  10. giffc

    (speaking below in general, not about fred’s parenting)Editing someone’s paper with a colorful pencil is old school and useful because it helps them understand the edit process, and what to strive for. Is there clarity of thought? Can they say more with less? Can they break their sentences into smaller pieces? Can they make sentences crisp and punchy?The key thing is showing kids how not to be lazy with their own words. You don’t get credit just for showing up.The sad thing is that most teachers in high school and college have length goals (write 10 pages on X) rather than just focusing on effectiveness. (or so it was 20 years ago) I knew plenty of liberal arts people who mastered the art of filler, by which I mean intelligent-sounding blather. I never thought that was a particularly good skill to promote, although it was a marvelous academic survival skill.

    1. kirklove

      Great advice.

    2. Sean Killeen

      There are varying theories about this in terms of writing theory and tutoring. These days, some reject the concept of “editing” at all, preferring conversations about writing where the “tutor” through insightful questioning helps the tutee discover their own voice. Some of the best writing center sessions I had where those where I never made a single mark on the paper, but rather asked questions and took notes in the tutee’s own words on what they want to accomplish. Particularly with writing, many think there is a way that it “should” sound, which makes them reject their own voice in favor of that “preferred” voice. I’ve found that when students begin to think about writing in these terms — what they’re “saying” instead of what they’re “writing”, then the rest is just grammar; the important work has been accomplished.

      1. giffc

        I think that’s cool, as long as it doesn’t get to bleeding-heart “everything is good as long as it’s your voice, because you’re special Johnny”. I think there are fundamental skills to learn before you try to be Henry Miller.To jump to an associated field — art — I grew up under the abstract expressionist school of teachers.  It was fun but in retrospect, it sucked. I had to work really hard later in life to build up my technical skills. Picasso and Dali learned how to be technical masters before they branched off into their own directions. If you shortcut that initial work, you’ve built a terribly weak foundation and ultimately limit your options for artistic expression.  

        1. ShanaC

          Very true.  For the record, the really good abstract impressionists were master technicians.  And teaching to the technical makes it easier when you want to break the rules later

        2. sigmaalgebra

          I don’t understand modern art!  To me the early Picasso is fantastic, beyond belief, and then he “branched off” and lost me!  How some of the later Picasso could have been from the same person as the early Picasso is beyond me!  Did I mention I don’t understand modern art?

          1. Tom Labus

            If you visit the Picasso museum in Barcelona it helps to in understanding him a bit more.   The museum is set up chronologically and you get see his evolution.  

    3. Tereza

      Ha! I’m so with you Giff.I am also a fan of workshopping a piece. What do your readers want to hear more of? What thoughts are underdeveloped? What needs to get slashed?Yesterday I said everyone should have to do sales-on-commission for a time, to understand how that rolls.Similarly, I’d say writing for the school newspaper or any environment where you have to report facts, under deadline, with a strict word limit and with your name on it.For all the flax that journalists get, I guarantee your writing effectiveness and economy of expression will double in less than a month. It’s excellent training.

  11. Tereza

    Over the years my role has often been the writer among non-writers. So here are a few tricks, in no particular order.Write or type out all your thoughts out there, stream of conscience. Then cluster/group, then re-arrange the blocks and write connectors.   Collect great words you see along the way. Note them. Use them.Draft early and get feedback fast, and integrate it along the way. A lot like Lean development but this is writing. Accept that you will not get it right the first time.For persuasive writing, buy the book “The Minto Pyramid Principle: logic in writing, thinking and problem solving”. I know y’all don’t like management consultants, but one thing they (we) had drilled into us is persuasive writing. These are the frameworks through which you can explain anything. Things like story order (Situation, Complication, Question, Answer), deductive vs inductive stories. More than teaching you how to write, it teaches you how to think. Our firm used to fly in Barbara Minto herself as required coursework and she’d personally skewer our work. Made grown men quake. (I’ll sep’ly post Barbara’s very interesting backstory)Workshop your writing. Great writing is not done in a vacuum but with help from others. If it’s business writing, get it in front of your colleagues quickly. Figure out who gives good feedback. But also find your smart customers/etc. Or, if it’s something like an Op Ed, do an Op Ed workshop. The gist is you each come with drafts, and ~6 of you sit around a table and read each other’s drafts and share critique. Scary as hell, but in 15 minutes of 6 people giving you critique, your work will leap forward.  And as Fred implied, the best way to get better at writing….is to write.

    1. fredwilson

      That all great advice. Thanks Tereza

    2. leigh

      Your last sentence haunts me.  

    3. Tereza

      Barbara Minto’s backstory…interesting.She was of the first class of female graduates from Harvard Business School, I think around 1964?Anyway, as Barbara described it, these women graduated and no one really knew what to do with them. She got a job w McKinsey and they didn’t know what to do with her. Maybe they sent her on a client engagement and as she admits she was a terrible consultant. But they did notice she could write.So they stuck her in a back room and said — this guy needs serious help on his presentation, could you help him? She described it as a disaster of unclear thought. She overhauled it. Then another. Then another. The phrase became, “This needs to be Minto-ized.”It became a department, a training course. Eventually, she busted out on her own and changed the industry along with it.Barbara has threatened to retire a few times over the years. If she is still doing these courses, and you have the opportunity, I couldn’t recommend it more strongly. She changes lives!

      1. Wesley Verhoeve

        how cool is that!

      2. Rohan

        Great book. Completely agree. Should re-read. 

      3. Robert Thuston

        very cool. I need this book and course.

    4. JLM

      Holy smokes, I thought I was the only person in the universe who admitted to having bought and read her book.  It is not an inexpensive book.It is a very difficult read but the core organizing principle makes great sense.This is not a “beach” book.  I tried and was turned into both flotsam and jetsam.  I missed a lot of good looking bikinis wrestling with this book while in close proximity to the tide line.It is intellectual chemotherapy.

      1. Tereza

        You should meet Barbara.She makes grown men — military men — squirm. (OK, they were Naval Academy men….Does that still count?)

        1. JLM

          Squids are “men” after a fashion.Actually the Naval “radiators” (nuclear engineers) and aviators are the best in the business.

          1. ShanaC

            Yet I still can scare a couple of radiators 🙂

    5. sigmaalgebra

      “Accept that you will not get it right the first time.”Yup!  Or as inFrederick P. Brooks, ‘The Mythical Man-Month:  Essays on Software Engineering’, ISBN 0-201-00650-2, Addison-Wesley, Reading, Massachusetts.”Plan to throw one away.” because “you will” anyway or some such! 

    6. Robert Thuston

      Impressed with the way you think and write.  Well said.

  12. Jennifer Marcus

    My daughter has an excellent teacher who is also a reading/writing specialist. She focuses on asking the kids questions about their writing – things that would make the peice stronger for the reader. Perhaps that would be An approach you could take with your kids, at least for the content of their work. 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      Thats what i do with my kids in math and science. I need to adopt it and adapt it for their writing

      1. Martijn

        Dear Fred,What a nice post. I think it’s delightful how there is an emotional quality to almost anything you write. So that’s a true voice. Nice how you stimulate your children to build that as well.A book that still stands – certainly after it was updated to accommodate modernities such as e-mail and presentations – is “Writing That Works” by Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson. They learnt from one of the best: David Ogilvy.The book is great for developing your inner editor. David became my mentor and friend when I was 14 because he liked my voice in writing. He would say: “Edit yourself ruthlessly” and send around anything he wanted to put out in the world seriously to his partners with a simple note that said “Please improve”.I thought that’s a nice ethic and spectrum for improving one’s writing…Best,Martijn

        1. ShanaC

          Ogilvy is a great writer, and a great thinker on ads.  There are times I wish I was more like him…

          1. martijnsjoorda

            He was very determined. And he chose very carefully where, how and with whom he wanted to play. Of his original list of 10 customers he wanted to work for, I think today some 6 to 8 are still or again customers. And have grown from “meager” amounts to literally several hundreds of millions of revenues per account. And that was foresight too, not just luck.

          2. ShanaC

            Hopefully I’ll figure out how to repeat parts of his magic.  What is really interesting about what he mentions on ads and copywriting is how rule based he is.  Very into the idea of response. 

          3. martijnsjoorda

            Into research. So these days he’d be over the moon with all the data you can get on everything now.

    2. Carl Rahn Griffith

      My wife is a teacher and she makes a habit of injecting a new word or expression into her lessons, to try and stimulate the kids, make them curious about this wonderful language of ours.

  13. Tom Labus

    For along time, I’ve felt that the “truth” about our lives and our world is only truly accessible through fiction and great novels.  Like some Greek mythological muse, it’s not going to be make easy for us but hidden in a place where most won’t look.

    1. Rohan

      Your post reminded me of a  fantastic book I read recently that spoke of the “truth” about the world. The Lessons of History by Will DurantIt’s a thesis of his life, really – written in the 60s. Amazing. Off topic, but had to share. 😀

      1. Tom Labus

        He was a classic American writer and I believe was awarded the Pulitzer Price.Thanks so much reminding me about his histories, I will need to revisit.

        1. Rohan

          Brilliant brilliant book, Tom! 

  14. Sean Killeen

    As a writing tutor for around 4 years, there are a number of books for how to help translate your scientific/mathematical coaching skills into writing.”Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” (Ann Lamott) has been indispensable to me, both personally and as I’ve fostered conversations about writing. You can find it on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Bird-… I’ve never found writing to be more humanized. Ann is a fiction writer, but much of her advice is universal, and the book is entertaining and performative at the same time.There are other (heavier) books out there — excellent pedagogical approaches on how to help without editing, how to lead others to discover their own voice in writing, etc. — but I think Lamott’s is instantly relatable and you’d be glad you read it.I’ve enjoyed your writing here for some time — thank you for all you’ve given us!PS as a side note, every writing tutor has their own set of “writing tutor hacks” — if you’re ever interested, I’d be happy to share mine.

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks for the book rec#addtokindlefire

    2. leigh

      what are writing tutor hacks?

  15. peter van dijck

    I haven’t tried this, but perhaps this:a) call out really good pieces every time (like: this sentence is awesome), and b) focus on 1 aspect of writing each time, for example, just focus on using adjectives better, or on not using extraneous words, etc. There are so many “levels” of good writing (and rounds of editing), that focusing on 1 per paper might help. (I’m just making this up, haven’t tried it.)

  16. jason wright

    Some years ago I decided to study to became an English teacher. I wasn’t motivated to teach. I was motivated to learn…to improve my own grammar knowledge and skills. My early education was at poor quality schools where grammar wasn’t really ever taught (I never recall terms like adjective, noun, verb, preposition, gerund, et.c. EVER being used). How can one construct anything without having a genuine feel for the building blocks?

  17. awaldstein

    The best advice for learning how to write and communicate well is to have something to say.Being taught to think freely and being unencumbered to express yourself is key.A passionate idea or well considered thought is better than all the grammar or style guides in the world.Once you learn to express yourself, you then can learn the biggest lesson: what you say or write doesn’t matter. It’s what is heard that makes a difference. Then it is time to learn the craft.

    1. leigh

      POV doesn’t equal great writing but you can’t have great writing without a POV 🙂

      1. awaldstein

        True…I’ll take an inspiring idea well said over a great phrase that fades in moments any time.My point of course is that communications not craft is the goal.I wrote manuals for awhile, early on. Word count per idea was high.I wrote stories for awhile. Texture was connected to expression and at their best, word count was only what it needed to be.

      2. William Mougayar

        An idea and half. 

    2. Tereza

      That’s right. You can spit it all out, but then step back, read it, and choose, what’s the one thing that matters here?Then strip the rest away!Like Michaelangelo who didn’t ‘build’ the David.  He ‘removed’ marble to create the David. 🙂

      1. awaldstein

        Great story, here’s another…Like Giacometti who said that in sculpture the piece is the truest that requires the least chisel stokes to surface. The shape is just looking to be released from the stone.:)

        1. Tereza

          Giacometti. A master. Nice!

      2. Rohan

        Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. Antoine de Saint-Exupery:D

        1. JLM

          Fabulous aviator, writer.  His books on aviation are why I fly.  What a great writer.

          1. Cam MacRae

            Yes. Although sometimes when I get scared, which given the type of flying I do is often, I think of poor Fabien and land.

          2. Carl Rahn Griffith

            Guess you’ve read Richard Bach, JLM? Timeless stuff. Got me into gliding back in the 80s.Bach being a given, you maybe however have not read Lewis? I’d forgotten just how awesome this book was, which really got me into flying, as a kid (my father flew anyway, but this book really got me into it):http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sag

        2. Carl Rahn Griffith

          Colin Chapman of Lotus concurred…

        3. Baptiste Picard

          Quite inspired Rohan today! I completely agree. Writing is a lot about knowing how to take some time off and take some distance being able to analyse and express situations with our own words. Definitely a way to become wiser!

          1. Rohan

            Daily quotes 😉

      3. William Mougayar

        Yup. If you’re sweating on it, better to leave it alone and come back to it.

        1. Rohan

          ‘when you least feel like taking a break is when you most need one’ | David [email protected]:disqus 

        2. Donna Brewington White

          Good advice to the determined, obsessive and driven.That would be many of us here, I imagine.Thing is, even though it goes against the grain, it is right.  Has to become a discipline because it doesn’t come naturally.

        3. Mike O'Horo

          Good point.  It’s always a good idea to separate yourself from your writing for a while.  Makes it easier to spot “terminally clever.”

    3. Carl Rahn Griffith

      Amen.I remember at the latter stages of school we were invited to review a book of our own choice for English class – I chose the Lenny Bruce biography, ‘How To Talk Dirty and Influence People’. Whilst this initially caused some outrage with my English teacher he said that objectively my piece was pretty good and acknowledged it being permissible (albeit a bit radical), so that certainly encouraged me to consume all sorts of style of writing. Poetry remains a favourite. He was a superb teacher – makes such a difference. He had Alpha Male ‘Jocks’ and thugs reading poetry aloud in class within a few months. The other week on BBC Radio 4 an old favourite writer of mine, Iain Banks, was on discussing his seminal work, ‘The Wasp Factory’ – God, I loved that book and read it many, many times – the way he discussed his love of writing and explained how his imagination/story-telling worked should be heard by anyone and everyone interested in language – his enthusiasm and passion was a joy to listen to. Made one want to pick up a pen (or keyboard!) there and then and just write – anything – just let it flow. It’s so cathartic.I should read – and write – more, nowadays…

      1. awaldstein

        Thanks for sharing this.I read the Lenny Bruce Bio in High School as well.Across all the teacher I’ve had, my English teacher in High School was the most influential. At 17, reading Camus, Genet plays, Kafka and studying the relationship between art and ideas. Best 1 hour a day for a year that I ever spent.

      2. ShanaC

        Oh, me too…I keep thinking things that need to be written down into essay form on the go.  Alas, then I forget them.  What should I do about that?

        1. Carl Rahn Griffith

          Tried mind-map doodles? Quick and effective.

          1. ShanaC

            handwriting – and a good bag to fit a notebook in 🙂

        2. Rohan

          1. Always make sure you have a writing instrument.. either pen and paper or even memos on your phone.2. When an idea comes up, take it down!! 3. Every once in a while, send these memos to your email. 4. Depending on your processing style, either store or print them out to keep in your ‘blog roll’/ideas roll5. I use Micorosoft OneNote for all ideas and worked well with me. Tried evernote. Didn’t work for me. 🙂 So, you may have to try out a few before you know what works. And then as your collection grows, more ideas will begin to pop up!: ) 

          1. ShanaC

            This seems like the best possibility

    4. Aaron Klein

      Actually, on most aptitude tests, if you can express yourself well without saying anything of importance or substance, they will recommend you run for Congress.

      1. Mordy Kaplinsky

        Lovin the cynicism 😉

      2. JLM

        Well only after the performance testing requirements of drowning a kitten and rolling a widow for a campaign contribution, right?

        1. Aaron Klein

          Oh no that qualifies you for the Senate…

      3. Prokofy

        One of the scariest things about the geek world is their hatred of representative democracy. They’re like Know-Nothings on this score.

        1. Aaron Klein

          You can love representative democracy without loving the nitwits currently representing us.

          1. Prokofy

            No. You can’t. Unless you’re being facetious and “loving humanity but hate humans” like so many geeky utopians.Those nitwits are people *your fellow Americans who don’t believe as you do elected*. Those nitwits represent *points of view that you in a distinct minority aren’t able to convince the majority of people to hold*. Those nitwits, as stupid as you may think they are, reflect a common sense and tethering to reality that you don’t share. Good!

    5. karen_e

      On that note, Arnold, here is a li’l ditty published today on holiday networking. I’m passionate about parties, I guess. {smirk} http://smpsboston.wordpress

      1. awaldstein

        Nice! Thanks for sharing Karen.For some reason, I envisage you and I on a stage together sometime talking about bridging the gap between the realities of today’s consumer and the pragmatic needs of marketers in building their audiences.

        1. Aaron Klein

          That’s a stage for which I’d buy a ticket.

          1. awaldstein

            Makes me think Aaron.Certainly as an advisor and on stage this stuff works really well. It’s what I do.I’m wondering whether entrepreneurs like yourself, would be open to a public forum, Skillshare/Meet-up style, to kicking around ideas to solve specific vertical marketing problems. I can see the yes and the no of it. But it would be potentially valuable and interesting as a forum type activity.

          2. Aaron Klein

            Totally. The tradeoff, as always, is scale.More people = affect more changeLess people = get more candor about the problems out on the tableBut if I had to pick two facilitators, I’d have a hard time doing better than you and @karen_e:disqus … 🙂

          3. Donna Brewington White

            moi aussi

        2. karen_e

          I’m in. Who needs Seth Godin when they got us?

          1. awaldstein

            And I…All we need is a quorum and let’s get this on the calendar.

          2. andyidsinga

            hey now ..I need Seth Godin 🙂 🙂

  18. leigh

    My 3 year old son has become completely obsessed with user generated Thomas the Tank Engine videos on his ipad.  Basically they are usually kids making up their own stories about the Island of Sodor.  The amazing thing to me, is that now, he sits down at his own train set and mimics the stories.  Because of it, he’s become this incredible story teller – “and then Thomas was very sad because the engines were off the rails!  Oh no, what are we going to do? Let’s call Cranky the crane!”Storytelling/writing is a basic skill to get any where in our current economy.  You can’t stress it enough.   And the younger the start, I think the better 🙂  Now on to getting him to want to learn to program …..

    1. Wesley Verhoeve

      haha that’s cute!

  19. andyswan

    For me the toughest part about writing is being consistent with my output.  I really have a hard time thinking of something to write about.  On the other hand, if I read something here or online, I can instantly write a response.Video-post mulligans aside, you seem to have completely nailed this with a new post every morning…So… what have you learned about topic generation?  Am I just missing opportunities to write and expand on real-life conversations?

    1. Rohan

      I learnt something interesting – take your thoughts seriously. Sounds funny. But what that meant for me was to ensure that I wrote down my thoughts no matter what. It began with storing all of them on my phone’s memos, emailing it to myself and having a ‘blog roll’. Over time, this blog roll got very very long.. and the longer it gets, the more ideas seem to pop up. It almost seems like ideas started showing up when they realized I was listening to them.. 🙂

      1. panterosa,

        This sounds like the GTD “Someday/Maybe” file. I concept I adore which actually works (for me).

        1. Rohan

          Well spotted.That’s exactly what it is. ;)Credit to David Allen really. 🙂 

    2. Dave Pinsen

      Twitter saps some of my motivation to blog. Particularly the quote feature on the iPhone, where I can click that, add a few words of commentary, and then send out a link. In the past, I might save up a handful of those links and write a blog post about them instead.  

      1. andyswan

        Totally agree.Sometimes I find myself writing what should be a post in 3-4 consecutive tweet thoughts.I have an idea….

    3. Aaron Klein

      Every time I start to tweet something that won’t fit in 140, I ask myself if that should be a blog post.I’ve got a long backlog now. 🙂

      1. andyswan

        Funny… I just try to think of a way to make it <140. A combination of our two reactions would probably yield the most effective content!

    4. JLM

      You just don’t have your own farm team — yet — whose full time job is providing story lines.

    5. fredwilson

      I force it into my routine.

      1. Steve

        check out the book “Made to Stick” it deals with making all of the propaganda us business folks spew daily actually memorable. Its a fascinating read and I am working on the authors second book dealing with change now. 

  20. Robert Thuston

    …you’re right, its the puzzle, telling the story, and finding ways to do it crisply and directly, that’s the hook.GREAT POST!Can’t wait to read some of the comments.  We’ve got some great writers in AVC.

  21. Dennis Buizert

    I don’t struggle with the writing, I struggle with writing it correctly. My brain thinks so far ahead that half of the time the sentences are incorrect or just written with no real thought which makes it hard to read. It has improved over the last few years, but still is a mess sometimes. Especially when I edit it over time. Also my dutch writing is so terrible. I failed a few times already.Partially it is part of the education system here. The focus has shifted away from dutch and focused more on the rest. Therefore at least 75% of my classmates failed the exams at least twice now. There is no attention for dutch writing between the age of 16-25 depending on the school you take. And I have been subject to that lack of acknowledgement.It is a real issue especially kids from my age (20-26) still in school. This is a topic that needs discussing at a lot of different levels.

    1. ShanaC

      Get a big whiteboard.  Stick all your ideas onto the whiteboard that you plan on writing about.  Then reorder them so that they make sense and have a logical flow rather than disappearing and reappearing at major points in  what you are writing.

      1. Dennis Buizert

        Oh wow that is genius! I never thought of that. I have a smaller white board here, but it would work.Oh man, so genius 😮

        1. ShanaC

          Some people prefer post it notes: it forces you to stick to one idea per post it.I had to pick up these skills the hard way.  There is another comment somewhere in here that mentions that I was a former LD writing student.It was a choice of getting responses along the lines of “what are you talking about” or learning how to write.  I chose to learn how to write.

          1. panterosa,

            Why not just start a prezi?Like a huge rearrangeable whiteboard.

  22. Carl Rahn Griffith

    It is not just writing – it is vital that there is an increased appreciation for the fundamental things in life that both stimulate and soothe us – the arts, nature, music – this is what many of us have lost sight of over recent decades; with the excess of materialism, status, greed and superficial immediate gratification.I sense such a move amongst a lot of my peer-group – let’s hope this extends to the younger generation, also – for we have created the distractions and vacuous ‘values’ that have confused us all so much…

    1. Rohan

      What is this life if full of care. We have no time to stand and stare?..

    2. awaldstein

      I’ve considered moving some of my intro meetings with prospective clients here. Best seat in NYC at MoMa in front of the Jackson Pollack.http://www.flickr.com/photo

      1. Tom Labus

        Or Central Park!

        1. awaldstein

          Yes for certain.And of course, the Temple of Dendur room in the Met to escape from the weather in the park as needed..

      2. Luke Chamberlin

        My favorite seat as well!

      3. Carl Rahn Griffith

        Cool idea! I do most of my thinking/mind-maps whilst here, nowadays:http://www.ysp.co.uk/This guy has been a rock for me, over some rough times this past few months (all OK now, thankfully):http://www.flickr.com/photo…Very fortunate to have it just 5mins from where we live 🙂

        1. awaldstein

          Wow! Thanks.Public art seems like natural fit, in the country or city. NY is a mecca for it as your know. Is this the same artist:http://awaldstein.tumblr.co

          1. awaldstein

            Thnx for the Perry tip. But this in Madison Park is where I knew I saw him. http://awaldstein.tumblr.co…

      4. fredwilson

        Thats a sweet conference room!

      5. LE

        That’s a great idea and immediately appealed to me. You create upbeat positive first impression based upon controlling the environment. Similar to having an open house on a sunny day with coffee brewing, the fireplace going, and Hors d’oeuvre. Helps to create an aura around your message.

  23. jsty3105

    I think you’ve beautifully illustrated every writer’s struggle here – “My son is still working to find his voice, his style, his flow.”I’m not a painter but I like to think that everytime I write something, I’m painting a picture with words. I also believe that one should always write to evoke a feeling – maybe you could guide them likewise? As in, ask them what they wanted the reader to feel when they phrased something in a particular way or when the reader reaches the end of the piece?Just my personal opinion.

  24. Marty

    I have high school kids and am going through this as well.  2 comments:1.  I agree with the commenter who said ‘write like you talk’ (but then edit for good grammar).  I tell my son, tell me what you want to say about the assignment.  The transcription of that is your first draft.  The problem is that some of the assignments he receives are poorly framed, and he isn’t really passionate about the question ask.2.  To learn to write, you ought to read, good stuff, a lot.  I ask my son to read the opinion pieces about sports that appear in the Times and the WSJ.  These are well written and are of interest.  I also have him read me out loud the weekly news summary in The Economist, which is one of the best written magazines around.  You have to hear good writing in your head.

    1. Dave Pinsen

      It’s worth picking up the weekend edition of the FT on Saturday. Some great writing there (for example, this Lunch with the FT feature by David Pilling.

    2. ShanaC

      The essays section of WSJ on Saturday is very good for this.  Also you may want to take a look at the New Yorker.  Good essays and they include short fiction.

      1. Carl Rahn Griffith

        The New Yorker is superb, always. As is The Economist – I have subscribed to both for many years. 

    3. Donna Brewington White

      Really, really good advice.I believe that the best writers are avid readers, just as the best teachers are avid learners.I’ve learned that the best way to write is to just write.  Don’t worry about how it sounds, just get it down, then you can always edit later. So many people don’t start because they are already editing before they even begin to write.The author Anne Lamott says “Write shitty first drafts.”  Some of the most freeing advice I ever received as a writer.

    4. fredwilson

      Great suggestions Marty. I will use them

    5. Rohan

      Very nice suggestions, thank you Marty! 🙂

  25. Wesley Verhoeve

    Communications skills, especially written, are things I have in the top 3 of “must have” qualities when hiring. We base our company on storytelling in any and every way possible, so it’s only natural that, while we do not have a single position that focuses purely on writing, it’s still vital that everyone is great at it. Even people that aren’t customer-facing need to inform us internally through written communication.I’ve also learned that looking at how good of a writer someone is typically is a good predictor for their ability to think critically, take in a task and execute it properly with a good feedback loop. Obviously not a 100% correlation, but certainly a safe predictor.

  26. BradDorchinecz

    This skill transcends every profession out there. It should be emphasized more in every level of education. And I agree that it just takes a lot of practice. Let us know when you hit that 10,000th hour!

  27. Jan Schultink

    There is one more education challenge: getting children for whom English is not the first language to write/communicate with the online world. That’s why we embarked on an experiment to raise our children in Hebrew-Dutch-English. Speaking works. No we are getting into the writing bit. I am curious.

  28. Bobby Davis

    Blogging is a great aid towards better writing. Especially when you blog about something that you are genuinely fascinated with. In addition, reading both fiction, nonfiction and journalism frequently can be extremely helpful in finding voice and flow. I had the same struggle in high school as my interests lied mostly in physics, math and history(where properly developed essays weren’t yet demanded). My parents struggled to get me to write well and I didn’t enjoy pressure from them or my teachers to write better. They even colluded to get me a writing tutor at one point, which I hated; It lasted about two sessions. Everything changed when I started writing for myself and about things I was interested in. Its not fair to say that my writing is great, but doing it to get thoughts across and make arguments is one great puzzle which only became interesting to me when the pressure came off. I also think the key is learning how to edit your own work.The greatest writers, as commented by Winston Churchill, are those who know how to make their writing shorter and more concise. This is the hardest skill to learn and I certainly could use some work in it.

    1. fredwilson

      This is a great comment and says very well much of what i wanted to say

    2. panterosa,

      Editing is so key but is something which needs time/space/distance…(sounds like physics!), in my view to do to one’s own writing.

  29. Andrew Watson

    I emphasize writing when teaching b-school courses. This sometimes frustrates my students, who don’t expect this emphasis in MBA (or corresponding undergrad) courses. But I think it’s something we all need to work on.

    1. fredwilson

      I agree

  30. Esayas Gebremedhin

    thank you fred for your efforts. i have been writing before, but as supposed to a book format. after getting in touch with your blog i start thinking out loud and when ever someone comes up with an argument i would refer to my blog (sometimes to yours) as if it was a space in my own mind. leaders write what followers read. -> since the beginning of writing.keep it up 🙂

  31. William Mougayar

    I started writing early and was obsessed about being published since my 20’s. I started to get published when I was 27. At that time, blogs didn’t exist, and you had to pass through the rigors of a printed publications editor. At 37 I wrote 2 books (published by McGraw-Hill & Harvard Business School Press) then became a regular opinion columnist for Business 2.0 and other pubs in the late 90’s. With that background in mind, 3 things I’d like to add pertaining to your confession:1) Every piece you write should be an idea and a half. A great editor at Business 2.0 once gave me and it’s stuck in mind since then. As simple as that. You start with the idea, and you end with the half.  2) Your audience is your fuel. Our commenting on your blog post is really what gives you additional motivation to continue writing. Imagine (God forbid) that you write a blog and nobody posts any comments. That would be terrible. You might stop writing after a week of silence. In your case, it’s a perpetuating thing. Your audience feeds you and you feed them. 3) Your life is your source of ideas. You happen to be at the center of it all. You come across an amazing number of events, situations, cases, interactions, people etc…that are doing things, and that is an incredible and rich source of ideas to write about. I was in a similar situation with e-business in 97-2000. I would come across situations on a daily basis that were the source of topics and issues to write about and had a long list to pick from. What does this mean for your kids? 1) Have them think of that idea and half. Can it be expressed in 1 sentence, short and sweet? That’s the seed.2) Let them build their audience and connect with them. That fuel is addictive.3) They each have rich lives and come across interesting things on a daily basis. Let that be a source of inspiration. That’s it. Back to work now for me.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      I didn’t know this about you William.  Fascinating and not too surprising.Great advice, as well.Intrigued by the idea and a half.  You will have to explain that further when we catch up.

      1. William Mougayar

        The 1 1/2 is a way to force you to scale back in case you’re all over the place. You would ask what’s the main idea I’m writing about, and if it seems there are too many competing ideas, then reduce it to the main one. The 1/2 is something you can end with. It’s connected to the main idea, but it could be a final thought, or a question you ask, or something you leave the reader with so they want more, or want to discuss.

        1. Rohan

          Very interesting. Will keep in mind!

        2. Donna Brewington White

          This helps.  Thanks.

      2. Aaron Klein

        I would say the half is all about giving the reader a reason to discuss.If I’ve got it all figured out already, what’s the point of the comment field?

    2. JLM

      Damn, what an impressive body of work!  Well played!

      1. William Mougayar

        Not as impressive as your career my friend.

        1. JLM

          I am only less than half done, I hope.

          1. William Mougayar

            Good thinking.I’m on my 4th career, one for each decade roughly.

          2. Carl J. Mistlebauer

            Being that I am still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up…William, when do you believe it is too late to start a career?  I fear I may have reached that point.

          3. William Mougayar

            It’s never too late as long as it’s not too little.

          4. Mike O'Horo

            That one-per-decade thing seems apt.  Today, I’m 61, and climbing what I think is my 6th hill that I hope turns out to be a mountain when I can see over the hill in front of me.Unfortunately, unlike many in this comment community, while I’ve been able to make a great living for all that time, I’ve not yet turned any of them into an economic exit that would give me the chance to see how I’d handle idleness.We’ve created RainmakerVT, which is interactive virtual sales training for lawyers.  We’d love candid — even brutal — feedback from any of you who’d like to take 20 minutes to experience our simulated networking event, in which you manage an avatar through a series of “say/do” decisions as you progress from “Hello” to having a meeting scheduled with a legitimate prospect.  At each decision point, your response choice results in context-sensitive video coaching explaining why that choice isn’t – or is – optimal.  Thanks in advance for any feedback:  http://www.rainmakervtsales…

          5. Rohan

            ‘You don’t stop doing things because you get old. You get old because you stop doing things’

          6. Donna Brewington White

            Reminds me of a George Burns quote:  “Some people practice to get old. The minute they get to be sixty-five or seventy, they sit down slow. They start taking small steps. I can’t die. I’m booked.”

    3. awaldstein

      William. Super impressive.Links to the books pls.

    4. fredwilson

      Great framing and ideas. Thanks

    5. Rohan

      Agree so much about the comments.I blogged for 2 years with hardly any and now average a few per post. And it makes such a huge differencce!! 🙂 Thanks William

    6. Jen

      Cannot agree with you more. Started my blog as a creative outlet and possible way to connect with other MBA students but really got excited about it when people started commenting and reader emails started coming in.I really like “idea and a half” point. I need to get better at that…usually going to the first post I ever wrote (where I set the stage and my goals) helps to steer me back on track if I am losing focus, but your idea emphasizes the power of keeping posts concise and to the point – great.

      1. William Mougayar

        Thanks. Good to hear.

  32. Joseph Zaccardi

    There are several things that helped me become a better writer and find my voice while growing up.The two best ways to learn to write are to practice writing, and to read often. I read a lot, and I don’t have too much to say about that, but there are a couple of things that helped me to become a better writer on the practice side.When I was younger and had my father review drafts of papers I had written, he would simply circle grammar mistakes (or entire lines), and send me to figure out where the error was. This seemed like torture at the time, but definitely made me a better writer. Along the same line, he would never tell me exactly what was wrong with my voice, or my style, but would simply say things like, “I think you can be more clear in this section” or “Do you think the flow of this piece can be improved by changing the arrangement?” These questions helped me to focus on reading a piece through the eyes of the audeince.During high school, and college I forced myself to take on writing projects of varying nature. Experimenting with creative writing, technical writing, poetry, and writing on history and literature allowed me to study the differences between different types of writing and the requirements of writing for each. Related is practice. I went to a small Catholic high school where I was required to write about 10-15 pages per week. When I entered college, this level of practice put me well ahead of many of my peers.I

  33. William Mougayar

    And China declared today they have 300 million registered micro-bloggershttp://english.peopledaily….

    1. Tom Labus

      In a police state I don’t know if that’s good for your health.

      1. William Mougayar

        I wonder what they are writing about and if they are all on the same platform probably sanctioned by the government and with a built-in censorship engine.

  34. whitneymcn

    One of many debts I — and a huge number of his students — owe my father is for the comfort and confidence I have when writing. He was a talented writer himself, but he was also a phenomenal editor, which is a very different skill. What I realized late in the game is that his editorial skill was exactly what you’re pointing out: communication. He rarely “fixed” what was given to him, but rather returned questions. “Why do you need this here?” “Can you express this with fewer words?” Or, on a few memorable occasions, “Seriously? Try again.”As a college professor who was tenured before I was born he wasn’t actually required to spend a lot of time with students, but he did. While he published a fair amount himself, I think that he was even happier when one of his students’ dissertations was published, and that happened often.It’s not the same as having him sitting next to me, but my dad is still in my head whenever I write, and I’m a much better writer for having him there.

    1. Tom Labus

      That was great.

    2. Donna Brewington White

      If this comment is any example, you learned well from your father.  What a moving story and tribute. In a feeble attempt at poetry in my late teens I tried to capture the sense that I was to some extent a product of the people who had cared for and invested in me — the phrase I ended the poem with is “I am but a potpourri of those I have esteemed”  (I was a quite sappy teenager)But your words, “…my dad is still in my head whenever I write” captures the thought so eloquently.  I love that.

    3. Robert Thuston

      This reminds me of this guy I know, Fred Wilson : )  If Fred were to adopt some sort of a style for helping his children, I would think this would be an interesting and fitting style for him to explore.Great story!  Thanks for sharing, Robert

    4. fredwilson

      I am going to use his techniques with my son

  35. Dan Epstein

    Great argument for blogging more–improving your writing. Thanks for the idea.

  36. Neil Braithwaite

    What you really want is for your kids to experience how you feel when you write. Maybe they will at some point, but then again, maybe they won’t. That doesn’t mean you can’t give them the benefit of your experience right now. Do they see your passion in writing? Make sure they do. If they get nothing else from you about your writing other than your passion you’ve done your job as a parent and teacher. If they are receptive to your editing, use that as a time to not only teach but to bond with them as their father and “fellow” writer. It will be a shared gift that will last life time.      

    1. fredwilson

      Thats good. I am going to do this

  37. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

    I absolutely agree with this. Thankfully, my mom was/is an (amateur, but outstanding) editor and I’ve been writing all my life. I guess it must be working somehow, since through no conscious effort on my part and in a totally unplanned way I make a living from writing (with some spreadsheeting). Incidentally and relatedly it’s one of the reasons why I’m opposed to people who say we should teach STEM more and liberal arts less. Writing and critical thinking are SO important to life and professional life. 

    1. ShanaC

      That is because we don’t teach people how to write, nor to think critically about texts.  I’m reading Carlotta Perez now, and if had not been for my college education, I think I would just buy into the book wholesale, which is a terrible thing to do.

      1. LE

        ” if has not been (sic) for my college education, I think I would just buy into the book wholesale”You are way beyond your years with that type of thinking, and I’m guessing that your parents also played a significant role in that cynicism as well which is admirable. 

        1. ShanaC

          meanwhile I needed to be edited.And I am not sure if it was my parents or the fact that I may just be naturally cynical and optimistic at the same time.

  38. karen_e

    Dear Fred, in fact, reading your blog since 2003 (I have grown wrinkles reading AVC) has improved my writing! To add to your main point, at this point in my career, even though I am a generalist marketer with a long list of responsibilities, the most important things I bring to the table are my network and a proven record of writing well. I can point to three or four teachers and bosses along the way who pushed my writing the hardest. From them I have learned that the best way to coach your children’s writing (not the quickest way) is to ask them questions with the aim of helping them clarify their thoughts. Marking things up with a red pen goes quickly for both parties, but it doesn’t provide the best learning.

  39. zackmansfield

    Fred, great post, appreciate your candor, as always.Can’t agree more wholeheartedly about the importance of learning how to effectively communicate. It continues to baffle me how often i run across uber talented and intelligent people who are ineffective written communicators. Conversely, i believe the ability to crystallize thoughts and convey them in compelling ways can be a real differentiator in life and business. Our lives are narratives in motion- we need storytellers to help us understand them.One of the best pieces of advice i can give for learning how to write better is simple: read. The more kids (and kids at heart) read, the more command they will have over how language can be used. And it definitely helps to define a voice and style. I worry sometimes about how much (or little) this generation of kids will read given the weight given today to speed over depth and quality.

  40. aarondelcohen

    Where is the codeacademy.com for this?  It must, must be possible.  I’ll kick it around with you guys any time you want.  At my son’s school, the 6th grade class is using Google docs so that they can share the responsibilties for editing among their classmates  Assignments include reading and editing.  I think this one of the most valuable skills a writer can learn is how to share his or her work with trusted, constructively critical editors.I have also learned (as a father and a child )that parents cannot be these people for the first 30 years.

    1. fredwilson

      Google docs is awesome. I love that they are using it in your kids’ school

  41. James Barnes

    Simplest tip to improve your writing? Read it out loud. Not in your head, out loud.

  42. Jay Janney

    Hi Fred:You have benefitted from your posts, just as we benefit from your having written them.  It is a lot like teaching;  The content I have taught is content I have come to better understand.I too struggle with helping my children with their writing.  For my oldest (senior in HS), I used to simply edit his work, and show what I was doing.  Now,  I do the assignment at the same time he does his, and we read them together. We talk about the assignment prior to his writing it, to get the creative juices flowing.   It took awhile, but he now sees multiple ways of expressing similar thoughts.  He sees techniques for organizing thoughts.  He now better understands  the idea of starting with a theme in mind.  In one class Chris turned in a copy of his work and my work;  the teacher  loved it. For my daughter (4th grade), I have her tell me the story she wishes to convey, and then I help her organize her thoughts.  Often it is getting her to move from simply writing sentences to trying to tell a story.  She has a ways to go.My youngest (a son, 1st grade)  is a hoot.  He loves to tell stories, but cannot write fast enough!  For him, it is simply helping him to collect the thoughts, so they do not disappear before he gets to them in the story. 

    1. fredwilson

      You are producing a family of great writers!

  43. Shawn Cohen

    Somebody has probably said this already but the best thing you’re doing to enhance your kids’ love of writing is writing yourself.Gen Y is tired of platitudes about what we ought to do. We want to see it in action. That’s what you’re doing and it’s awesome, Fred.

    1. Rohan

      Action speaks louder indeed! 

  44. John Maloney

    Talk about a candidate for a blog-to-book deal ;/ David Karp calls dibs on book jacket cover design

    1. fredwilson

      🙂

  45. CamiloALopez

    Inspiring post! I feel the same as you felt 8 yrs ago. Inhibited by my lack of eloquence. I have tried to start blogging but it is difficult. I should treat it as a sandbox, do my own things, not caring about others. It will click at one point.   

  46. MartinEdic

    As a professional writer I would encourage you to turn on track changes and do a real edit on your kids’ writing including comments. Seeing the logic of an outside editor made me a much better writer and I never publish anything (book wise) without using an editor. I have that luxury but since you’re available to them why not try that role? I think it will improve their skills.

    1. LE

      I can see value to what you are saying and certainly in the case of what you are doing in your career it does make sense. One caveat.  In real life day to day writing (communicating) most of us don’t have the luxury of someone editing what we write. If you develop skills dependent on using a crutch it could be detrimental. Of course it’s ok to help a child with their writing.But be aware of the downside of a child possibly becoming dependent on someone else to always check or edit what they are writing. One of the ways you grow a a person is not having to depend on someone else and from learning from your errors.  Sink or swim. This goes with business as well as I’m sure many readers of this blog realize.You learn a much more valuable lesson from a mistake you’ve made then avoiding a mistake someone else has told you how to avoid..

      1. MartinEdic

        I agree, but at the learning stage seeing how another POV looks at your first drafts can be invaluable, especially in going beyond the usual beginner mistakes. Fred is there to help and most people can run their work by someone else, if for nothing else than another perspective.The real value in this is when you get out into the ‘real’ world where typos, grammatical errors and bad writing can derail a career or help you lose out on an opportunity. Nothing kills an applicant’s chances faster for me than this kind of inattention to basic detail and standards. And tech-savvy people are notoriously among the worst. It is extremely difficult to edit yourself, especially when you are starting out.(now I have to look for typos!)

  47. Bryan J Wilson

    There’s so much writing “advice” out there that I hesitate to throw out anymore. Especially since there’s rarely a one-size-fits-all approach. The best I can come up with: play with your words. Don’t be afraid to write sentences that sound silly at first. It’ll break you out of whatever safe writing constraints you’ve built for yourself (which is something we all do).

  48. ShanaC

    So, some backstory – I’m a former LD student for writing.  I’ve since edited professionally and been published.  This is despite being a reader all my life. (reading good writing isn’t a necessary condition to good writing, though it is helpful)When that is your background, and you’ve been through the standard advice such as “write clearly,” “write the way you talk,” “be descriptive and remember proofs in formal writing,” blah blah blah, and that advice FAILS badly, picking up the very essentials of writing becomes imperative.Good writing, especially writing designed to convince, actually is a very structured process.  The reason it is so structured: rarely are you really writing for yourself, you’re writing for your readers, who have no idea what you are thinking about why some sentence is there.  They are blind to your internal process of how you got to whatever point.Probably the best text on how to escape that problem (and it is a problem, trust me) is “Style: Towards Clarity and Grace” by Joseph Williams(http://www.amazon.com/Style….  That book has been turned into the writing programs at the University of Virginia and at the University of Chicago because it EXTREMELY successful at breaking down writing from the sentence level to full 5 paragraph essay and beyond.As for your son finding his voice in writing: let him grow up first 🙂

    1. laurie kalmanson

      writing = communicating

      1. ShanaC

        right, and you need to master what communication is before thinking about writing pretty sentences.

    2. fredwilson

      He is starting to feel grown up to me. He towers over me!

      1. Rohan

        On him growing up.. Not sure if you’ve ever had a chance to check out ‘Gifts Differing’ by Myers Briggs.A great book on the process..

      2. ShanaC

        wow.  You’re tall.  He must be really tall.

  49. Dave Pinsen

    A different take on writing to leave you with before I go offline go a few hours: writiing well is an overrated skill. Most fulltime writers make hardly anything; many are miserable. And it doesn’t seem to be a crucial deal in business either. I bet most of us have worked with (or for) shitty writers who were nevertheless successful in business.

    1. Bobby Davis

      Writing well for the most part has to do with thinking clearly, structuring thoughts and arguments, and articulating. Editing and concise prose goes hand in hand with this.Sure you can be successful without great writing skills, but much is added to many thinking proceses when you can write well.

    2. Tom Labus

      This is so sad but so true.

  50. Reykjavik

    We probably live in the most literate time in humanity now due to the explosion of writing and reading enabled by the digital revolution. Not all of it is great, but with quantity will come quality (assuming that texting abbreviations don’t take hold in more formal settings).

  51. Aditya Athalye

    I push myself to do two things these days: to revise every sentence critically, and to write under tight word constraints.Revision, I feel, is the most undervalued aspect of writing. At a surface level, it helps correct grammar and punctuation. If done well, it helps challenge one’s ideas, crystallise meaning and produce persuasive arguments. But most vitally, when pursued doggedly over time, revision builds character. It’s actually quite like starting up – create a draft, then revise, revise and revise.Richard Lanham’s ‘Revising Prose’ is top-notch reference material in the quest to write like a champ.Tight writing constraints build vocabulary, clarity of presentation and attention to detail… Enter media with natural writing constraints. Paradoxically, language skills can improve with Tweeting, Text messaging and Typing blog comments over mobile 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      Reduction is something i emphasize a lot. It bugs me that my kids papers have a required page count.

      1. panterosa,

        I agree that page count is irrelevant. In school, and elsewhere. I had to submit and 18pp business plan to a competition. It felt so artificial, artificially long in my case.My 10 year old handed in 16pp vs 5-8 required, and it was just as long as it needed to be. She can rock the page.Let the story/idea chose the length it needs to be when well crafted – from tweet to novel.

  52. martijnsjoorda

    Oh yes, as an afterthought: write. As in actually picking up a fountain pen or a pencil. Carry a notebook. Doodle. It’s kinesthetic learning, so your brain – with practice- starts rejigging stuff in a way that it won’t if you are typing on a keyboard.Check out Sunni Brown (www.sunnibrown.com) for lots of great stuff on that.

    1. fredwilson

      Sadly i cant do that. Before i learned to type i was a mess. My fine motor skills in my hands and fingers are very poor. I failed penmanship every year i took it

      1. martijnsjoorda

        Sorry to hear that, thanks for sharing it. But I have precisely the same problem, up to and including tremors on a really bad day. It hasn’t deterred me and my latest find, a handcrafted German fountain pen made out of carbonized swamp wood that is thick and heavy makes a world of difference.  The fun thing is it’s not about readability or neatness, but about letting your thoughts flow. Works miracles for confidentiality as well: you are the only one who can decode your own hieroglyphs… And you’re in good company: one of Richard Branson’s secrets to success is keeping a notebook/dairy from the day he started is first notebook. Saved his ass in many a court case too!  Did you see the earlier post on Ken Roman’s book “How To Write Better”? Mandatory reading for any business writer. Best, MartijnPS I’d be happy to have a pen made for you and sent to you.

  53. Springboard SEO

    Great points.No matter how interesting/important your ideas, they won’t make their mark without decent communication skills.It must be rewarding to see your kids progress with their writing as well.I’d be interested in your thoughts on a post I wrote about writing for the Web. I’m not a writer by trade; intead, my post is a list of what I believe are some really good web writing guidelines. http://bit.ly/hZlZ9p

  54. Ryan Petersen

    Simple Writing Tip:  Find an article (any article) on NYTimes.com and count the number of sentences per paragraph. There are as many with one as with five. 

  55. laurie kalmanson

    beautifulthe most important part of writing is rewritingit doesn’t matter if you start with a perfect outline, if you jump into the middle and swim back up to the top or if the act of writing itself is what clarifies your thoughtwrite, rewrite, rewrite, rewriteplus, voice

  56. Denim Smith

    Love this post. I took a creative writing class in high school because the teacher was fantastic. He told us once that the most successful, across all industries and professions, are those who can communicate their thoughts well. and that writing is a lifelong journey and the more you write the better you get. To keep at it. Thanks for keeping at it Fred, we’re all thankful for your words each day.

  57. me

    apparently it is a common progression to close the gap between writing/verbal skills and math/technical skills later in life. when i took the gmat for grad school i scored almost equally in  both parts. for my entire life up to that point my math scores far outpaced my verbal scores. i researched it and that is a fairly common progression. so maybe you started at the right time.

  58. LE

    I had pretty much the same experience as you with writing. Writing for me became fun when I realized that I could use words to get what I wanted (money or agreement on some business issue mainly). Then it became a game. What’s interesting is that I don’t play any games and don’t like games. But this game I liked. It was fun and the payback was tangible. By the time I was in business, in addition to either writing or editing ad copy,  I would write various letters to companies or even the government which would either save, or make me money. When online dating came about I hit the ball out of the park with letters that I wrote. I marveled at how many guys  and girls complained about online dating when to me it was the greatest thing in the world to be able to write a letter to someone and get a date (I’m married now to someone I met this way that I would never have met if not for jdate.com and my “practical” writing skills.).Of course my writing wouldn’t get A’s in any english class. But that didn’t matter because I almost always achieved the result that I wanted from the letter.   Now it would seem that the reward system for writing in school is clearly defined. The payback is a good grade, why isn’t that enough to motivate? Well as both of us can attest to it’s not a good enough motivation for everyone. And academia is stuck in the last century. So nothing is going to happen there to motivate outliers to be better writers.One of the things that http://www.codecademy.com appears to be doing is trying to make learning programming fun. But more importantly they are tying in the experience of programming to a payback which is:”Learning with Codecademy will put you on the path to building great websites, games, and apps.”So with codeacademy there is a link to something that someone, who maybe traditionally wouldn’t be interested in programming, would find interesting, and this creates a motivation to learn.Maybe what we need, in addition to obviously a change in curriculum in schools, is a “writecademy” which will attempt to do the same thing for writing that codecademy is doing for programming.

    1. fredwilson

      Build it!!!!

      1. LE

        I would have to solve the problem of how to take what is an analog problem and modify it so that the solution could be digital. Otherwise we are just talking about tutoring.It would have to include some social aspect or crowd sourcing to take advantage of labor that would be needed.You can’t duplicate and automate learning to write like you can learning to code.But you can make it fun and available to everyone. If I can think of a solution I will make the idea available for anyone to implement along with an offer to angel fund if that is also needed.Then it can be sold to stackexchange:http://english.stackexchang

  59. Druce

    To learn to write, the first thing is to read. A lot. Then write simply, clearly, with a strong point of view.”A River Runs Through It” always comes to mind… “Half as long. Again, half as long. Good. Now throw it away.”http://www.script-o-rama.co…At the risk of sucking up, all writing is self-taught, by wanting to get a message through, and this blog is some of the best damn business writing there is.

    1. Austin Bryan

      You beat me to it! Great scene.

    2. David Hays

      I couldn’t agree more.  Very few writers become great without first being great readers. One of the best things you can do is to introduce your son to writing (books, essays, etc.) that you think is great.Stephen King puts it better …http://www.amazon.com/Writi…”The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor.”

    3. JLM

      What a great movie and cast and dialogue.  Easily one of my favorite movies.I am a novitiate fly fisherman and will always be so because I have allowed real life get in the way of my fly fishing.  A very bad decision on my part.I have worshiped at the altar of fly fishing for years and at times have been able to put my fly exactly where God had ordained the fly and fish to be at the same time.God has done the rest.  Anyone who would doubt the existence of God has never seen a rainbow rise to swallow your fly on a still piece of water.I have caught several 5 lbs rainbows and walked them along the bank like a drunk pal seeking sobriety.  I love those rainbows like I have become addicted to oxygen.I have on only a very few occasions eaten one of them but I am a catch and release man from way back.I love the Green River in Utah.Before I die, I intend to get in my ’66 Impala convertible, throw in my fly fishing gear and tour Arkansas, Colorado, Utah, Montana, S Dakota and Wyoming.  God willing.The only mistake I have ever made in my marriage is marrying a woman who did not fly fish.  In all other matters, she is perfect and well beyond what I have ever deserved but on the issue of fly fishing, well, I cannot say more.

      1. Tom Labus

        I would highly recommend Montana.The trout leap out of the rivers/lakes and land themselves (almost).

        1. JLM

          I love Montana.  I have fished from sun up to sun down and cursed the sun in the process for its intrusion.

          1. Carl Rahn Griffith

            One of my favourite places on earth.

      2. Tereza

        I don’t give two sh*ts about fly fishing, but what fun it was to read that nonetheless!Great writing at work.

        1. JLM

          Tereza, the depths of blasphemy to which you have just stooped are beyond most fly fisherperson’s ability to forgive.But I know you have a good heart and that your roguish assertion is absent the meanness it seems to contain.You are just a hot blooded and earthy specimen of the woman species and cannot control yourself.So be it.But let me tell you a secret of the greatest importance, an insight into my soul — if I were in a rowboat in the middle of the ocean and had to cast off one or two of my most valuable possessions or persuasions in order to survive —I would have to think very carefully about it if it were to get down to the glorious mansions of sex or the splendor of fly fishing.No crack addict skinny legged model will ever hold the allure of a fat backed 5 lbs rainbow.  Ever.

          1. Tereza

            Oh, JLM. Dahling.The true fault here is Disqus’s, not mine. Black font on white screen in a comment column fails to capture when I bat my eyelashes and flash a charming smile while typing salty words.Disqus, shame on you!Next time you invoke rainbow trout, I will take pause. I will be more sensitive, and more precise. Because you, JLM, deserve at least that much.

          2. panterosa,

            Forgive me…choose between fly fishing and sex? Why not choose fishing AND sex….I have been courted by a fisherman, and twernt nothing sexier than him showing up with that fish, batting his eyelashes, and telling me how he caught it for me, then eating it.This is coastal fishing though, not rainbow, and those fish were very tasty. But truth be told, rainbow is my favorite.

          3. Tereza

            Panterose that’s such a great point.+1000.There’s little we do on land that can’t be done at sea as well.

          4. panterosa,

            I simply don’t believe in the “Starvation Economy” whereby you have to have either or, or I have so you can’t. The universe is a bountiful provider. There is enough love, and fun to go around. If you believe in it.Happy Thanksgiving. I will toast “to more” good things. Including all of you here, who I know believe in more.

          5. Aaron Klein

            Talk about rocking the boat.

          6. panterosa,

            That’s right.

      3. karen_e

        My aunt & uncle’s ranch was used in the filming of River Runs Through It, I’m pretty sure (I get the various movies it’s been used in mixed up.) They’re outside of Bozeman and extremely hospitable. You will love my uncle’s work on the grill – taste it after you meet a few of his grass-fed cows. When you pack up the Impala, be sure to get in touch and I’ll meet you out there for your rest stop at their place.

    4. Robert Thuston

      Just read through that section of the script.  it’s wonderfully written.

  60. Austin Bryan

    Related, I have always loved the “half as long” scene from A River Runs Through It. http://bit.ly/vpTXfY

    1. Robert Thuston

      Great add.  Someone mentioned that earlier as well.  I hadn’t read the dialogue before then.  Great section of script.

  61. JLM

    I wonder if you really write at all or just think out loud?Perhaps your thoughts have become more focused and informed as you have mastered your craft and thus your voice speaks from its mastery of the subject more so than your improving craft as a writer.Because you have progressed from a novitiate to a journeyman to a master, your musings have become more transcendental, enlightened and distilled to an essence that abandons the dross for the essential.The craft of writing is not to overlooked and struggling with thesis sentences and the mechanics of writing are a worthy undertaking and provide a short cut — particularly if taught by Christian Brothers or Sisters of Charity who could wack you for your shortcomings.There is nothing to reinforce learning like a bit of pain.The more we are exposed to great expression the better we become at translating our own thoughts.I love to read and could not imagine a world without Kipling or Hemingway or Antoine de Saint-Exupery (mentioned by Rohan later in this commentary).

    1. Robert Thuston

      love Hemmingway.  love prose.  LOVE contenscious livley dialogue like in most of his books, especially like in the Sun Also Rises.My brother is obsessed with Jack London who does this well too.

    2. fredwilson

      I had two years with the nuns. I got cracked with a ruler across the knuckles enough to know how that stings

    3. Rohan

      That’s a great question. I think it’s definitely ‘think out loud’, atleast for me. After a point, I think I feel a greater comfort in being able to express those thoughts.And gradually, punctuate it with the right amount of feeling.Never thought of it that way though..

  62. Max Chafkin

    I think you nailed the single most important thing to writing well: Practice. At my first journalism job a writer told me that writing is a trade–like carpentry–and that the only way you get better at it is by doing a lot of it. I think there’s something to that. 

  63. daryn

    Absolutely agree that communications skills are of paramount importance. That’s one of the reasons that I wasn’t too bummed when I transferred colleges and finished with a liberal arts degree instead of a CS degree. I was forced to spend more time doing something I wasn’t fond of (writing), and it has helped tremendously in my career. Anyone can put words on a page, but there is an art to conveying a message and a voice. I believe writing is best learned with close guidance from a harsh editor, but you’ll develop the skills with enough practice. Fred, you’re a great example of that. Also, for anyone who wants to commit to writing, but doesn’t necessarily want to post to a public blog everyday, check out Buster Benson’s http://750Words.com. Buster created a website that encourages you to keep a private online writing journal, ideally of 750 words (3 pages) a day, and rewards you with motivation and a weekly scorecard of how well you’re doing. Like everything he does, it’s pretty elegant. 

  64. Donna Brewington White

    Really love this post, Fred.  Also love the comments that it is inviting.  I am often struck by how you can say so much with so few words.  This has both challenged and inspired me.  I admit that I am learning from you…or at least trying.  Old habits die hard.

    1. Rohan

      Do or do not, there is no try. Every day, get better we do.

      1. Donna Brewington White

        Ach! You are right! Using the same words against me that I use with my kids. For the most part have removed “try” from my vocabulary. I was being quick and lazy — had begun a comment about my ongoing battle with wordiness that I had to delete because I didn’t have time to fully complete the thought, and just tacked on that last bit. You don’t let me get by with ANYTHING Rohan! 😉

        1. Rohan

          Sign of true love, that is. Have a great day dear Donna! 😀

  65. Perry

    When I graduated from a respectable writing program recently I was older than most of my professors.  Here are a few of my take home points, for what they’re worth:Writing is first and foremost communicating.  A good writer is a good communicator.Good writing reflects clear thinking.  A good writer is a good thinker.To write is to edit.  Good communication can be one-offed, but loftier writing needs revision and  almost always benefits from time to let thoughts simmer.  Some people are more adept than others – John Milton dictated “Paradise Lost” to his daughters after he read his own eyes into blindness – but almost all written work is better with editing.In VC’s case, he knew what he wanted to say, but struggled with how to say it.  But the writing process also allows the writer to find his own mind.  It is a structured discipline that is congenial to linear thought and reason.  Three words:  Strunk and White.  For most, all the writing instruction needed.

  66. hypermark

    Specific to editing, whether it is self-editing or the editing of others, I find that it all comes back to the narrative. What is it exactly that you are trying to say, what’s the point of entry into the narrative and what are the core assertions that support the point? So much of the “voice” of writing comes from understanding narrative, and then as others have noted, re-writing and iterating, almost rubiks-cube style, until you find the combination that feels right.

  67. Humberto

    I find that most of the times I am more effective writing the way I think and speak. Pauses, images, I even try to express in written form my hand movements. Thats because thinking and talking comes naturally, intuitively and even unconsciously to us, noone needs to – though perhaps we should – actively structure a conversation, it just flows.How many times have you actually found yourself in the middle a conversation wondering at what you just said and why you said it?But this is mostly at an adult phase (i’m just under 30). When you are younger, you cannot actually know how you speak and its effectiveness, you don’t know how your co-workers and friends get hung upon your words, etc. You actually *need* to comunicate then. And parents know kids need to comunicate their needs, and they get a lot of attention as a consequence. Most kids do not need to be effective in communicating at all. And so doing something as structured as writing does not come naturally.Being the 4th of 13 siblings, with 10 sisters and 2 brothers, I have a view of what motivates a structured approach to communication and writing.- confidence matters the most. kids are effective communicators when they are on an unstructured environment and they have to make their voice heard. when they get told no. when others want to speak too. a calm dinner with super-polished Q&A types of conversations does not help a kid force his word out, his creativity, etc.- learn on your own. people learn structure when they make discoveries themselves. its harder and painful, but in my view parents should discourage tutors, extra-classes and too much help. you won’t have your parents to help you out when you’re at work, so why do that when you’re younger- play and learn. most of my toys were legos and stuff like that (mechanics, etc). education should have a large portion of games and slight rewards (you dont want them to game the system)- one step ahead. always look at problems and think “how did the inventor of this think of it the first way this was solved”? again, abstraction is a great tool (i was taught algebra and calculus with cubes and speheres, and it helped me a lot while teaching at the university as well).overall i believe that the end goal is your kids liking to express themselves.. the way i encourage others to do it is an alert: in any generation there should be a reporter of sorts- someone who documents what you and your friends did, what it felt like being there. tale-telling youngersters reap several kinds of benefits in their social and study lives. a camera is a great stimulator, then maybe you had some marker felts to get descriptions, then maybe a story. tell them how to connect smiles and times of the day, the year. clothes. measure informalnesspeople do the connections- and a story is born

    1. fredwilson

      Some great thoughts in here. Thanks!

  68. TK

    I double-majored in Computer Science and Management in College. However, I went to a liberal arts high school where I took Latin, French, English and Grammar (simultaneously). I was expected to churn out 4-page papers almost twice a week on the classics and instead of memorizing vocabulary words for the SATs we focused on etymology and latin roots. To this day, I still believe my liberal arts education has helped me the most in succeeding in life and has helped me the most in building my startup. 80% of business is knowing how to communicate and spread your idea, 20% is technology chops.

    1. fredwilson

      Im with you. Our firm is half wesleyan (liberal arts) and half MIT. It works well

    2. Robert Thuston

      Liberal arts was the most valuable thing I learned from college, because I brought back the philosophy, history, and religious studies debates to the dorms and I’d have these long contentious discussions with my friends.I remember those discussion, but I lost almost everything from my Business classes, which I majored in, because the discussions rarely left the classrooms.

  69. sameer

    Surprisingly i arrived thinking similar a few days ago until recently i used latest web and read,wrote and reacted almost like a caveman,I am also starting to believe that reacting is indeed as important as reading and writing .more :http://sameer.droppages.com/

  70. kcoleman731

    Long time reader, first time commenter. I really enjoyed this post Fred. I am 25 and have recently decided to leave my young career on Wall Street, move out to San Francisco and get involved with technology. Part of the transition has been getting more involved with the online community. Among other, this has included regularly adding content to Quora, starting a Tumblr, and using Twitter more actively. Most recently, I have gotten my own blog up and running and I can relate to what you wrote above, “I always saw writing as a chore and did not feel that I was particularly good at it” This statement echos my sentiments exactly as I begin my blogging career. I can only hope mine becomes as prolific as yours and that my writing will improve and mature in the coming years.Thank you as always for posting fantastic content in this forum. 

    1. ShanaC

      welcome to the blog – a good way to learn to write fast is to comment more!

    2. fredwilson

      Please come back a comment again soon

    3. davidhclark

      It’s fun to dive in isn’t it!? @davidhclark davidhclark.tumblr.com

    4. Nick Grossman

      For me, Tumblr was the secret sauce in unlocking my capacity to write.  Since there’s way less pressure to compose something big/final, you end up writing a lot of short things, which totally gets the gears going. 

  71. Matthew DeBord

    Fred: You blog is my favorite these days largely because your writing style is direct while still capturing ideas and themes, then playing them out over time. I wouldn’t assume, however, that even 1,000s of blog posts will make you a better writer, although you will probably become a better BLOGGER and a solver of the technical writing problems associated with blogging. In my experience, to test yourself as a writer you need to tackle a book. A book that contains an argument. Because really as much as writing can be seen as a passion or skill or, in a diminished sense, as “communication,” it’s the ability to form an argument and sustain it over the pages that separates the men from the boys. In fact in my view it’s what sets the fine young writer apart from the merely competent one.Didn’t you turn MBA Mondays into a Kindle Edition? And aren’t the literary agents of your hometown banging down your door for more?

    1. fredwilson

      I dont have any desire to write a book. Without desire, effort is meaningless.

      1. Rohan

        Maybe you should collect your favorite 100 AVC posts and publish?

        1. fredwilson

          Why? They are all here. And i love all of them. This is my collective work.

          1. Rohan

            Akin to synthesis, I think.There are many out there who would benefit from some of the things you have written. Helps if they have a 100 post books vs searching for information through 5,600. But again, it’s only if the desire exists. 🙂

          2. LE

            I wouldn’t write it off so fast though. And I understand that you’ve said many times that you have no desire to write a book. But at least consider this. If not now then in the future possibly. Traditional book publishing opens you up to a much wider audience an gives you much more influence than you have with the blog and your current tech audience. Assuming the right opportunity (traditional publishing not e-book) and being able to put the time in (with a co-author and book tour and hopefully morning shows) you would be able to take your message national and gain a level of respect that would allow you to potentially influence many things you care about and make change. It wouldn’t be easy and would require time and effort. But the payback could be enormous. (Just look at Gladwell et al.) It’s not a substitute for blogging. It’s in addition to it. And like Gladwell (who based some of his books on his New Yorker columns) you already have material in the can. But unlike Gladwell you also have 8 years worth of blog comments to intersperse and add perspective and contrast.  Lastly, you also have investments in companies that will some day go public. And not everyone knows about those companies outside of tech. The added general exposure could result in a significant payback at ipo time increasing the value of your investment.

  72. sigmaalgebra

    In school, good teaching of writing is labor intensive and, thus, expensive and rare.I learned to write, first, just by writing mathematics and branched out from there.  It can take a lot of such ‘branching’ to get from mathematics back to ‘usual human discourse’!When I was teaching in a business school and assigned term papers, it was clear that, between (A) the full-time day students of the usual ages and (B) the part-time evening students who were older with careers and families, in the usual work in the relatively technical courses (A) did much better than (B) but in the writing in term papers (B) did much better than (A).Lesson:  Learning to write very well takes a lot of time, likely a lot of ‘life experience’, and maybe even the “10,000” hours.I advised the students to get three books, a dictionary, a book on English grammar (say, from high school senior English or college freshman English), andWilliam Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, ‘The Elements of Style, Third Edition’, ISBN 0-02-418200-1, Macmillan, New York.The Internet is now good for a dictionary, but I believe that still need a ‘book’, on paper, as PDF, or whatever, for the second two.Computers, the Internet, and blogs have provided much improved means of learning to write.The biggie reason is that on blogs one can get a lot of what was too labor intensive in the schools — feedback.  Or, “Oh the gift to give us, to see ourselves as others see us.”  (loose quote), and a blog can provide a lot of that.Smaller reasons are:(1) Computer based word whacking is much more efficient than older ‘writing technologies’ of typewriters, pencil and eraser, and pen and ink.  Writing math is an exception since pencil and eraser are still usually more efficient than the main alternative, D. Knuth’s TeX!(2) Since the English language borrowed words, and spelling, from so many other languages, English is a pain to spell, but spell checking software is an excellent solution.(3) Sometimes good writing needs facts and references, and computers, the Internet, Google, etc. are terrific tools for finding and ‘curating’ such content.(4) One aid to learning writing is to read the writing of others, and the Internet and blogs provide huge, flowing oceans of such material, often with the advantage of up/down votes so that can see how ‘the public’ views the writing.Much of writing eventually becomes of the subject of the (not easy to read) classicErving Goffman, ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life’, Doubleday Anchor Books, New York, 1959.that is, a writer is making a ‘presentation’ of themselves, and even ofDeborah Tannen, ‘You Just Don’t Understand:  Women and Men in Conversation’, William Morrow and Company, New York, ISBN 0-688-07822-2, 1990.where we see in clear terms some large differences in how men and women communicate and, in particular, write and respond to writing.Tannen was influenced by Goffman.In the end, it appears that there are two main classes of ‘writing content’:  stories and technical.The stories are mostly to be cases of ‘art’ as in ‘the communication, interpretation of human experience, emotion’, say, with passion, pathos, and poignancy (for more awful alliteration, poetry).  Mostly the the stories are to be cases of ‘formula fiction’ with a protagonist, a problem, a struggle to solve the problem, and victory and winning the girl.  For being ‘information’, such writing can communicate pains of problems in life and society but is short on methodology for finding solutions.  Also the formula fiction pattern makes even communicating a solution awkward.The best pattern for technical writing is pure math; easier examples are applied math, mathematical physics, and mathematical engineering.  In such writing, the main goal is to construct a web (connected, directed acyclic graph!) of logical connections so that at various places one can insert assumptions and, then, in other places get out consequences.  One of the most polished examples of such writing is Bourbaki but P. Halmos and W. Rudin are plenty good for nearly everyone.Since for such writing actually there isn’t a lot of room for ‘creativity’, how to do such writing is fairly easy to learn (even when the math is not!). 

  73. Ankit Shah

    So, so true. I used to write somewhat regularly on a blog, but never kept it up. Recently, I’ve been using 750words.com to write every day about anything. It’s private and topic-unspecific, so it really lets your creative side out. Valuable stuff, and you start communicating ideas better really, really fast. Couldn’t agree more.

  74. matthughes

    One of my favorite all-time AVC posts. 

    1. fredwilson

      Wow. Thanks.

  75. JamesHRH

    I am struck by the lack of discussion regarding purpose.I studied news writing (TV, Radio). I had a high school English teacher threaten to flunk me in my junior year, if I was not a published fiction author by the end of the year ( empty threat, which was too bad ). I have done more PPT than is healthy ( what a waste ).The point of great writing is to achieve a communication objective: engage, convince, engross, excite or even inflameOn AVC, I am most taken by Fred’s ability to engage the audience: he is rarely guilty of preaching or lecturing or closemindedness. It is, obviously, one of his greatest personal strengths.

    1. Robert Thuston

      totally agree.  One of my favorite things about Fred is he always leaves the door open for his mind to be change, and for discussion and debate to be brought forth.His writing is self-expression, self-learning, and inviting.

    2. fredwilson

      Having been preached to every sunday until i went to college, i have a dim view of that practiceOn the other hand discussion and debate get my juices flowing. I love it.

  76. Kim Pallister

    My experience mirrors yours a lot. Only got serious about writing late in life, partly due to blogging, and love it now, though I’m no expert.The two bits of advice I’d offer on giving your kids: (1) Ask them questions mainly about what they are trying to say, and to whom, and then revisit that with every paragraph, ever sentence, and (2) strive for simplicity.George Orwell’s 5 rules are a good starthttp://www.pickthebrain.com…And Stephen King’s book On Writing is a good read on the craft:http://www.kimpallister.com…I also like King’s rule of thumb: “Second draft = First draft – 10%”

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks kim. Great suggestions

  77. JamesHRH

    iPad & Disqus having a severe disconnect. Apologies.

  78. Brandon Burns

    I spent the last year leading a product team in Beijing, including three Chinese writers. My Mandarin is borderline awful, but I still had to lead them and approve their work.After getting lost in debates about using one word over another, I remembered that 95% of writing is the point you’re trying to make. If your argument is strong and clearly structured with appropriate support, pretty words are merely icing on the cake — no matter the language or use case. Watch a behind the scenes clip of a writer/director explaining the movie “script”. Words are almost never mentioned. It’s usually about the “choices” of what goes where and when, and what the main point was. After that, the words just flow.

  79. LaMarEstaba

    I’m a writing tutor at my university and I have been since I was a freshman. My whole job is teaching people how to write papers. My boss always says that we are in business to put ourselves out of business. As a tutor, I’m not trying to mark up papers; I’m teaching students how to mark up their own.

  80. JordanCooper_NYC

    my dad used to stay up past midnight waiting for me to finish writing my papers in high school.  He was ruthless with the red pen, instilling a sense of grammar and sentence structure in me that I found so painful at the time.  When i got to Dartmouth, I refused to send home my papers, and believed strongly in not relying on outside help to do well in school.  That really hurt me insofar as I am a terrible editor and refuse to read and correct anything I write.  The instant I complete it, I can never look at it again.  Probably meant a bunch of Bs that could have been As in college…Today the blog medium has been accommodating of my “unpolished” style, where substance and subject trump structure and format.  The result is that I’m a way better writer today than I ever was when in academia.  My dad sometimes says “I don’t know when or how you became such a good writer” and I think the answer lies not in my improved skills so much as a discovered medium that plays more to my strengths…so maybe your son will find a voice when he finds a medium that is a better fit than wherever he is writing today

    1. fredwilson

      I have to get him blogging jordan!

  81. Michael Motta

    Russel has a great essay covering the keys to great writing. You can start here. http://blog.granneman.com/2

  82. Jeffrey

    Probably the best advice you can give new writers is:1) Read your work aloud. Often the writers will catch and revise the errors themselves.2) Print out your paper. When your page is effectively the size of a laptop screen, it’s hard to keep track and develop a long, multi-page argument.There’s an entire pedagogy for teaching writing. I myself have tutored writing for 6+ years and I was blessed with an excellent writing education. Watching a student’s writing improve over time is fantastically rewarding.

    1. fredwilson

      I print out business writing and edit with a red penBut not my blogs

  83. Alberto

    Fred, can you recommend us a book or two about writing?Thanks in advance!

  84. William Mougayar

    The best way to become a good writer?Write, write, write, write, write…There comes a point when writing becomes an addiction, a drug, a release valve, something you can’t live without doing on daily basis, yet you do it naturally and ideas flow from your brain to the keyboard.When one reaches that point, then they are a writer (or a regular blogger).

    1. Modify Watches

      couldn’t agree more. The discipline is pre-tty hard. We’re at 2 blog posts/week and the mere thought of getting to four (my goal) stresses me out 🙂

      1. William Mougayar

        There will be a tipping point I think where the pain becomes pleasure. Just like athletes are trained to perform and it appears effortless but it’s after a lot of repetition.

  85. Leyvacar

    Yeah, it’s a craft. I don’t know if anybody is born a great writer (well perhaps a few, but not many). I started writing as a consultant, then wrote a book, then blogging. Now as a practicing attorney and Internet Entrepreneur I am writing all the time, and communicating in other ways as well.I have this theory that going forward it is the communicators that will win, which doesn’t usually imply the engineers. At a time when everyone is calling for more math and science I think we need to return to the liberal arts. Don’t get me wrong, those liberal arts majors better be tech savvy as well, but in the use of technology as opposed to developing it.

  86. Luke Hristou

    This is so true,There is no substitute for understanding how to clearly articulate yourself through writing, yet unfortunately a lack of emphasis is put on acquiring these skills even still in many circles. Writing lets one collect their thoughts before they speak, which might be the most important point of all because most of us will never be able to express ourselves fully and inspirationally enough without having the time to reflect first.  

  87. Pete Griffiths

    LIke most things writing is a combination of art and craft and my observation has been that the craft is underestimated.  After I sold my first company in the tech space my brother and I decided to make a total life change, so we became screenwriters.  We didn’t know a thing about it and our high school did not teach writing anything like as well as kids are taught now. So we started from scratch.  It took years of work to build the craft.  If you assume an 8 hour day for say 300 days a year that’s 2,400 hours a year, which means it will take you around 4 years full time work to achieve meaningful mastery.  And that is pretty much what it took.  We did become successful professional screenwriters but it was a huge amount of work.  Learning to write is a non-trivial task and accepting the hard truth that writing is rewriting is yet harder.  I take my hat off to  people like you who do it ‘part-time.’ 

  88. Cory L.

    The only true way to learn how to write is to simply do it. Over and over and over and over. If they’re writing regularly, they’ll surely get there.What also helps, I’ve found, is reading with careful intent. Good readers make good writers. Read for style and structure–not just information. To do this, one needs to find a writer whose style one loves so much that he/she cannot help but dissect it, learn from it, internalize it. For me, that writer was Joan Didion, but it doesn’t really matter who it is, just that you find one and allow him/her to teach you what’s possible.

  89. Robert Thuston

    Ira Glass (This American Life) deconstructs how to tell a good story:”When I first thought of the components that would likely lead to a good story I always initially made it more complicated than it was.  I would think of News articles… it needs to start with a good headline, and then go into well structured paragraphs, etc…The method we’ve come to embrace over time is quite simple: First, a good story needs to be told step by step, one action after the other.  (adding dialogue and voices add to it also)”The story would likely be good if you stopped at the end, but there is another stepthat can be taken to engage the listener on a new level. After telling the story, you include the thought that wraps around the story, the one that makes us all relate to the situation.  You add the thought that connects you with your audience”–I wrote this to my brother after seeing Ira Glass last January.  I’ve never forgotten it, and always think of it when writing.Fred, this post connects well.

  90. Steve H

    Fred, don’t sweat it. You, me and many others acquired writing skills later in life. For me it was post- graduate. I don’t know anyone who developed competence in math and science later in life. If I had to choose I’d encourage the focus on math and science.

  91. Carl J. Mistlebauer

    I college I had a professor who taught a class on creative writing.  The whole course was based upon reading chapters of Studs Terkel’s “Working” http://www.amazon.com/Worki… and then writing about what we read.I have to admit that nothing worked better for finding your own voice and a passion to express an idea than these simple assignments.This professor went on to be one of the founding members of the National Writing Project, which I would recommend to any parent interested in helping their children learn to writeHere is their website:http://www.nwp.org/Its a great resource for parents, students, and teachers….

    1. fredwilson

      Ouch!

      1. David S

        Heh. It wasn’t meant to be scathing. I was actually very encouraged the first time I saw that post. It almost serves as a reason to start a blog, seeing how well things have progressed.

        1. fredwilson

          i understood your comment. was just having fun. thanks

  92. Carl J. Mistlebauer

    Ah, parents, you just gotta love ’em!I am the eldest of five children, and I have a sister who was one year behind me all throughout our school years including college.  Now, she was a true student in every sense of the word and I did very well in school but I was not in her league to say the least.Lord, she worked at it and really put in an extraordinary effort and I on the other hand was more laid back….I was never very good at math, until I took a statistics class in college, then I spent a year getting “caught up” on all the math that I wished I had taken more seriously in high school.In college I came into my own, and I am proud to say, I ate my sister’s lunch!  Yep, all the years of hearing how smart she was and “..gee, could you work a little harder like your sister…” just bit the dust once I got to college!So, your son is just saving himself for the final lap!  He will write and find his voice once he is good and ready and only when it matters!I think your son is just making you sweat it out!  🙂

  93. John Revay

    Hi Fred,Similar experience (somewhat)I attended high school in a small town – up state CT.  Writing did not come easy to me so I majored in Finance and Accounting in college.I still have not yet blogging like you did in your early in your 40’s,,,and I struggle to help my children in their school writing.Great Post – lots of good take away’s from this one.

  94. paramendra

    You write well. 🙂

  95. Satyajeet Salgar

    Great post! Thank you! Also serves as a reminder that I really need to revive my blog. 🙂

  96. David Roman

    I agree, Fred. I started blogging about a year ago and it has changed my life. What writing has done for me is provoke deeper than average thought and through this I discovered my mental capacity which has given me the self-confidence and courage to chase the ambitious goals I’ve set for myself. For this reason I am constantly encouraging my peers to write on a regular basis. Unless you have some sort of creative outlet, you will never fully grasp on what you are truly capable of.My first AVC comment! Whoohoo!! Now that the ice is broken, I will strive to become the youngest, most frequent contributor. In effort to return the favor- I hope the AVC community can learn a thing or two from this youngin! 🙂

    1. ShanaC

      Welcome!

  97. Pop17

    I’ve been reading and following your blog for years and really appreciate you being so open and personal. Thanks!! High school is such an important time.

  98. Prokofy

    You mentioned these 5600 blog posts as something that trumps Andrew Keen’s having written a book when we were arguing about your misguided anti-SOPA perspectives.And in fact, I don’t think 5600 blog posts trumps a book.I speak as someone with 3500 blog posts since 2004 just on my Second Thoughts blog, but since I think nothing of writing 2000,3000, 4000 word essays as those posts, I probably have many times your word count.In my regular jobs, I also have thousands of posts, articles where we have a strict word count of 500 or 750 or 1000.I’ve also translated other people’s books, written some longer monographs, and co-authored some specialized books.And I have to say that there is nothing like writing a book on your own. I haven’t done it. It really is an act of contemplation and discipline that in fact blogging spoils you for. The writers I know who really publish books even on the best seller list are not people who fritter their time away on Facebook or Twitter or blogging. They are in the solitary workshop of the soul, struggling.That’s not to say that the blogging life is wrong. I’m in the blogging life myself. I will probably never write a book, as much as I yearn to.I think writing a book — a coherent book, with a beginning, middle and end, with chapters, developing of theses, etc. — is awfully hard work, and you have to recognize when people have accomplished this, like Andrew Keen.Many books today like your pal Seth Godin’s books are like glorified lectures or TED talks or lengthy magazine pieces inflated into books.Books matter, but they are increasingly being made deliberately obsolete by the technocommunists, of course.And kids don’t learn to write because it’s too much work to write the language of literary.Most human beings actually have three kinds of writing. There’s the transcript of your spoken language. There’s the transcript of your thoughts. And there’s the transcript of you trying to be literary in a book-like language. These are three different languages. Some people are really good at mastering them and distinguishing them. I’m not, for example. The reason why I write very long pieces that most people don’t want to read is because I’m writing a transcript of my thoughts or my spoken language, and not that third language.One thing that spoils you permanently for being able to write book language is writing a diary. The reason I became ruined early in life for a life of book writing was that I used to write a diary every day, starting when I was only five and going through until about 14 — and very long diaries. And that ruins you — unless you are particularly talented and can learn to distinguish among the three human languages of each language.

    1. Rohan

      Well done. I don’t quite get your point though? 

    2. Rohan

      Ah. I see you have elaborated. Thank you, Profoky..I see that you’ve put your point of view across forcefully and I appreciate that.I hear you. I don’t agree with you on many points though. But, that’s just me. All the best with writing a book, when you decide to do it 🙂 

  99. Rodrigo Del Campo

    Somebody once said: “Writing isn’t hard. You just sit down at the typewriter and… give blood”. That definitely sums up my experience, including that it has a certain renewing effect!

  100. davidhclark

    If you look at the current rate of communication data being generated online and the path a high school kid takes as he or she progresses and gets older, it’s usually something like learning to text with their first cell phone, then facebooking, then tweeting, and if they’re feeling adventurous blogging with tumblr or something. If they’re feeling really adventurous, they’ll video blog. Most likely start with YouTube, and if they have a knack for it, maybe even do a live stream on Ustream or Justin.tv. They learn to communicate online-and they do so by following and interacting with people and things they like.Tools used to communicate and express ourselves have progressed really fast. However, one way of communication that hasn’t progressed much at all is reporting and the way we get local news. Think about the local news your mom or grandma watches. It’s depressing and robotic. Do you really think a teenage or college kid (or many others) give a damn about watching the local news when literally all reporters talk in that awful cliche reporter style voice? It doesn’t matter if I’m watching the local news in Salt Lake City or NYC, the reporters seem to be as far from human as you can get. I understand it’s to remain neutral, but it’s not meant for the rising generation and it’s ready to be disrupted.I just feel if we tie together the tools we have to communicate, how we communicate, and how we consume, there’s a gap that needs to be filled-and it’s reporting and consuming local news.Does anyone know of a startup out there looking to solve this problem? It seems pretty interesting to me. I’m all-in with the startup I’m building, but am curious.

  101. Abhishek

    I think following PDF will help your son and anyone who wants to know how to improve writing.http://www.ai.uga.edu/mc/Wr

  102. InternTech

    Thoughtful post.  My father taught me how to write, and it’s the greatest gift he’s given me.  I have to disagree with you when you say you don’t want to edit your children’s papers. I agree it’s important that we learn to edit ourselves, but you can’t learn how to edit unless you see the process in action. Something to try: ask your kids to print out two versions of their paper (or use a text editor on your iPads) and discuss the writing, ideas, and structure of the paper. Have them restructure ideas and clean up the language; offer suggestions and tips that you find useful.  This is what your children’s teacher is doing, and I see no reason why a talented blogger can’t also participate in their writing process.Don’t have your kids say in 20 years: “I guess I suffer from never having had an editor…” Be their editor; I’m confident it will serve them well in the long-term.

    1. William Mougayar

      I agree that having an editor that you can learn from is like having a coach.

    2. fredwilson

      Good advice

  103. Alejandro Cosentino

    Interesting article for those who say that internet makes us poor writers. I became a better writers when needed to write business plans and PPMs to attract investors. I realized that better writing skills help to maintain people attention and if that attention were there you have better chances to make your point. I strongly recommend Story from Robert McKee http://www.amazon.com/Story…. It helps to create Story to attract people reading.

  104. Michal Illich

    Commenters are great way of feedback. They can misunderstand the written text in so many creative ways 🙂 – I think it’s the best school to teach a person to write preciselly and understandably.

  105. Nick Grossman

    My friend David Eaves, a super compelling writer (mostly on the topics of open data and open government), has a great blog with one of my favorite taglines: “If writing is a muscle, this is my gym”.I think about this all the time.  I really like the idea that we “eat” information and we “exercise” by processing that information (writing is one way).This is also a big topic for Clay Johnson, who’s currently turning his blog about this topic into a book.

  106. Howard Sherman

    FWIW: Creating an outline before I write has always been a lifesaver. There is nothing more terrifying than a blank page but if you have a sense of what you want to say before you write it down, some of that fear goes away – at least for me. Good “reporting” also makes for good writing. Doing the research you need to make your case or collecting details that help you describe something you see or something you feel will make it easier to present these things to others. Sometimes you hear writers say – “This article wrote itself.” What I think they are really saying is “I gathered enough detail and organized my thoughts well enough in advance to make the process of writing flow more smoothly.”One more thing, read a lot. You learn from others. 🙂

  107. sventured

    Thanks for posting this, Fred. I’ve been struggling to stay consistent with my own writing recently, and this is just the inspiration/ kick in the pants I need. You have a wonderful ability to write in a way that appeals broadly, while simultaneously personalizing your posts so they seem tailor-made for an individual reader.

  108. Andrew K Kirk

    Fred,Thanks for your insightful words (this post and many). I write blog posts for various sites, but had thought of it as a chore. However, since becoming a full time reader of your site, I had become encouraged to create my own personal site to share my thoughts, musings, and insights. This post gave me one more reason to go for it – improve my writing. It’s my project over the long upcoming weekend and I’m super excited about where this adventure will take me. Thanks and Be Well!

  109. Mrinal Desai

    I was literally told my writing was “pathetic” when I showed up in my class for my grad program here in the US from India. I thank that teacher for that feedback since awareness/ problem identification (or definition) is 50% of the job for me personally, if not more. I would also recommend Toastmasters, for public speaking, if your kids have not had a chance – it was one of the best things I did when I was “vocationally challenged” …

  110. webjoe

    I’m really happy you shared this, it’s so inspiring.  When I follow well-written blogs, I always imagine that they are natural writers (minored in English Lit) and it’s nice to know that like all skills it can be developed.  I always assumed people started with a voice or style, but it seems like that can be developed over time.  Keep up the good work! We’re all reading…

  111. LE

    ..in reply below

    1. fredwilson

      Worth noodling on, for sure

  112. Laura Yecies

    I have found themost challenging part of helping my teenagers with their writing is the fact that they are teenagers and trying to individuate.  Even though I have had great relationships with my teens they still tend to resist parental input, particularly if it is too dogmatic.  I do believe asking probing questions to be the best route.  Also, I try to engage earlier during rather than “after” e.g. after a draft is done.  We all work at the dining room together and when I notice what looks like “writer’s block” I’ll occasionally say – what are you stuck on then we brainstorm then that can open up a chance to discuss the paper constructively.   It is also important to show them that we are open to “editing” – as I have been blogging more – the kids see me asking for feedback from my husband and from them – this engagement ought to be role modeled.  I also have encouraged my children to get peer feedback from their friends – that can be very powerful.On another note, our children’s high school is using a program called “turnitin” – unfortunately they pitch that service as a plagiarism detector but it has a very nice editing function that allows for both peer and parental review. 

    1. fredwilson

      Great suggestions. Thanks

    2. Susan Rubinsky

      I hate turnitin. It often rejects my son’s writing or gives him a lower grade after I’ve reviewed his paper. He once wrote a really excellent paper that read like a speech (when he read it out loud it was really captivating) but it was rejected by turnitin because he used repetition. (At my suggestion he used repetition as a literary device in a paper that he was writing about Martin Luther King’s speeches. It was really effective.) He had to rewrite the paper to remove all the repetition to get a better grade from turnitin. In my view, the first version was far better.

  113. davidhclark

    Working on my writing! Thanks for this post, Fred. I really enjoyed it and am going to write more.http://davidhclark.tumblr.c

  114. Juiceman00_75

    If you are really interested, there is an entire field of study that looks at writing and the teaching of writing.  It is called Composition Studies (or Composition and Rhetoric) and would be housed in the English Department of most Universities. 

  115. Lauren McLeod

    Clear communication is key, written and verbal. I don’t think anyone wants to be a wallflower without an opinion. To have the ability to express an opinion and influence others, it all comes with practice, practice, practice (i.e. blogging).

  116. Abhijeet Mukherjee

    Quite true. I think one of the main ways to improve your writing skills is reading good stuff and analyzing how the good stuff is written. For people who mostly prefer to read non-fiction, I’d say reading fiction time and again would go a long way in improving their creative writing skills. 

  117. Dror Engel

    This is the best blog post and comments I have ever read in 2011! great communication skills are MUST in today’s world (writing, presenting)

  118. Heather Sidwell

    I think it makes a big difference when people are actually interested in what you’re writing about, who you are, what you can bring to the table and etc.Personally…I do not “blog”. I am a published author…not the greatest writer in the world but I think the stories, in and of themselves, merit a certain degree of recognition. Fine stories if I do say so myself.Like your eldest daughter, I began writing in journals. I always toyed with the idea of becoming a novelist but at fifteen….I would write about as many pages and be done with it. Finally, at age forty (40), I published my first book. I’ve been writing ever since. It has been a short but rewarding experience.Keep writing, keep loving it!!!

  119. theschnaz

    Over the past few years, I’ve focused on my writing; grammar in particular.  I was born in the US and I only speak and write in English.  For people like me, I think it’s important for us to have a strong command of the English language.  Too many people are too casual with communications; in technology, it’s common for English to be someone’s second or third language.  The ability to speak and write properly is such an easy and professional way to stand out.  Any investment of time and effort here will pay off greatly in the long run!

  120. Guest

    One of the most interesting classes I took in college was a training course for working in the school’s peer-to-peer writing center, where students could drop in and get advice on writing from their fellow students.  The professor of the training course wrote his own textbook using student contributions.  I think the book is an interesting resource for anyone who wants to learn how to communicate about writing.  Thanks to the internet it’s available to anyone (amazing): http://www.amazon.com/Worki

  121. Sarah Doody

    More and more, I’m realizing that the art of writing and storytelling is being lost. Far too many people in business lack the skill of great written communication. But it’s not just a skill for executives or managers – everyone within an organization needs to embrace the art of writing and storytelling. We all have ideas and things we want to contribute to our companies. But these ideas will never be turned into action unless we’re able to communicate them to our peers. One of the most important and helpful pieces of writing advice I’ve received is to “know your audience” – understand who you are talking to and tailor your message to them to match the goals you hope to achieve with your message. And to your point, practice, practice, practice. 

  122. Susan Rubinsky

    There are so many great suggestions in here for you to employ with your son. I also have a high school son who struggles with writing. I’ve been working with him on it for many years. And it does take years to get better.Please reconsider editing his papers. Editing is not rewriting. I do it the old fashioned way, with a red pen on paper. Someone said earlier that the only way to learn how to edit is to be shown how to edit. That is true but it takes a lot of time and effort. Especially at the beginning.Here’s a summary of my “method”:1. On the first day the paper is assigned, sit down and have a conversation with your son about the assignment. Ask key questions: What do you want to write about? Why do your think this topic will meet the goals of the assignment? What kind of supporting evidence are you going to use? etc. As you chat, have him jot down shorthand notes about what you’re talking about so that he doesn’t forget some of the points (believe me, he will forget.) If he says something that’s exceptional, stop and make him write it down word for word (because he will forget it later).2. Depending on how many days there are until the assignment is due, have him write a draft a day. You edit each draft with a red pen. Don’t worry about grammar and run on sentences at the beginning. At the beginning you want to cheerlead him into getting the right ideas down.3. Once there are a lot of ideas down (more than you need. I am wondering if this is similar to the Idea and a half mentioned earlier — but for teenage boys you really need a lot more than that. You’ll winnow down later.) then go through with tightening suggestions. What paragraphs can be combined? What ideas still need more evidence? What about overall flow?4. Last edit is for grammar/spelling/run on sentences. So painful after so many drafts but it is what makes it polished.Also, aside from my “method”, during summer vacation, I require my son to read an article or short story a day and write a reflection or summary on it. I sometimes let him choose the reading material and sometimes choose it myself. This past summer, I did a series on “The Importance of the College Essay.” It really had an impact. At the beginning he was rolling his eyes at me. By the end, he was extremely motivated to get better at writing after he learned some facts about college admissions. He can be the biggest whiz at math and science (he is) but if he can’t prove how smart he is in the college essay, he’s essentially screwed when it comes to going to one of the colleges he is interested in.PS. This method takes A LOT of time. It’s worth it.

  123. Mike O'Horo

    One trick to teach them is to read what they’ve written, aloud.  It quickly exposes cumbersome construction, too-long sentences, missing antecedents, etc.  It also acknowledges that people read with their ears.  Does your writing have a voice?  It’s a literal question.  Do you sound like you’re conversing with the reader, or writing for them?Another technique is to take a printout of the draft and, very quickly without reading it, highlight the active-voice verbs, ignoring participles and all forms of “to be.”  Hold the page at arm’s length, squint a bit, and look at the ratio of yellow highlight to black text.  The lower it is, the more cumbersome the writing.  Have the writer substitute active-voice verbs for all those that are not, and the writing will come alive.Here’s a framework that helps in certain styles:Problem: What are you talking about that the reader has a reason to find relevant, and care about?  Talk about the consequences and demonstrate an understanding of the problem so that the reader recognizes that you “get it” about their world and circumstances.Action:  What response do you recommend for that problem?Result:  How will their world be improved by taking the action you urge?  This is pretty much the opposite of your Problem section’s consequences.This structure lets you write high-impact articles quickly.Finally, look at words as currency, in the sense of expense.  If it cost you $100 per word to publish this piece, how many of the words you used would you be motivated to eliminate in favor of more precise, effective ones that allow greater brevity?There’s a famous quote attributed to Mark Twain:  “I apologize for the long letter; I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.”Good writing is iterative.  A great editor we’ve used for a long time offers this quote from Justice Brandeis:  “There is no great writing, only great re-writing.”

  124. Dave Pinsen

    Having a CS background needn’t be a handicap. One of the novelists who has influenced Fred, Neal Stephenson, was a programmer; so was Richard Powers (author of the great Galatea 2.2, among other novels); Austin Grossman, author of the great debut novel Soon I Will Be Invincible, is also a video game developer. English being your second language needn’t be a handicap either. Fouad Ajami comes to mind as an essayist who writes in English as well or better than almost any native speakers.

  125. Tereza

    Both great persuasive writing and CS are about employing strong logic, so the building blocks should be complementary.Obviously the executional skills are different and each require their own practice, and their own attention to detail.I’ve no doubt that any great coder has the raw materials to be at least a very good writer, if not even possibly an excellent one.It takes practice, a desire to get there, and something interesting to say.

  126. leigh

    uch i suck at new languages.  thank gd i was born in an english speaking country or i’d never learn it.  language of exceptions.

  127. Dave Pinsen

    The folks at Onepagerapp are pretty good writers, judging from the blog posts of theirs I’ve read (and the stuff Matt and Eric wrote on their personal blogs in the past), so they are examples of that.

  128. Dave Pinsen

    You’d learn it if you had to. I think it’s easier to learn new languages today too. It’s just a time suck, and you need some motivation to do it. If I’m planning to go to a country where they speak another language, that’s a motivation for me. Haven’t done that in a while, but I did that with Portuguese before a couple of trips to Brazil years ago. I’d play pool online in the Brazilian Yahoo games site and chat with Brazilians in Portuguese (with a Portuguese-English dictionary in front of me) while playing.

  129. Wesley Verhoeve

    Leigh, do you suck at new languages or were you an unfortunate victim of the US method of teaching US languages and have given up on it? I bet you are better than you think you are! It’s just about how you have been/are taught.

  130. leigh

    Actually i have no such excuse.  I went to a Jewish day school in Toronto and was fluent in Hebrew by age of 12.  Something happened to me when i got older and I became really frustrated with languages (tried to learn French and lived in Greece for 6 yrs and couldn’t do it)So much easier to learn new languages when you are a kid.  Our nanny only speaks to my son in Tagalog and he’s now fluent. My daughter same for Greek.  

  131. leigh

    that may be true – best and worst of english is that you can get along most places w/o speaking the native language.  

  132. panterosa,

    Pool in Portuguese? So fun!I got into Hindi by watching Bollywood movies, and then getting into bhangra meant I learnt some songs in Hindi.Actually I did Latin and 3 romance languages (a great way to study abroad). Hindi just seemed like a fun diversion to a culture I dig.

  133. Wesley Verhoeve

    That’s awesome about your kids. You win some, you lose some. 😉

  134. ShanaC

    I found new languages easier as I got older.  Not completely easy, but I lost a lot of the stigma that I had against myself that languages were hard from when I was a little kid (jewish school that loves rote memorization as opposed to actually speaking/reading/writing)

  135. ShanaC

    You know, University of Chicago Press now releases the Manual as an ebook subscription for $35 a year.  They also have a fabulous q/a blog type page that goes into the nitty gritty of stuff that is missing/unclear in the actual manual (http://www.chicagomanualofs…(The only reason I know this is when I went to college I had to switch to Chicago style quotes.)

  136. ShanaC

    have it, it isn’t what I need.