Whenever I write something longer, I share a draft (or six) with a few trusted people.
Good feedback is hard to find. And even your best people, who truly want to help you out, could use a focus point or two.
Enter master essayist Paul Graham.
When Graham shares drafts with friends, he asks them to highlight these primary parts for him:
- Which parts are unconvincing
- Which parts are boring
If a part is unconvincing, meaning they just aren’t buying it, or aren’t understanding it, or just getting lost in the ramble, he wants to know. Not to argue it more cleverly, to talk it out and clarify his own thinking.
Convincing in Graham’s sense rhymes with the Richard Feynman idea of “If you want to master something, teach it.” If part of the essay isn’t convincing, he hasn’t mastered it yet. Talking can help work it out to make it teachable. Once it’s teachable, it’s convincing.
If a part is boring, most times it can just be cut. That simple.
I’ll add though – if you really feel like a boring bit has, at its core, a relevant point or a salvageable story, then take the time to figure out why it’s boring. I see/read/hear good stories told poorly all of the time. Sometimes you just need to up the stakes for your audience.*
Clear is kind. Be extra kind to people who are willing to read drafts. Graham’s “What parts are unconvincing and what parts are boring” is a heck of a lot better than “Tell me what you think, I’d love your honest feedback!”
h/t “The Age of the Essay“