Checking Your Work

I don’t recall who drove it into me when I was young, but I have always been obsessive about checking my work. Whenever I do a math problem, I take my answer and do a reverse check to make sure the answer makes sense. I do this even when adding a tip to a bill at the end of a dinner. It drives the Gotham Gal crazy to see me take so much time to do a simple math problem. It’s not even a conscious thing for me. It’s just how my mind works.

I tell all of you this because it relates to writing. IΒ was talking to an educator that I respect greatly last night and I asked her what is the most effective technique for teaching kids to write. I expected her to say one on one editing sessions with a mentor, coach, or teacher was the most effective way to teach writing. But she told me that forcing kids to rewrite their work, solo, was the most effective technique to improve their writing.

When I write a blog post, I tend to write it as the idea forms in my brain. I write the whole thing out. And then I rewrite it. I go over every line and make sure the spelling and grammar are correct, I look at the phrasing. I consider the flow. I read it start to finish at least three or four times. I think about the whole and then each part. And I’ll cut out paragraphs, move things, rewrite parts, and mess with it for almost as long as it took me to write it in the first place. And I’ll do that even after I’ve posted it. I actually get some extra benefit from editing while the post is live. I am not sure why that is, but often times the best edits come to me after the post is live.

And so it turns out, if my educator friend is right and I would imagine she is, that this kind of obsessive self editing is the best way to become a better writer. I don’t consider myself a great writer by any means, but I have improved immensely over the years I’ve been blogging. Some of that, for certain, comes from writing every day. According to WordPress, I have written over 6,500 posts here at AVC. That’s a lot of writing. But you don’t learn as much from the process of putting words on paper (or online). You learn most from the process of perfecting the piece.

Based on the countless hours I have worked with my kids over the years, getting students to spend time on a project after they feel like they have finished it is really hard. They get annoyed. “It’s done, it’s right, why are you making me do this?” is a common refrain. But if you want your kids or students to learn and improve, you have to force them to do that. Like someone did for me when I was young. It’s a gift that pays dividends for me every day.

#life lessons#Uncategorized

Comments (Archived):

  1. Tom Labus

    Once you post, it’s like a tip off and live.Hemingway’s Top Tips for Writing Well

    1. JLM

      .Can you imagine if Hemingway had been writing after the invention of Word?I am just now re-reading all of his short stories having been inspired by spending some time in Ketchum, Idaho.JLM.

      1. awaldstein

        Dunno–we are all products of the tools that we stretch to express ourselves with.Emily Dickson using a typewriter is hard to imagine for some reason.But–on Idaho, I agree completely. Spent a bunch of time there during my hippy days as it attracted extremes on both the left and the right.

        1. JLM

          .Having lived on both sides of the invention of word processing I personally must say it has been very much easier for me to write but then I could always type very fast.I guess it’s not how fast your write but how fast you think.JLM.

          1. awaldstein

            Agree completely.I simply can’t write long hand. I (showing my age) took the first typing class I could, then bought a typewriter. I’m an athlete on that machine!I love word processing thinking though of course. I write better now cause editing is built in.

        2. Tom Labus

          Nabokov used 3×5 cards, standing up

          1. awaldstein

            It’s the idea that drives it. In fact, it’s the idea that drives everything.Think about people with massive handicaps like Chuck Close who just reinvented not themselves but art due to limitations.If you’re interested in him, my homage to him is here: “Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

      2. Tom Labus

        I do that every couple of years to to see how they hold up for me.For the novels, there’s not a word out of place in For Whom the Bell Tolls

        1. JLM

          .Not just with Hemingway but others also, I learn something new each time.I have become completely and totally fixated on George Washington not just because of his contribution to our Nation but because of his entrepreneurial successes.We know him from age 40 on but before that he was an incredible entrepreneur. Incredible.I am completely obsessed by his innate personal goodness, his incredible ability to withstand hardship, his planning capabilities, his leadership style, his political wisdom and his entrepreneurial genius.I worship the guy.JLM.

          1. Tom Labus

            When the Whiskey Rebellion (our first currency battle) happened, he didn’t ship someone out to Pittsburgh to deal with it but went himself

          2. JLM

            .He was a tough SOB but a privileged man. He lived well but was not afraid of a real fight. The guy started the French & Indian War personally.He out generaled all the Brits while having a very suspect set of subordinate officers. The Brits had men with 20+ years experience and the Hessians to boot.GW had men with 1-2 years experience at best.Washington’s genius at Trenton/Princeton and Yorktown was incredible.JLM.

      3. Salt Shaker

        I travel to Ketchum practically every summer. God’s country. Wonderful contrast for a NYC boy. Love the bike trails, hiking and always find time to shoot a little trap.Hemingway (sadly) only spent 8 months there before he did the dastardly deed.

      4. LE

        Can you imagine if Hemingway had been writing after the invention of Word?I don’t know (may be true may not be true). I mean writing comes from inspiration and perhaps Hemingway would not benefit as much as, say, I would, from not having to hold in memory that inspiration for such a long time. (And potentially forget ..)For example I get an inspiration and an idea and so it’s good that I can type quickly and get it all down before I forget the idea (and the flow of what I am trying to say). Then I can easily edit it and make it better. Otoh there are lawyers who dictate things and do a pretty good job. (That amazes me my brain is definitely not trained to do that).

  2. William Mougayar

    And I thought you just spurt it out and it comes out beautifully.

    1. tyronerubin


  3. JimHirshfield

    Measure twice, cut once.

    1. JLM

      .Always keep the handle to the blasting machine in your pocket.I am alive today because I followed that advice.JLM.

      1. JimHirshfield

        1. What is a blasting machine?2. Why does the handle detach?3. Why do you have a blasting machine…what do you blast?4. Is that a blasting machine handle in your pocket? Or are you just happy to see me?

        1. JLM

          .A blasting machine is the little device that is used to send an electric charge to electric blasting caps. In the combat engineers, I was always blowing up something.I spent a year blasting out Korean War vintage fortifications at crossig points on the Imjin River — likely NK invasion routes — and rebuilding them with reinforced concrete able to withstand 155MM guns. Two foot thick concrete.It was great fun to blast them out into bite sized pieces and then dig them out with bulldozers.The handle detaches for safety reasons to ensure it is not in the hands of the same folks who are often rigging the explosives.It was always a challenge to keep that blasting machine handle in your pocket particularly as a green young Lt. You would check, doublecheck, re-check the explosives, walk them back to the firing position, ensure everyone was under cover and only then connect the wires to the blasting machine and attach the handle and blow the shit up.There is nothing scarier than inspecting 1-2000 lbs of C4 to ensure it is rigged correctly while everyone else is huddled behind a berm 500′ away. You want that blasting machine handle in your pocket, believe me.More than once, the troopers would have rigged them in such a manner that the explosions were too close to the site from which we were detonating the explosion. We were doing this 20-50 times per day and they got careless.Once I did not catch it and we detonated two road craters which were not supposed to be connected. They were, in fact, connected by det cord and the second one was only 100′ from where I was huddled behind a berm.It was 1000 lbs of explosives in heaving charges. It threw big rocks into the air and one came down and split the back of my neck like a watermelon all the way into my neck about three inches deep but no real trauma as it had not hit me square.Not a drop of blood, just perfectly split like a watermelon. Did not even hurt. A picture of it later made me puke it was so freakin’ deep.The Sergeant who had tied those two explosions together had assured me they were not tied together. I failed to check, double check and re-check.He came to me and admitted it later. I reduced him to a private. I later promoted him. He was a very good soldier but he had screwed up and had almost cost us a few men.It was a damn good lesson for me. I never failed thereafter to check, doublecheck and re-check everything, walk the explosive train backwards and take shelter. I kept the blasting machine handle in my pocket.JLM.

          1. JimHirshfield

            The lessons of war…now I understand…mistakes are costly. Thanks for sharing.

          2. JLM

            .In Korea, it was in the early 1970s so we were not at war though there were plenty of infiltrators coming across the border. My unit killed a few.It was a warlike footing because of the infiltrators which kept us on our toes. We had to put out our own security every night because we were only a few miles from the DMZ and being astride the Imjin they were always crossing the river to get to Seoul.The magnitude of the work with explosives was enormous. Taking out old bridges and replacing them. Taking out bridges on the Imjin. Taking out old fortifications. Blasting roads into mountains.I loved the explosives part of it. I learned so much about theory v practice.I would calculate the exact amount of explosives required and then round it up to a full case. No sense in opening a case when we had so much. You just had to make damn sure you were safe.The idea we got paid (only $277/month plus hazardous duty pay of $65/month plus demo pay of $65/month) to do this was unbelievable.Here is a pic of a bridge support I blew out in the middle of the Imjin. I had been to scuba school and was the only qualified officer in the battalion to dive and blow shit up. Me and a Sergeant took out these piers with my usual rounding up. It rained fish thereafter. It was hilarious.The pier was in the way of putting in rafts and floating bridges to cross tanks on our way north to smote the NKs in the event of war. Second Inf Div ROK.JLM.

          3. JimHirshfield

            Wow. What a story. Is that you with the fish?

          4. JLM

            .No that’s one of my demo guys. He was a Spec 4 when he arrived and a Staff Sgt when he left.This is me. Up in the mountains blasting roads to the top of mountains and then flattening out the tops for artillery batteries and ground surveillance radar. I was very, very cold that day.The second set of mountains behind me is North Korea.JLM.

          5. JimHirshfield


    2. AlexHammer

      I’ve always liked that saying. Here is another one, “the easiest mistake to correct is the one which never occurs.”

      1. JimHirshfield

        I like!

        1. AlexHammer

          Hey, positive feedback.

  4. Mike Zamansky

    True for teaching writing. True for teaching programming.

    1. fredwilson

      Probably true for teaching everything!

      1. LE

        When trying to do anything with programming I always type from scratch and never cut and paste (from another source unless I am the source sometimes).Further, when something doesn’t work finding and figuring out the errors is the way you learn or at least the way I have always learned.In no way can I learn from a book. I have to learn from doing and fixing. I have tons of books and would take a bit from here and a bit from there and then move to the next book (although I don’t need to buy books anymore).Another analogy with writing and programming is this. I start small and I build. I don’t try to map out right from the start everything that needs to work the way I want it to in the end. I start with something really simple and keep tacking on to it new things. [1] I find that reduces the pressure and makes it enjoyable rather than a chore.[1] That said I’m not a professional and programming is for sure not my job. But I’ve learned enough to do things with it and that is what works for me.

  5. Avi Deitcher

    Fred, this is just great! I have been telling my kids for years (and hopefully it starts to sink in), it is not about the *job*, it is about the *results*. You are done when the paper gets an A, when the customer is happy, when the floor is clean. So before you tell me you are done, you go make sure yourself again.

    1. Mike Zamansky

      As they move through life results are important but when growing up, it’s process. Throughout school and related activities what makes a good result is frequently arbitrary. What’s consistent can be how a child learns how to approach the world and take care of business.I always emphasized to my kids that I’m proud of how they do things – the results are when other people notice how awesome they are.It’s process – doing that rewrite that gets them there.

      1. Avi Deitcher

        So you are saying “process gets results”? Sure, agreed. Or at least that the process is worthwhile, since it doesn’t always get results, but (a) improves the probability of good results; (b) gives a result you can be proud of even if you didn’t get the outcome you wanted.

      2. SubstrateUndertow

        I think that is an important point !Working hard, early in life, to identify quality habits trumps perfecting them as perfecting them will naturally follow by habitual execution.Thus making quality mentorship/role-modeling so pivotally important in early life habit adoption.The real trick is how mentorship/role-modeling can best be educationally scaled to improve that quality-of-habit adoption process.Maybe teaching children to research and compare differing habitual approaches to a given process by focusing their research on exemplary historical/contemporary role-models might work ?Conscious habitual introspection of one’s habitual choices is indeed an habitually pivotal habit πŸ™‚ Yes indeed! That was an edit too far example.The fly in the quality-habit execution ointment is, of course, that time constraining stresses often favour our more instantly available trigger happy bad habits.

  6. Eric Friedman

    Albertwenger gave me the following anecdote, which I will paraphrase, while I was at USV churning out quarterly summaries for review – I hope I don’t butcher it too much;A teacher had a student submit a draft, to which he returned to the student and said “you can do better”. The student then re-worked the draft and re-submitted it to which the teacher said once again “you can do better”. The student was perplexed as he submitted his best work, but toiled away and made the draft even better. He finally submitted the draft a third time, now thinking it was perfect – much better than the previous two, to the teacher. The teacher then responded, “this time ill read it and let you know”.This has stuck with me, and I have passed it along to my team over the last 4+ years every time something comes up like this.I believe the act of submitting your work “live” as a post, or a “draft” to a teacher or manager makes you re-read it and make it better, and nothing has really changed but the state of the document.

    1. bfeld

      The Five Why’s work the same way. I often find myself just saying “Why” over and over again and not paying attention (at least in a serious way) until the third or four response.

      1. AlexHammer

        Crisper thinking leads to higher results.As Fred does (and you do as well), high achievers challenge themselves with the “whys” before they ever ask for feedback.

      2. Richard

        The 5 Why’s. Sounds like the title of a Feld’s Thoughts blog post just waiting to happen.

      3. JamesHRH

        Louis CK has a hilarious riff on Endless Why, which is less productive than the 5 Whys.

      4. Jay Shirley

        I tried this approach with my wife on an important subject.By the third Why I got smacked.

    2. fredwilson

      Great story. Have you seen the movie Jiro Dreams Of Sushi? There is scene where Jiro makes a young sushi chef make egg sushi hundreds of times before it’s right

      1. Eric Friedman

        I have and loved it (so much so that I needed to eat Sushi directly afterwards). Great example of this in action but the years of doing this task seemed excessive to me.

      2. Vasudev Ram

        on mobile n disqus so sorry for typos etc. another good story like that is about kenjiro the ___. i have no link so google it.

      3. Vasudev Ram

        yes recently. good one.

      4. PhilipSugar

        There is a reason not too many innovations come out of Japan. Some very good executions of ideas, but not many innovations. From somebody who worked at Mitsubishi.

    3. PhilipSugar

      I have to strongly disagree. If I figure out that is your strategy I give you shitty not well thought out papers to start. Works once for one person. Many times for many people? Nope.

    4. sigmaalgebra

      Another version of this story has Henry Kissinger in for the teacher, and the number of submittals before he consented to read the work was 11!

  7. AlexHammer

    I am like you, a certain amount of OCD behavior (but not pathological) is critical to success.Life is ultra competitive, and the advantages of having sky-high performance standards (but balanced by, as Steve Jobs famously said, “real artists ship”) is paramount.As is a slogan of Fed Ex or UPS (I forget which) “Good enough, isn’t”.

  8. bfeld

    Your MIT roots show through nicely. I learned this while I was an undergraduate. In high school I never really proofread anything or checked my work. It was so easy to get A’s that I could be sloppy.At MIT, it’s fatal. The difference between putting the effort in to proofreading / checking what you’ve done is 10 percentage points – often the difference on a curve between a C and a B or a B and an A. That’s it – just put some extra time in, check, and polish.You probably remember that it was really hard to do this consistently because of the magnitude of work. I recall barely getting through things most of the time before the clock ran out on whatever I was doing, let alone having time to check my work.I’ve found, especially with writing, that the more I do, the better I get, so the more time I have for either (a) increasing output or (b) reviewing what I’ve done. When I spend enough time on reviewing instead of increasing output, my quality goes up by at least 10 percentage points.Thanks for the reminder!

    1. AlexHammer

      The higher one advances in life, the more competitive life becomes. As a result, performance standards which advanced one to a certain level will not move one on to the next level.The real battle is always with oneself:It is “good enough” already.My attitude is “good enough”.No, it isn’t.Improving things constantly is the basis of iteration, which is the hallmark of startup and company success.When I read through the answers of your and David Cohen’s interviews with me, they were among the most detailed and thoughtful of those I have ever received (and I’ve interviewed dozens, maybe 100 very elite individuals). If you two do that for a small interview, it is my thought that you probably do that as a standard of excellence across all of your activities.Which is why you rock.

      1. JamesHRH

        Excellent observation on the main philosophical issue of our times: attitude towards quality.

        1. awaldstein

          I see this just the opposite.The massive growth of the artisanal movement across everything from food to fashion to craftsmenship to wine is all about the pursuit of personal excellence.The capabilities of the web to create a global local marketplace made this possible even though the drive to do this is part of the human condition.I see the marker revoluition, including software the proof that the opposite is in fact, reality.I must be off mark from what you are thinking here.

          1. JamesHRH

            Arnold – you are arguing one side of the coin, I am merely highlighting the importance of the coin.Scale often begets ‘good enough’ quality. Bespoke often begets ‘ professional grade’ quality.Sometimes scale begets crap. Sometimes bespoke begets self indulgence.Where you fit in the McKinsey 2×2 consultant matrix says a lot about you, these days – in the Western world.

          2. awaldstein

            Not arguing just commenting on the world that I see.It is oozing alternative choices to most everything we purchase, not only in quality of work but integrity of ingredients, from how something is raised to the humanity of the labor pool that makes it.Honestly don’t know anything about the 2×2 consultant scale so can’t comment.

          3. AlexHammer

            For some needs we’ve looking for the highest quality, for others, price or convenience rules.I agree one size generally does not fit all.

          4. LE

            Scale often begets ‘good enough’ quality.Agree.Good enough quality is basically a method by which companies accept a certain degree of sucky products and foist upon users the need to clean up the mess from any deficiencies. It becomes the customers problem. For the company it’s a well calculated risk.The reason for this is simple. My saying is “you can only be as honest as the competition”. So if you are making laser printers and your competitor is using said shitty product philosophy the truth is you are going to have a really hard time selling a marginally better product for more money competing against a competitor that is making things suckier and cheaper where the feedback loop (complaints) isn’t really obvious or clearly defined.You can make things “more perfect” but then you have to charge for it. Meanwhile the customer tends to go with a lower priced product and take their chances.And if that product is free you probably stand no chance at all.As always there are exceptions. But after buying a lifetime of products and seeing how poorly they perform (and how you have to go through hoops to make things right) I know it when I see it.As an example look at the attached “Simple Human” soap dispenser. That’s actually a company that you would think makes quality products. This isn’t dollar store shit. Now look at how the finish is all ruined from actual use. I can’t get that cleaned off. Of course I could take the time to complain to the company but I won’t. But it’s clear the product wasn’t designed right if it exhibits this issue after normal use.

          5. AlexHammer

            It’s interesting, because the lean startup model, very much in vogue, talks about the importance of MVP (minimum viable product). That speed to market followed by iteration is key (and I agree with that).I think both are true (although they are opposites they also often function in a complimentary role as well). While it is true that quality rules (including that “you never get a second chance to make a good first impression”), it is also true that speed rules – by the time you get to market, if you take too long, you’ll already be dead in the marketplace, even with a great product, if you’ve taken too long.

          6. ShanaC

            the thing is – followers might do better. Reddit VS Digg comes to mind

          7. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            No you can destroy the competition with honesty. Every person I know expects or at least values it. Dishonesty starts with kidding yourself

          8. AlexHammer

            I think you’re right. Scale begets laziness. One day, “good enough” isn’t.

          9. Ricardo Diz

            I’ts a BCG matrix… πŸ˜‰

          10. Alex Iskold

            I agree with the movement. I think we are becoming more A-D-D and micro-chunked and impatient as a society and that leads to lack of real quality work.

          11. awaldstein

            Agree completely about natural ADD that comes with always on and always connected.Personally and culturally I see this obviously.But the level of change and quality is (as counterintuitive as it seems) rising.Mass market awareness and action. The makers movement.We’ve simply turned a corner. Life is different–but butter in my opinion.

        2. AlexHammer

          Thank you. As they say, “quality never goes out of style”.

          1. Alex Iskold

            Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance lives on!

    2. JimHirshfield

      You have a typo. But I’m not gonna point it out, ’cause your comment is just spot on.

      1. Richard

        A post written into mobile Disqus with an iPhone is an invitation for Mr Typo to show his ugly head.

        1. Jon Michael Miles

          My writing at times devolves into “texting english” . Have 2 watch that

          1. Donna Brewington White

            When texting with my younger kids I find myself using “regular” English because it’s one of the only times I get to model writing to them. Then with the older ones I go into texting mode. Isn’t it funny how some of us have become bilingual through texting and tweeting.

          2. awaldstein

            I do just the opposite;)Texting is more and more part of my daily connections with clients and partners. The freedom of the limitations let’s me pound out things in a very different vernacular.They again, my kid is already an adult though.

        2. JimHirshfield

          And yet you pulled that comment off without a hitch. Amazing.

          1. Andrew Kennedy

            I missed this interaction. It’s a great one.

        3. Andrew Kennedy


      2. bfeld

        How deeply and wonderfully ironic. I just read it again and the only think I noticed as “A’s” shouldn’t have been possessive. What did I miss?

        1. JimHirshfield

          “…before the clock ran out on whatever I was doing, let along having time to check my work.”alone πŸ˜‰

          1. bfeld

            Fixed! That’s called crowdsourcing the edit cycle.

          2. JimHirshfield

            Indeed. And likely the topic of another blog post on getting things right. πŸ˜‰

    3. LE

      It was so easy to get A’s that I could be sloppy.At MIT, it’s fatal.Having always had to bust my ass in high school when I got to college I took great enjoyment from watch people who didn’t have to work hard have to all the sudden work hard. That’s right. I had enjoyment at other people’s pain!

      1. Donald E. Foss

        You’re a purveyor of schadenfreude. http://www.merriam-webster….. Well done.I was in Brad’s leaking boat my first year of university. I experienced Eric Raymond’s so-called “Curse of the Gifted” (… and… very personally and wish I had heard his advice over 30 years ago instead of having to figure those 3 strategies out for myself. Ironically, I was born with the 3rd strategy, learned the 2nd very early but it was the 1st strategy that was the hardest for me to learn–and I’m not sure I have completely learned it yet.

        1. LE

          Ironically or coincidentally, Raymond was the T/A at the Wharton Computer Center when I was there. Penn was where I noticed this. Kids fell apart when they got B’s. I don’t remember anything about Raymond other than he was around the place.

          1. Donald E. Foss

            I met him once very briefly at an early OSCon in San Diego. I don’t remember much about it other than “Hey, that’s ESR!”As a Uni freshman, B’s weren’t the issue. It was getting D’s and figuring out what my problem was.Another hard lesson that year — identifying the problem and solving the problem are two very discrete issues. The circles in that Venn diagram don’t always overlap.

    4. fredwilson

      Yeah, it probably was MIT where this was pounded into my brain

      1. bfeld

        Along with so many other things…

    5. Nick_Moran

      A blessing and a curse. Blessing in that this leads to great work product and ultimately success. Curse in that my wife only has so much patience for detail obsession! ; ]

    6. ShanaC

      quality vs quantity can be the difference between life and death – in both directions. To much quantity – overwhelmed and the low quality is a turn off – too much quality – nothing gets done.

  9. jason wright

    the stream of conscious thought does not always flow. when it does get the thoughts down on paper quickly, in whatever form that can later be comprehended (scribbled notes, keywords, diagrams, doodles,….).for me the ‘checking’ stage happens in a different state of mind from the flow state.i think it’s hard to do a daily post. my flow isn’t at that frequency.

  10. Avi Deitcher

    I think it is also a work ethic issue. What are you willing and even proud to have your name on, or associated with?

    1. JamesHRH

      Motivation comes into play too.Professionals – using the traditional definition – had standards. They were to be applied, as a personal outcome.Winners have only success metric outcomes. Those are not personal, they are external.In short, whatever makes me look like a winner V what is right.

      1. Avi Deitcher

        Heh, so politicians are therefore, by definition, “unprofessional”? πŸ™‚

        1. JamesHRH

          Today, yes.What you see now is a return to the past. Wealthy people running, taking no salary & doing what they think is right ( Mayor Bloomberg ).

          1. Avi Deitcher

            Not sure if I like that better or worse.

  11. Andrew Kennedy

    Great post.Small knit.”I go over every line and make sure the spelling and grammar [is] correct, I look at the phrasing.”– I am no grammar master, but I would have used the plural “are” after “spelling and grammar” and not the singular “is” in the above. I might be wrong, but “is” feels off to me.

    1. JimHirshfield

      knit???? Or nit? πŸ˜›

      1. Andrew Kennedy

        i’ll never tell

        1. JimHirshfield

          Well, if you do, it would be quite a yarn.(see what I did there?)

          1. LE

            You need to bequeath a gift to open a “Borscht Belt Museum of Humor” in NYC on the lower east side.

      2. LE

        Jim – I wish you nits for your horse. (Seems like the photo I attached is missing..)

        1. JimHirshfield

          Don’t saddle me with that.

          1. LE

            Here is the pix that goes with that by the way.

          2. JimHirshfield

            That’s weird.Did you hear the one about the horse that walks into a bar?The bartender says: “Why the long face?”

          3. LE

            Did you hear the one about the horse that walks into the (chinese) vet and complains about his member being all sore and thinking he needs surgery to remove it?The chinese vet says “ah no need for surgery that gonna fall off all bi itself…”.

          4. JimHirshfield

            I donkey’t it.

  12. Simcha Kanter

    “I go over every line and make sure the spelling and grammar is correct…”Shouldn’t it be “are correct”?Sorry, couldn’t help myself:)

    1. AlexHammer

      No, Fred is correct. Sentences are correct. Grammar is correct.

  13. Linda Gridley

    Well said indeed. Not only have i also been harping with my kids over the quality of their writing over the years, I’ve had a lot of very smart college interns work for me and this has always been a key topic for me with them. It amazes me how much disparity there is in the quality of their writing capabilities, and these are kids at top tier schools. It’s an issue that should get more attention out there as it is certainly a critical skill set that we’re moving in the wrong direction on.

    1. fredwilson

      you make a great impression when you write well and a poor one when you don’t. nice to hear from you Linda

  14. Jeff Jones

    This was drilled into me by my father at an early age. When taking tests in school he said if you finish early don’t just put your pencil down and sit there, go back and double check all of your work. This served me well in college as a Civil Engineering major where a Steel Design test would consist of 5 pages of calculations to come up with an answer like x = 0.64…most people would put a box around the answer and call it day but I always went back and reviewed my calculations and tried to think ‘Does x = 0.64 make sense?’

    1. JLM

      .As a fellow civil engineer, I can remember going to the board and defining the problem, deriving the appropriate formulae, applying them, calculating the answer and then, only then, writing the answer, putting a box around it and underlining it.No box, no line = F.Of course, then in the real world we would apply a factor of safety of 8 and move on.JLM.

      1. LE

        Interesting I knew there was this concept in engineering but I never knew the name.…I actually have great fun coming up with scenarios for failure (of systems in life) and “what if’s” (not in any job sense I’m not an engineer) but in life by thinking ahead and trying to prevent the shit from hitting the fan. Not just plan b but plan c and d as well.

      2. Jeff Jones

        Where did you study? I graduated from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. No box, No line = F reminds me of a friend who took a Physics exam and didn’t ‘show his work’ and even though he answered most questions correctly he received a 0 for not showing his work.

  15. Katherine Michel

    Writing well means different things to different people. I agree that re-writing is important, but there are also rules of grammar and style that people may not realize on their own.

    1. SubstrateUndertow

      Rewriting can often improve one’s use of grammar and style as well.OK, maybe note in my case πŸ™

    2. Jay Shirley

      I’ve recently started doing this (rewriting), except now I read it aloud before I rewrite.It’s quite embarrassing sometimes.

  16. Andrew Kennedy

    Checking your work = discipline

  17. Dana Hoffer

    Eric, The anecdote I believe is attributable to no other than Henry Kissinger. This link shows support for it: It is a great anecdote. I certainly agree… Everything written can be better written a second, third and fourth time. Dana

  18. Carl Rahn Griffith

    It’s a huge additional workload for my wife, but the effort she puts in to comments for the assignments/re-works for her students really elevates their standards.

  19. Richard

    There is no Minimal Viable “written” Product.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      I think there is. Get it out there then edit. The lean writeup approach.

      1. Richard

        Maybe you are right, So long as you can leave your ego at the door.

  20. Alex Urevick-Ackelsberg

    This reminded me of a great quote that I was given in a grad level writing course: “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” -Pascal (often misattributed to Mark Twain).I try to self edit whenever I write, but ultimately it can lead to a huge time suck. Does this lead you to write less or about less complex topics? I ask because I sometimes feel the dread of self editing a long or complex piece of writing keeps me from writing about that long or complex topic at all. Also, how do you know when to call it quits with the edits?

    1. Richard

      Editing your writing is like cleaning your bathroom, you’ll never be sure that the job is complete until you take a break and comeback for one last look.

    2. mikenolan99

      I had an Economics professor in my undergrad who made students write a one page memo style summary of complex case analysis – with unlimited appendixes. (Of course, this was in the days before word processors.)5-10 rewrites for every assignment.Brutal – but I still use the methodology to this day.

  21. kenberger

    This is interesting, because I write my comments here in much the same way– I use the edit function often, as I think a lot about what I wrote *after* I’ve hit “Post”.I think the trouble with doing this is you get the email notification, which only contains the original writeup. By the time you reply, there could be a very different comment.

    1. JamesHRH

      Me too – except for moments of pure clarity!

    2. Donna Brewington White

      Me too. I wish Disqus would apply a 5 minute delay before a comment becomes permanent.

  22. awaldstein

    I’m thought I was the only member of the ‘edit while live’ club. ‘Nice to know I have friends with common obsessions.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Lean writeup approach.

  23. Richard

    Paul Graham had a great post on how his blog posts are developed. It included a Video of his witting session. The video showed a literal loop of three words forward and two words back.

  24. Jon Michael Miles

    I’ve spent a fair amount of my career as a television producer and editor. Way back when I was in ‘film’ school I spent a great deal of time in the art building drawing and sculpting. Enough so that I rec’d a minor in sculpture and major in film. It would be years before I put together in my head that sculpture and editing were the same thing. Raw materials into something meaningful. To your teaching point, my remark would be this – all of us who post here – the writing community of commenters that you have fostered – have lived this lesson along with you.

  25. Guy Lepage

    Great post! Thanks as always @fredwilson:disqus. So many talented and intelligent youth coming up need to heed this post. Due diligence should be a standard.A great analogy I like to use for checking work is by comparing it to racing. When learning to race I was taught that the race is not finished at the finish line. That the destination is actually 5+ steps beyond. Those that see the finish line as the destination tend to slow down before hitting it, while those who see the destination as 5+ steps beyond the line don’t let up until well after hitting it.

  26. Donna Brewington White

    I think it’s …spelling and grammar *are* correct…I hate being THAT guy person.

    1. fredwilson

      Thank you Donna. I appreciate it

      1. Donna Brewington White

        I believe you.

  27. Donna Brewington White

    I have learned a lot about writing by reading this blog and a lot about communicating from the comments.As someone who has (almost) outgrown being crippled by fear of making a mistake, I actually find it comforting to find the occasional “error” in your posts because it shows a certain freedom.I still find myself using the edit feature often in the comments. One of my favorite disqus features. πŸ™‚

  28. David R

    There’s a run-on sentence in an ironic position in this :). Great post though!

    1. fredwilson

      Can you point me to it?

  29. JLM

    .In the last two years I have been dabbling with becoming a professional writer. I have written four full length novels. One is buried under the Magnolia, its best function being as fertilizer. Another was excellent kindling. One is being edited — developmental, line, proofreading — by a professional editor.I have also written two collections of short stories. One is a series of stories about my military experiences, thinly veiled. It is just about complete. It is called “The Other End of the Tracers” which is a military joke. The cover is attached (you may have to click on the icon below to see it).Whenever you shoot tracers from a machine gun to mark a target you always have to remember — you are at the other end of the tracers. So while you are marking the enemy position, the enemy knows exactly where your machine guns are. Not a good thing.The other collection of short stories is about intelligence matters, VC, big time real estate and finance. It is about ready for publication.I find writing to be very organized and orderly. I can understand why engineers would be good at it. It is the orderliness from the “narrative hook” to outlining the plot to defining the characters even before a word of the story itself is committed to writing.I knew James Michener when he wrote in Austin for years and he had three researchers working for him. He used to say it was a good thing he had deadlines because he could otherwise write forever.I attribute much of my interest in writing — I am filled to over flowing with stories — with your prodding to start blogging at The Musings of the Big Red Car. http://www.themusingsofthebigredca…I am always looking for readers, so if anyone wants to be a reader, let me know.JLM.

    1. LE

      In the last two years I have been dabbling with becoming a professional writer. I have written four full length novels.Let me ask you something.If you have a wealth of experience in business (and life for that matter) why not use your knowledge of that to write things that will tell about your business experience and life lessons and then you can wrap some fictional stories into that same writing for added pleasure?In other words why compete in the world of thousands of people writing novels (fiction I’ll assume) rather than go with something that would be a) of great value b) less crowded and c) More easy for you to stand out from the crowd.As far as “b” maybe it isn’t less crowded (I haven’t researched this it’s a gut feeling) but my point still stands. I think going with non-fiction will allow you to write and have a larger and more valuable audience. [1][1] Do you remember reading “Swim with the Sharks” when it came out? I always laughed and thought that any number of guys in business could write that book and that there were tons of SMB’s who did exactly what Mackay did but just never wrote about it (and became media figures).

      1. JLM

        .Why we write things is often a complex issue. The military writings are in many ways autobiographicalTo be as transparent as possible, I sometimes cannot believe the shit I did when I was in my early 20’s. I will look at young startup entrepeneurs and think — I had 200 mens’ lives in my hands at that age and I knew exactly what I was doing. I killed or was prepared to kill people for a living. I thought nothing of it at all. I was very good at it.And, then I think — did that shit really happen or was it a nightmare or a dream? I would love to tell you I was unscarred by the experience but that is not true. I am not in pain but I am not untouched.Perhaps worst? I loved the shit out of it and I am not the least apologetic about it. I make peace with myself because I know a lot of men made it home in one piece because I had been trained well and was good at it.Everything I ever needed to know to run a business I learned as a platoon leader or a company commander. On a personal note, I am very proud of the fact I did dangerous stuff and tested myself with the toughest training the Army had to offer. I had adventures, scary and dangerous exploits. They were fun. I relish the memories. I cheated death a few times for which I am eternally grateful.The other stories are in many ways what you suggest. They are stories which have at their core some aspect of techno-business-thriller. They revolve around building big buildings or VC or finance or the intelligence business.I write about what I know.In my little consulting business I have had substantial success helping folks, many of who have met me through interestingly enough. They are incredibly interesting and successful.My getting to know them and assist them invokes that same feeling I would have when I could take care of my soldiers. I liked it then. I like it now.They honor me by letting me assist them in much the same way the Army honored me by entrusting mens’ lives to me. It is a noble undertaking.I get paid in a different currency sometimes. Sometimes it is just that “good kind of tired” you feel when you’ve done the right thing. You know exactly what I mean.JLM.

    2. Tom Labus

      You’ve got some Bob Lee Swagger in you too,I’d love to read it

      1. JLM

        .Drop me an email [email protected] will send you a few samples. Anyone else interested in being a “reader” do likewise. Thanks. Thanks. Thanks.JLM.

    3. ShanaC

      i’m game for the short stories

      1. JLM

        .Email address?JLM.

  30. andyswan

    No wonder you like tweeting more than blogging…

    1. fredwilson

      I like Tweetstorming!

      1. andyswan

        Me too… It’s perfect for the casual content creator

  31. Mario Cantin

    Here is another mind meld for you: that’s *exactly* how I write as well — down to the bit about the best edits occurring after the content has gone live.Writing, for most people — like anything worthwhile — is a skill that must be worked on, and not just taken for granted.I can definitely imagine that coaxing kids to develop this modus operandi would require some determination and patience.

  32. LE

    Whenever I do a math problem, I take my answer and do a reverse check to make sure the answer makes sense. I do this even when adding a tip to a bill at the end of a dinner.I do this as well and I call it “footing” or “triangulating”. [1] In general what I would call a “sanity” check on the numbers. Even if not exact and “napkin like” still of great benefit I’ve found. I’ve caught many errors that way and it’s become second nature.Along these lines another concept I employ is to be prepared in advance and never have to figure out numbers on the fly or under pressure while someone is breathing down your neck.For example last car I bought there were some minor changes in the numbers (done over the phone) so the sales sheet on pickup and the amount that I would have to pay would then differ.So I came prepared with a spread sheet so I could look at the bottom line the dealer presented and know in advance whether there was something wrong without having to do any math while sitting there. As in “the number should be less than $x on the bottom line”.[1] Just the wording in my head. Footing relates to accounting and triangulating relates to figuring if something is correct by multiple data points (the way I use it I’m not saying that’s the actual definition..)

  33. awaldstein

    Agree and a caution.Agree as someone who has bought hundreds of copies The Elements of Style for my teams over the years.But–the most important piece great writing is to have something to say!I’ll take interesting over perfect any day. The web and bookstores are filled with boring perfect crap.if i can have both together, all the better.

    1. LE

      bought hundreds of copies The Elements of Style for my teams over the years.I wonder if you would agree that since the Internet age that type of thing is less important. I mean we have people like Marc Suster making up classic phrases like “grin fucker” (that was his right?). And with all the texting and online commenting and blogs the emphasis is more on content rather than grammar. As I pointed out in another comment phrasing and flow are important. But I would imagine that people have been acclimated more and more to grammar not being correct. (Which is good for me since it’s not my strong point).Separately, in Staten Island I know of public high school teachers that say “axe” instead of “ask”.

      1. awaldstein

        Everything is different as everyone uses the written word every day, all the time in email at the least.I love great grammar. I love ideas and well articulated opinions more.You learn not to judge the quality of the person by how they look and as well you learn to listen to authentic thought without getting hung up on filters of grammatical quality.The most important thing is to reduce the distance between thinking and communicating.

  34. LE

    And I’ll do that even after I’ve posted it. I actually get some extra benefit from editing while the post is live. I am not sure why that isIf I understand what you are saying (and I think I do) I know why that is. Because it also happens to me as well.In the past I’ve said that I think that disqus should allow a preview prior to “post”. So you can review what you write.But now I think that what you are saying maybe proves that wouldn’t be as helpful as I think it would be.Reason? If I post something and see it is wrong I am immediately filled with energy to fix the error. Almost a panic. It becomes very important to find and fix errors quickly. And I think that actually makes the work much easier and much more satisfying. [1] The same “umph” is not there if things aren’t urgent. And when you’ve written something and notice a glaring error, or something that can be improved, you take action immediately lest your written product doesn’t look as good as it can.[1] Essentially pressure adds to creativity and “let me solve a problem” reflex kicks in. Same reason I get done much more in a busy day than in a slow day. Brain is more efficient and things are more effortless.

  35. LE

    But if you want your kids or students to learn and improve, you have to force them to do that. Like someone did for me when I was young.I think that’s a really tough nut to crack. I hated to write in school. I hate assignments. I hate to be told what to do.But having to write letters in business which had a purpose after some practice became fun and satisfying. Why? Because properly crafted words in the proper order can get you what you want. Back in the beginning days of the internet I sent many unsolicited letters to reporters. (I was criticized by my Dad for doing this). But over time (and with no expectation) it paid off. And I enjoyed doing it. And it ended up putting money in my pocket. That’s fun. And the writing then is effortless.When I wrote the letters I did have a purpose and I enjoyed it.I guess my twist with a kid would be to make them write things and learn to write to get what they want. Instead of simply giving them what they want because they ask for it.In other words put some thought and manipulation into making them explain, in words, why they should get what they are asking for (whatever that is). They will not only enjoy doing that but they will learn from it. In other words “sell me on the idea, in writing, like a lawyer or a salesman would”. (I was more or less raised that way but had to present the idea verbally and try to outwit my dad or present a compelling case (he didn’t ask for writing)). [1][1] Managed to get him to buy a new ’76 Red Camaro for my mom (totally impractical (ever see the rear seats?) he was laughing at the idea) among many things. Then I got to drive that to school on most days.

  36. LE

    I look at the phrasing. I consider the flow.This is really super important when negotiating by email which is something I do quite a bit of. Phrasing and flow allow you to employ contrast and contrast takes the brain from one area to another and allows you to potentially convince someone and make the sale.

  37. kirklove

    I’ve always liked the 24-hour rule for writing. Write something, get it out and down on paper. Read it a few times, proofread, edit, etc. Then put it away, come back 24 hours (or later) and re-edit. It’s amazing how much that cushion gives you perspective and focus. Learned that in 6th grade and has always stuck with me.Two other proofreading gems, also from way back in gradeschool1) Read it out loud. You catch far more mistakes that way. And don’t just mouth it, read it out loud2) Read it backwards is the best way to catch any spelling mistakes.Love geeking out on this stuff. Sadly the internets and quick spurts of writing (aka Twitter) has killed a lot of these habits, but they are still just as powerful. Probably even more so today.

    1. LE

      Then put it away, come back 24 hours (or later) and re-edit. It’s amazing how much that cushion gives you perspective and focus.Agree. I find that same thing to be the case when negotiating by email. Not to react quickly. (Although there are times, tempo wise, for doing so for sure). In general you have a reaction to something and then come back on another day and you may agree with your first thought or you might change it slightly. Or even scrap it alltogther. (You think of something better in the shower).Remember the scene in the Godfather with the Police Captain in the Italian restaurant? They didn’t want Michael coming out of the bathroom with “it” in his hands they wanted him to come out with a gun. In other words never go off half cocked.Interestingly though this is definitely not true for commenting. That requires acting quickly and taking chances all the time. But in all fairness there are not many “men on the line” for a bad comment or for going off half cocked. In other words it doesn’t really matter that much.

    2. JLM

      .The best contemporary writers today say they re-write things an average of five times before they are done. This is often with or after a good developmental edit, a line edit and a proofread.Developmental editors are an incredible asset.I love hearing an author read something. The story is so much better when it is delivered in the author’s voice.I am addicted to good audio books and bad ones make me puke. A road trip with a good audio book seems as fast as flying. Of course that road between Dalhart and Raton is a bitch any way you cut it.JLM.

      1. Richard

        What’s books are in your audio library?

        1. JLM

          .Only trashy beach book thrillers because I have to negotiate with my fellow rider/ski buddy. She picks them. I get to reject anything I do not like. Harry Potter lady’s new books were good.JLM.

    3. SubstrateUndertow

      I’m fairly dyslexic so reading and writing don’t come easy for me. Thank God for spell checkers!Although spelling things backwards is something I have always excelled at, I’ve somehow never come across your point #2Read it backwards is the best way to catch any spelling as a person naturally skilled in writing backward I can’t belief I missed that one.Thanks!

  38. sigmaalgebra

    > I go over every line and make sure the spelling and grammar is correct,The subject of the sentence is compound, plural, “spelling and grammar”, and, thus, takes a plural verb, ‘are’, not the singular verb ‘is’.> I am not sure why that is, but often times the best edits come to me after the post is live.Because (1) Before posting, you are in a hurry to get the piece posted, but after posting you are eager to fix any remaining errors. (2) Seeing the words posted, likely with different format, font, and colors, has them look different than they did during the last proof reading which is good since in that proof reading you were so familiar with what you had written and how it looked that you didn’t really look at what was really there but what was in your brain that you had intended. So, when the words look different, your brain has to look at the actual words again and not just what was in your brain and that you intended. The best proof reading is after you have forgotten what you intended to write; that is, the forgetting helps because you have to look at what was really written instead of what was intended.Getting stuff, writing, arithmetic, etc., correct is a challenge. For most people, just doing the work once is not enough, and various people have to use various techniques to get the last comma, digit, detail correct.I had three such lessons: (1) There’s a lot of evidence, e.g., peer-reviewed publications of original research, that I’m good at math. But in the eighth grade the teacher gave me a D and one on one fervently urged me never to take any more math. Nonsense. My father was much better at education and knew that I was good at math. What’d happened? (A) As is common for boys at that age, my hand writing was a mess, so bad that the intermediate results of arithmetic were tough to read so that I made mistakes from misreading my own messy writing. (B) I’d never been clearly told that it’s very important not just to go through the correct steps (which I easily understood quite well) but also to make sure the actual details are correct. (2) In some college writing, I lost a whole letter grade for each error, i.e., each misspelled word or each comma error. Then I started to take proof reading more seriously. (3) In first semester freshman physics, I blew away all the other students: On the first test there were four problems; I got all four; the best any other student got was two; and the teacher said that each correct problem was worth 33 points; so, I got (a little rounding here!) 133 points (percent). Then I got 100 points on everything else. Then in the second semester I made a sloppy mistake in arithmetic and lost full credit. When I complained, the physics prof was definite: It can be just crucial to get the details correct; a physicist can ruin their career from just sloppy arithmetic. So, I learned.As I went on, I learned what errors I tended to make and some of how to get them corrected.Net, getting the errors corrected is just part of the work.One more: I learned, learning to write is super tough. As a prof, sometimes I taught evening courses because I liked having some adult students. Mostly the adults struggled, but when I assigned a term paper they did the best. Why? They’d learned how to write, and the students 18-22 hadn’t. Lesson: It takes years to learn to write; about have to be at least 30.

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks for the grammar correction!

      1. sigmaalgebra

        I’m not into correcting grammar (people in glass houses …!), but your sentence in your post had too much irony to pass up!

  39. Matt Zagaja

    I always do a round of editing on a written piece on a different day and at the different time. It is easy to be blind to our own mistakes.

    1. SubstrateUndertow

      I’ll post my response tomorrow :-)Just kidding !

  40. Reuben

    Bad writing may be responsible for more wasted time in corporate America than anything else. People dash off emails, documents, and presentations, thinking that the purpose of the activity is to “finish” the document. Then other people have to wade through it, then have a meeting to talk through what could have been clear if someone had just taken the time to write properly in the first place. Now, in an effort to save time, you’ve wasted 10 other peoples’ time. Plus, a lot of organizations make poor decisions because the people who were supposed to prepare a report don’t know how to think clearly about the issue. Instead of taking the time to really consider what they should write, they grab a PowerPoint template and no ones ends up with a good understanding.I work with sales proposals– documents you’d think people would really want to be good, right? Most of them are terribly written, and work against the objective of closing the sale. Again, it’s an issue of sales people not truly understanding the goal (“win the business and make the customer successful”, not “get this thing out before 5pm today”).Great post.

  41. Mike Chan

    I’m the same way, as I probably read articles that I write and documents I create at least 5 times to make sure there are no errors. But I have found that this attention to detail has been detrimental to my blogging frequency, as I just sit on many posts, hoping to improve them.

  42. Drew Meyers

    “I am not sure why that is, but often times the best edits come to me after the post is live.”Yup, me too.

    1. fredwilson

      So its a thing. I sort of knew that but now I’m sure of it

  43. hypermark

    It’s funny that you experience an editing ‘lift’ AFTER have posted on the blog. I have found the same thing. At first, it felt like an unnatural act — cheating, but it’s almost like opening a bottle of wine, and giving it a chance to breathe. Unexpected complexities and depth come out that were harder to see before pushing LIVE.

    1. fredwilson


  44. andrewparker

    I love the way that the cap table you taught me to do foots across and down. As long as you don’t screw up the template too badly, the cap table essentially checks itself to ensure there’s no bugs. It’s saved me a few times over.

    1. fredwilson

      YuppppppppppI took the format from Milton Pappas but added the cross checking feature myself

  45. aseoconnor

    I’m fairly early on in my career, and this is a lesson I learned quickly in the workplace. While I could get by at Uni with unpolished work (and still get A’s), the same does not hold true at the office.Thanks, Fred.

  46. amyjokim

    Great piece Fred – I live by this principle. Early in my career, I did a project with Peter Douglas and had to bow out early to finish writing my first book – Community Building on the Web was disappointed, but gracious and supportive. He told me “I love your work, and I want to see you succeed. I have 1 piece of advice for you. Greatness lies not in the writing, but in the re-writing. Always rewrite.”Peter was right. I re-wrote every chapter – and the structure itself – 9 or 10 times. It was a supreme effort that took a lot out of me and my family.14 years later, that book is still used by people all over the world who find the basic principles timeless and valuable, and the writing easy to digest.Thanks Peter for teaching me this lesson – and thanks Fred for reminding us of the power of rewriting.

  47. Saul_Lieberman

    Over 6,500. Wow! (And thank you!)People who check their writing have two gifts: the belief that if they look at their work again, it can always be improved; and the ability to look at it afresh. (These ought to be teachable.) Of course, these gifts can be applied to any kind of work and the work doesn’t have to be your own. People who don’t (yet) have those gifts are annoyed to have anyone look at their work again and cannot make the effort to look at it afresh.

  48. Greg Cox

    My process is similar, in that I spew things out in a train of consciousness and then rewrite it heavily. My first draft isn’t as much a draft as it is raw materials that I might be able to fashion into a post. A lot gets discarded.I’ve always seen this as a coping strategy for not being able to plan a post in advance, top down, and then flesh it out level by level. I need to first dump all the info out of the right side of my brain, and then use the left side to organize it.On rare occasions the train of consciousness leads to a usable post in the first draft, and only needs minor edits. Those posts sometimes turn out to be the best ones.

  49. pointsnfigures

    Interesting. I blog a lot faster. If I am writing something for a newspaper, I generally do it three, four or five times. But, blogging to me is more stream of consciousness. Some are better than others, and it’s more random for me.It is probably better to do it your way.

  50. Pete Griffiths

    writing IS rewriting

  51. ShanaC

    I find with writing in particular – if you look too closely, you can’t catch mistakes, because you become blind to them.Someone gave me a piece of advice about that – switch the font πŸ™‚

  52. Trevor McKendrick

    Do you do this when writing emails?

  53. Alex Iskold

    What a great post, thank you!I always check my writing. Always. I’ve gotten less obsessive over the years. I don’t perfect it, but I do iterate it and work on every piece of writing, weather it is a tweet or a blog post.This is how would write code. I would be in the constant dialogue with with every variable name, every line, every method, every block of code, every class. I would constantly ask what can I do simpler, what can I remove.Coding and writing is the same as sculpting. You don’t create the final piece right away, you massage, tweak it, you evolve it. This is actually the same thing as iterative, agile approach to software.Things we create talk back to us as we create them, and we then change them and they respond back again and again, until we spiral down to what we think is the “perfect state”.

  54. harris497

    My children are all homeschooled. This is the technique my wife employs and it works for us. My kids write very well but all have to be forced to do this as they do not see the benefit, or at least do not appreciate the benefit of it in the moment. They love their good grades though…

  55. Kevin Crosby

    And a great guide for rewriting, with a step-by-step process, is Revising Prose, by Richard Lanham.

  56. Keenan

    I suspect this is why you’re so successful Fred. What you’re describing is going the extra mile and my gut is telling me that you bring this to all aspects of your life. There is a diminishing return on effort when you get to a certain level. The amount of extra work to make even the smallest of gains becomes astronomical as we become experts and get better and better. Those who can make that investment to improve their “game” almost always come out on top.It’s a great lesson and a good reminded for me Fred. Convincing myself to be maniacal in going the extra mile is a constant battle, I fear Iose more often than I like to admit.Great post, simple yet impacting.

  57. Oplerno

    There are some great authors who say they learned how to write by copying great literature word-for-word. Besides from implanting great literature in your brain, you are also learning the nuance of words in context, and improving your vocabulary.

  58. Emily Merkle

    Gift that you invest so much care in the conveyance of your knowledge and thoughts to a community + that looks to you for guidance. Awesome.

  59. Conrad Ross Schulman

    where the CEO of with a post on how to use his marketplace for teachers/students to help less educated students to revise their writing online. Simply upload your doc and get reviews instantly! Fred?

  60. Semil Shah

    Interesting, I would’ve assumed the opposite. I had a vision of you writing quickly and just letting it go. (For me, many assume I pore over my writing — but I just write, do a quick check for tone, and then hit publish. All quick.)

    1. David Bercutt

      Between 1990 and 2008 I wrote business plans for three CREATIVE startups and raised angel capital for all three. What was so remarkable was that they were far outside the boundaries of what A/C and V/C usually go for, high tech, bio-tech, pharmeceuticals, and computer innovations. One of them was to promote a most beautiful in the world new technology for decorating ceramics with all -ceramic photoimagery without anything on the tiles except ceramic ink. The second was a Psychic Company *I am very real”, Online Psychic Readings Only, the first online only psychic service in the history of the internet. I went after some months to number one on the first page of the then prevalent Yahoo search engine, two years before Google even started. I did my own readings every day for four and a third years without a single day off, and never had an unhappy customer or a credit chargeback, with customers in 40 countries.After five years of constant attention paid to OPRO, in 2006 I conceived of a social networking site centered around Mexico and Mexicans, Chicanos, and everyone everywhere who had a thing for Mexico. My webmaster and I worked on the site for two years, it was truly great looking with so many places to go and 68 people made private spaces on it the first day it went online, with a warm up publicity period on MYSPACE.Then, one morning very little time later, we awoke to find our computers and servers had been attacked and the site was gone. After finding out that about a third of Mexico’s 120,000,000 were online, and counting in all the Mexicans or people of Mexican descent living in the United States, and then more recently, when Asia including China, Taiwan and Japan went Mexico-Crazy and Mexican food became the haunte cuisine of China, I would have by now reached I figure one tenth the size of Facebook, and that would have been fine. But underestimating the evil out there in hacker land, I lost my chance at a billion dollar site.At any rate, all of them were a success in their own ways, with the online psychic company having a full five years to mature into a constant money maker for the corporation. So I feel somewhat unique, having raised maybe $750,000 for CREATIVE ventures.Now, after a long period of about twenty one years of providing metaphysical services to individuals and companies including metaphysical cleansings of homes and people, a new online psychic readings site, a metaphysical healing platform and a heavy “Ghost-Busting” site dedicated to making homes sell that were being held back by bad energy or hauntings, I am ready to promote all the services. All of which I have done professionally for years, into one site called which will be ready soon. just went up, as did, with two or three more to come. Selling them together under one umbrella concept seems to me the way to go. Now it’s time to raise some meaningful capital again and just keep marching on in the tough life known as entrepreneurship.I am confident that as times get harder for most people, more and more will need my very genuine services, and if I can build them into networks of like practitioners I will succeed with this number four. I don’t feel I have ever failed, but circumstance has done the job at least once, and I must guard with all my might against it ever happening again, as it was a very economically tragic event, when I lost the Mexico Social Networking Site. I would have been very rich if all had gone right.So my advice is, if you have a really good creative idea, and it is NOT high tech, don’t allow that to stop you from going after financing. If your idea has enough future and is juicy enough, you will, after a struggle, find financiers. It does not have to be a new drug to attract financing, or a new computer technology. If you are the creative sort, create, and maybe you will become like me, who had three out of three companies funded, when only one percent of business plans ever see a dime. Don’t let anybody tell you that creative won’t fly – and be yourself. You can still raise capital.

  61. paramendra

    I write, publish, and then read through once for typos on the live post. πŸ™‚

  62. Mark

    One of the great benefits I got out of law school page limits was learning to cram a lot of content into a little space without losing a thing. Take whatever you’ve written and cut it in half. It’s possible and will come out better. I still do this for important emails and memos. I try to do it for blog posts. If only it worked for contracts.

  63. michael brown

    quality is winning in long run anyways.Michael Brown

  64. fredwilson


  65. ShanaC

    i don’t see the typo..wait now I do

  66. Teren Botham

    Spelling and grammar “is” correct, is correct. Spelling and grammar is one word in this context here

  67. bfeld

    Even juicier that the grammar is the error!

  68. Morgan Warstler

    This is my preferred form – community editing.