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The Art Of Writing 1,000 Words

On the heels of yesterday’s post about John Fowles’ writing process, I thought I’d continue the discussion one more day. This time, in my world–nonfiction.

Sure, this is a blog about fictional books, and I’ve posted about writing advice from George Orwell and Jonathan Franzen in the past. But what about us nonfiction writers? Can’t we get any love?

So today I thought I’d take a look at a nonfiction writer. Scott Berkun is an author and speaker who also works for our friends at WordPress. Scott recently posted a real-time video (sped up) of him writing a 1,000 word article about…how to write a 1,000 word article. Brilliant!

He gives practical commentary on how he approaches his articles, from start to finish, during this 5 minute video of a presentation he did at Ignite Seattle.

Of course, all of our minds work in different ways. But I noticed a few similarities between myself and Scott.  One, I tend to save sentences that I really like, but seem out of place, and try and fit them in other paragraphs if possible.

So if you’re a writer, I think you’ll enjoy this video. Check it out. And, after, let me know: How would you approach writing a 1,000 word article? Have your ever written one? Promote yourself!

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. colleen aldous #

    This was really interesting and very appropriate for me today. As an academic I get to read and edit students’ material on a daily basis. This morning it took me about 15 minutes to edit the title of a protocol to get it to correctly get the message across. Writing is not as easy as 1,2,3 … the thinking and pondering can at times be very straining! But, unless one is in front of the screen with eyes on it and fingers either drumming the table while one is in thought or tapping away at the keys…nothing happens!


    August 3, 2011
    • Exactly. Most of the first words I write are crap, but it’s the process of sitting down and actually writing, writing, writing, that eventually produces the good stuff (hopefully).


      August 3, 2011
  2. In addition to my fiction work, I write occasional op-ed (opinion) pieces for local newspapers. Some papers have a 750 word limit, some 500. Condensing a position on a complex topic down to something that short, without falling back on cliches and sound-bites, is a huge challenge, especially if you’re trying to say something new or different. I noticed in Scott’s video he was doing a lot of cutting and pasting. I do that, too. I write down everything I want to say, without worrying about the length, then get out the scalpel (or the chainsaw) and the needle and thread and start cutting and rearranging. I may outline the piece once the first draft is done. That lets me see the points and sub-points, rearrange them in a more logical order, focus on what MUST be said, and guide the revision. This is no time to fall in love with beautiful sentences: if they don’t contribute, they get cut. It’s tough, sometimes, but great practice for my fiction work.


    August 3, 2011
    • That’s one of the most difficult parts of writing–editing your own work. Got so much to say and so little room to say it. And that’s what makes the great writers so good…they can say so much in so few words.


      August 3, 2011
  3. I was pleased to see that Scott makes the point about reading through your work when you get stuck. I always do that, so I feel just a tiny bit more capable knowing that he does it too.
    In fact, I edit as I go, A LOT. That way I have less to cut at the end. I reread and reread until I am satisfied that section is okay (at the very least). At that point I can usually remember something I left out, or as he says, I realize that something up there would fit better down here at the bottom.
    I like to take a break when I think I am done and come back to it later, when I am not so full of myself and bogged down in what I have been writing. Generally I see my work more clearly at that point.
    My advanced English literature teacher in high school once sent us home with an assignment to write on some broad topic, you know, like “Why is Hamlet so tortured?” then asked for it the next day in 600 words, and said she would mark it out of 100. Everyone was going nuts! Then I realized that was one mark for every six words, and it was virtually impossible. I called a few people to tell them, they passed it on, and we all slept better that night.
    Of course she was just trying to teach us to be concise. Cute.


    August 5, 2011
  4. I enjoyed watching that video! Thanks for sharing it.


    August 7, 2011
  5. That was very interesting. I liked the part that he said he has a notebook or something to write with when ideas hit him. I always have paper but not a book where I can write ideas that hit me. I am thinking of investing in an ipad but my cons on it is if the battery dies out or my documents get erased. Does anyone out there think an ipad is a good tool for writers?


    August 9, 2011

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