kitchen table math, the sequel: more from Joanne Jacobs

Sunday, July 15, 2007

more from Joanne Jacobs

joanne jacobs, part 1

I don't know much about how they teach in Britain. Just what I read in Harry Potter. I thought up the write-and-cut method when I was a copy editor. I noticed how often I could cut an editorial or column significantly without losing any content.

When I talk to students, I urge them to pretend that they have to buy every word they use for $1 a word but get $10 back every time they say something interesting or important. Then I tell them to cost out their writing. Do they really need all those words to make the point?

Also, I tell them to read aloud what they've written, listening for clunkiness. Most people improve their writing when they tap into their speaking voice, which is more fluid.

Ed and I have both had the experience, many times over, of being forced to cut a piece of writing beyond what seems possible.

Extremely difficult to do (see: Woodrow Wilson), but invariably a good idea. Every time this happens, we're surprised all over again.

People say writing is rewriting.

What writing really is, is cutting.

expert advice on teaching writing from Joanne Jacobs
more from Joanne Jacobs
doctor pion on writing a precis and critical reading
home writing program in place, for now


Doctor Pion said...

On this excellent suggestion and the reference to copy editing in "eureka": I remember spending a significant amount of time writing a precis (correct spelling, should be an accent over the e). A typical assignment was to cut the length of an article by a factor of 10 without removing the key ideas.

Of course, that means your first task is to identify those key ideas, which helps with critical reading as well as with writing.

Catherine Johnson said...



and thank you: VERY CONCISELY PUT

"Real" writers do this all the time, or are required to. It's extraordinarily difficult, and I see it as a kind of "pinnacle" skill...

Catherine Johnson said...

My friend K, whose husband is an attorney, says attorneys are required to write an abstract of every brief they submit to court. (I don't know whether it's called an "abstract," as it is in science, but it's the same idea.)

That is THE single most difficult part of the task of writing a brief. I think he may have said that he sees abstract-writing as the ultimate judge of whether you know what you're doing.