In sitting down to write this, my goal is to write exactly one thousand words.

In sitting down to write this, my goal is to write exactly one thousand words.

I exhort you to sit down and write long about something you are interested in rather than always confining your writing to the 140 character space that dominates contemporary social networks. Keep at it until you have reached some sizable target word count, and then trim it to size. It's ok to repeat yourself along the way.

I weary of scanning the net looking for the next space to insert a little bit of pithy commentary. Write long to find some free space to wander around in and write on and then edit before it is launched out into the world. If there are pithy bits buried inside, so much the better – but the goal is not to string together a sequence of quips and quotes but instead to explore a possibility space and bump up against some creative edges.

Writing long is a contemplative activity. Sort through the main theme and find other related ideas to explore. A short paragraph invites adding an extra sentence in the middle to clarify, expound, or to share some added insight. Allow space to type in to allow for some wandering through the world of ideas without necessarily having to come to the point right away.

It's the wandering in your own thought-space that is appealing, even if you decide for the sake of the reader that you need to eventually trim a paragraph that doesn't fit. Write that extra paragraph in order to get to the good paragraph that awaits after it's been written. Write some extra words so that your inner editor has something to improve at the end of the effort. Adding in more words lets you explore a variety of turns of a phrase, and the slow process of selecting from multiple alternatives may suggest additional lines of reasoning.  Surplus words are there for a purpose, even though their purpose may only be to be removed.

The careful slow process of editing works better when there's a lot to start from. It's not enough to have the right words; they have to be in the right order. Collecting lots of words give you a chance to sift through them with a clear eye after the original collection is made, and pull out the better ones and leave some others for a later time. In the process of doing this, you might end up rewriting the same phrase multiple times. Keep trying until the suitable phrase emerges, and then collect up the debris that remains around it to see if there's one more thing you wanted to say.

Editing is a process of adding or deleting words to meet a set of constraints. If you have too many words in a sentence, too many sentences in a paragraph, or too many paragraphs on the page, the constraint leads you to omit needless words. If the page is empty and you have a goal to fill it up, the need is to expand, augment, and add to the words on the page – even if you have some eventual hope of hitting a word limit which will motivate you to trim back the extra verbiage. Once you have hit your word count, there's a balance point where every extra word demands that another word be removed.

I've been ruminating over the phrase "adjacent possible", which stems from Stuart Kauffman who useds it to think about the world of evolutionary biology. The world builds on what it has, and the more aware we are of all of the possibilities in our world the more adjacent opportunities can present themselves. From the perspective of writing, the adjacent possible word is every word that could be added or subtracted from a partially finished work to make it better. 

This lends itself to thinking about writing via the adjacent possible. Get some words out on the page, and then use that as your raw materials to remix, rework, or rearrange until you have something better than the original. In your first draft, don't obsess about getting every sentence perfect. Use the initial writing effort as a chance to explorate some phrases and to try out a few unfamiliar terms of art. Write some extra words, so that you can delete them later. 

If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times: repetition is the very soul of the net. If you have a good idea, why say it only once? Repeat it over and over again in different guises until your reader is thoroughly struck through with the notion. Say it, change a word, and say it once again. Delete words to make room for others that are better.

The slow process of accumulating words takes time. If you are fortunate, you start out with a set of ideas that allows for exploration of a variety of perspectives and alternatives, and a structure that gives you some guidance for what comes first and what happens next. Even a mechanical exploration of that possibility space can generate the necessary length of a first draft that works to reach the distance, with a few extra words to spare that can be trimmed later. Keep writing until you discover what it is that you should have been focusing on from the first, so that you can go back later and carve out the good parts for more prominent display.

At some point, the page is full, and it's time to bring the exploration to an end. You have more than your fair allotment of words, and it's time to cut, not add. The extra words that you drop out are scaffolding, the extra space that you built in order to find the permanent space that you really wanted. Even if the total is over what you had originally planned to write, count on the process of addition by subtraction and carve out the good words from the big pile that you have built.


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