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Nobody wants to read your shit (2009) (stevenpressfield.com)
276 points by todsac 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 84 comments

I have come to loathe narrative-form journalism, and I think this is why.

Headline: Elon Musk will push people through tubes at 300mph.

Me: Whoa cool, what sort of tech is he going to use to pull that off?

Article body: I sit pensively outside of a rustic cafe with my laptop. The early morning dew is still steaming off of the cobblestones.

Me: close tab

Narrative-form journalism is ruining the internet.

Me: "This chicken breast I cooked is too dry."

Google Search: how to cook chicken breast

Article Title: 3 Ways To Cook Your Chicken So It's Not So Dry - Inspired by This New York Chef

Article Content: (4 paragraphs telling the story of how they author couldn't cook chicken well, which culminates with an embedded YouTube video of a 10-minute long video produced by an entirely different cooking website with even more extra content in it)

Hmm. The internet created much of it.

Search engines don't like simple straight answers - the page, and site must have "enough" text. Adsense pages have a minimum length, while writers have stretched and stretched to make the weakest pages long enough, with synonyms, ideally with intro, ad, distraction, filler, discussion of last week's recipe, the pan set with affiliate link, and a load or two before you see the key point and leave. If they can squeeze in another 40 words they're allowed another ad block.

Trouble is, there seems little sign that the escalation out of control is peaking... Even though adsense is not quite the blight it once was.

> Search engines don't like simple straight answers

I would say they clearly do - but the people providing the answers don't.

Compare the recent move of Google to provide answers with 0 clicks to the source ("How old is Paul Rudd?", "potato cooking time" both provide answers in the topmost result box for me).

That's google on their own site providing an example of do as I say not as I do. :)

They've always discouraged and penalised sites that do that themselves. The search guidelines always talked up what was needed on a page quantity wise, and discouraged brevity. Adsense brought additional, and longer restrictions, and then assorted SEO recommendations and some snake oil to talk around the subject, include synonyms etc.

All that drove a certain style of writing content for the web that has escalated into a very particular - and easily recognisable - style of waffle. That's almost never what's needed for accuracy, readability or quick answers. Long form journalism for the web is a bastard child of traditional long form journalism and SEO inspired waffle, and probably the most annoying of the lot.

This is a real issue with search engines these days.

There used to be a time when it was easy to search for a topic, and land on some expert blog explaining the whole thing.

Nowadays, search engines present results from big players, where a journalist, that never came close to the real thing, made up a search engine optimized list of crap.

Hot tip - include "joy of cooking" in the search query and the first result will be the right one.

I cannot express how much gratitude I feel for you.

This sounds like StackExchange's raison d'etre.

I now read articles by skipping paragraphs 1 & 2, skimming 3, 4 & 5 for the scraps of necessary intro, reading 6 & 7 for the actual (hopefully) new information, and maybe skim the rest for the odd nugget that fell through. I can sorta see the value of the fluff when looking at an article in a vacuum, but it is plain annoying when so many articles are written this way.

Journalists seem to think they're practicing literature. I don't know where they got that idea.

The New Yorker perhaps? Generally they have a reputation of taking pretention to an artform and judging by their age that may have been influenced by per word payment scales.

It's gonzo journalism [1] which was awesome in its time... 40+ years ago. I agree that it doesn't work most of the time within the context of reading sh*t on the web. However, using some kind of pocket/readlater app w/ wifi turned off on a lazy Saturday morning, it has its merits.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gonzo_journalism

Weeeell. Gonzo journalism was introduced by a guy who claims to have taken epinephrine produced by someone's adrenal glands, just to get high. Sitting on a cafe with your laptop and admiring the morning dew is not quite on the same league of having an interesting experience to write about.

In photography it is practically a steadfast rule that to take interesting photos you need to be in interesting places. Written journalism seems to have the same restriction.

My test: if it's a story being told, it's appropriate. Otherwise, cut to the point.

I really enjoyed this piece, which was long and written as a story: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19446237

Haha so true. My mind auto shuts down with an alert alert sound track.

This is an overprescribed and oversold lesson that might be more harmful than good. On the one hand, he is trying to teach people the importance of empathy and perspective taking for any creative individual. But on the other, if you believe that no one cares about X, then you are less likely to begin creating X. You are also less likely to get emotionally involved in the first place which might do more harm.

The opposite message might be a better one. There are always advocates for your products, writing, etc. who want you to succeed. Your goal is to find these advocates and work with them to create something that they love so much that they tell others and help you to increase the number of advocates. If you can build a little cult around your work and then expand it, then maybe there will be people willing to read your shit after all.

Like all lessons, it depends on the student. Personally, the author's way of thinking has been immensely helpful. I grew up an optimist, not able to understand why others couldn't see things the way that I did. After a few failed product/content launches and a few years of grinding later my self-bullshit meter is way more sensitive. This has led to me producing better products, features, and generally more success in my work life. Like the author, I assume no one wants to use my stuff at the outset, and this forces me to fight to overcome this.

But again, it's probably more a function of who this advice is given to. I've seen plenty of people get discouraged after making this realization. The key is to be aware that no one cares and then do it anyways.

As an optimist, you could realize that nobody wanting to read your stuff isn't because you suck, it's just because everybody's too busy to give a shit, and not about you personally. (It doesn't rule out you sucking, but nobody wanting to read your stuff isn't a reason to get discouraged.)

Right, this is how I think about it. For the most part, when people ignore you or are apathetic to what you’re doing, it’s not because they have any negative feeings toward you or your creation, but because they are busy and self-absorbed (like all of us), and are likely bombarded by ads and pitches from all angles. Plus everyone is already using 20 saas tools and has 100 books on their reading list and replies to 50 emails per day and so on. Our attention is extremely over-saturated.

Being is this state creates a strong bias against even considering adding another new thing to the pile, so the bar is just very high to get a typical person to care. That’s why it’s better to not seek out typical people in the beginning, but early adopter types who actually like trying all the new things.

Passing judgments ('no one care') on others, has it's own costs down the line. You make it harder for yourself to respect or trust people if it is your starting point.

You can rephrase your approach to - searching for people who meet my needs, while I am able to meet theirs. No judgements required.

I don't think people who create things are generally dissuaded by this advice or they probably wouldn't be creating in the first place. You kind of have to be an engine of positivity to self-motivate in the first place, which is why falling in love with your own bullshit is a common trap.

And the point isn't that what you made is shit, it's that hearing/reading about it is shit. I don't think that's a negative mentality if you frame it right: how do you get them to see your creation is valuable to them in the fewest words/least effort? So much good comes from that mindset, including finding your product's key selling point and competitive advantage.

> I don't think people who create things are generally dissuaded by this advice or they probably wouldn't be creating in the first place. You kind of have to be an engine of positivity to self-motivate in the first place, which is why falling in love with your own bullshit is a common trap.

Hmm, I've anecdotally known some people, myself included, who have gone through dramatic ups and downs of in terms of creative output which correlated with swings in mood/depression. Sometimes creative output is even negative; I've burned more poetry than I've saved. I can imagine people's creative output being negatively affected by well-meaning advice.

Edit: s/input/output

I think the target audience of this quote is aimed at marketing folks tasked with selling people on specific, already manufactured products / existing services. While this work can be creative, I don't think it has the same kind of impetus as something someone might create because they want to create it.

Here's the context of the quote.

> Here’s the #1 lesson you learn working in advertising (and this has stuck with me, to my advantage, my whole working life):

> Nobody wants to read your shit.

> Let me repeat that. Nobody–not even your dog or your mother–has the slightest interest in your commercial for Rice Krispies or Delco batteries or Preparation H. Nor does anybody care about your one-act play, your Facebook page or your new sesame chicken joint at Canal and Tchopotoulis.

> On the one hand, he is trying to teach people the importance of empathy and perspective taking for any creative individual.

This is the bridge that connects the two: person who doesn't care to read a message - person who wants people to care about a message. That bridge needs to be built for each message. Furthermore, sometimes the message-sender doesn't have the choice to opt not to create X (i.e. it's their job to). So you're safer assuming no one wants to read your shit.

Case in point. My husband is applying for jobs right now. He's not getting any responses other than generic GFY form letters. I looked at his resume and said it was poorly formatted. I would click decline/next if I reviewed it. I know this because I'm a hiring manager who just went through 250 resumes for a position I need to fill.

I'm trying to teach him to have empathy for the reader: recruiters/HMs have hundreds of candidates to review and they're strapped for time. Make it easy for them to click "yes" by using the fewest words and best formatting to say "I have the experience to do this job, and I will do it well."

To your second point: he could find advocates by networking and going to job fairs to meet recruiters in person. You generally have more than 10 seconds to impress in that situation. But that's a second facet to messaging strategy that's independent of the "no one wants to read your shit" aspect. Doing both is necessary to have your message heard.

I dunno. For example, common advice for software engineers is that they should blog. As a result I've come across a lot of blogs that totally lack engaging content. Presumably the authors followed this advice but forgot to actually try to make their writing interesting, useful and fun - that's what the motivational articles don't tell you, presumably to avoid discouraging you from publishing your stuff if you find it not worthy. Is the world a better place as a result?

Besides, if you go into this world expecting that there will always be someone who wants you to succeed (besides your mom), you are in for some harsh disappointment. But with the opposite mindset each additional reader/user is an unexpected delight.

If you’re not selling a thing, and your artistic/creative work is mostly as a hobby, I don’t see the problem with being self indulgent.

People might not care, but so what? It’s more compelling long-term to work on something you truly love than trying to figure out what people may like. It feels even better when someone ultimately ends up liking your uncompromised personal vision anyway.

> But on the other, if you believe that no one cares about X, then you are less likely to begin creating X. You are also less likely to get emotionally involved in the first place which might do more harm.

"Nobody cares about X" is not the message. The message is, to paraphrase, nobody wants to spent time reading all the shit you have to say about X that isn't important to them. So if your ad (or blog post, whatever) doesn't cut out all the non-essential crap, they will move on.

> if you believe that no one cares about X, then you are less likely to begin creating X

A great read on that point: http://www.paulgraham.com/cities.html

> In a hundred subtle ways, the city sends you a message

Keep this in mind, especially if you live in a place where nothing good ever happens. Good post!

>But on the other, if you believe that no one cares about X, then you are less likely to begin creating X.

That's an added benefit. We have too much X already.

If someone is so easily dissuaded, then them backing out and reducing total X is for the better. Let's just those who absolutely can't do without creating X, create X.

I didn't see any mention of the customer, as in of the end-user variety.

The client is the customer but the client's customers are the real customers that matter.

Sometimes you need to write your own s4it and then test it out. You might find that it is just a matter of not using their language. We classify products in numerous ways - or the client does - but the customer just thinks of widgets. They haven't a clue for what a 'contemporary widget' is or the difference between a 'vintage' and an 'antique' widget is. They just want a widget.

Whittling down your copy might be the wrong way to go, sometimes the copy is needed but the language needs to speak to the customer. If it is in their language then you stand half a chance.

There is also an aspect to this that concerns 'dumbing down'. As you mention there could be fans who want to know it all, you have to write for them too.

One thing is that on the web we are not restricted to physical space like how a newspaper is. So specifications can be tucked away or the story can be tucked away. If you are reading a recipe you might want to hide the list of ingredients or the method if the bit people want to know about is the eating.

Too often a visual design process for the web strips content out rather than think through how to tuck information away in such a way that it is engaging content.

At least in my experience, it's been helpful to assume the absolute worst when you try to make something. If you assume they'll hate it and hate you, it gives an incentive to get so good that only insane people will try to hurt you if you show them something you've made.

"Client’s Disease" is an interesting thing. I think 9 times out of 10 I work with a client on their website or landing page there's either far, far too much copy (and nobody really wants to read it all) or the copy is written with the assumption that everyone already "gets" it.

It's always interesting asking them to take a step back, or to get someone else that's never seen the product in the room and asking "look at this website - what does this company do?" It's _really_ easy to assume that everyone else understands your product just because you look at it every day and it's clear to you.

As someone who writes copy for a living, I can tell you one reason that happens. The client may insist on a word count or an agency links payment to word count. If the client insists that a page must have 500 words of copy and they’ll pay me X amount for those words, they’re going to get 500 words whether or not that’s the right choice.

This is the phenomenon where, for an unfamiliar-but-notable website X (and especially for startups), the Wikipedia page for X often does an incomparably better job than X of conveying what X is and what it's doing.

And even if they want to, they can't because it's down...

It's probably the infamous HN hug of death

Sweet, sweet irony

This is a good thing to remember for anybody who creates.

I would follow it up with something equally important: You don't have to write for any freaking body else besides yourself -- and many times life requires you do to exactly that.

When I started blogging, I did a lot of thrashing around. I still do. As a freelance writer with a bit of a similar background to this guy's, I was quite perplexed. Wasn't I sweating blood enough? Am I so scatter-brained? I used to write copy that sung.

What the hell is going on?

What was going on was that my brain was working through some complex problems. The only way it could do that was to dump it all out there, edit like hell, then see what the fuck I was trying to say.

Sometimes I was wrong. That sucked. For a long time, on many subjects I refused to take a stance one way or another. That also sucked -- for me.

Creatively writing, then editing your work like you hate everything you could possibly say? It has a beauty and magic of clarifying thought that nothing else I've seen in my life does. It's the most magical thing I've come across.

So yes. If you know what you want to say and you're just looking for a good transaction, buckle the hell down and write like a copywriter. But be aware that you're missing all of the good stuff. If you're only putting out what was already in your head without the re-organization, cross-pollinization, and sythesis part of intelligence, you're not being creative. You may sell a crap-load of stuff, but all you're doing is re-organizing somebody else's ideas into stuff people want to consume.

Editing in general is one of those things that I hope and wish and pray and hope that I don't have to do...I mean, everyone else is able to get it right the first time!

Nope, just our perception of the world. Everyone is editing. Especially the stuff we really care about.

I don't believe in using algorithms to rate people online, but if I were forced to do so, I would judge them by the number of comments they deleted and/or edited. Oddly enough, this post was a bit of a drive-by for me. It's not a good habit to get into.


I used to have a mandatory three-edit rule. I am changing that to five -- at least for essays.

The world needs more editing, my friend. Everybody's got an opinion, nobody seems to be able to organize their thoughts.

Just recently saw an ad on the web that I actually clicked. Was pretty surprised, because it happens maybe once a year or so. The ad said: "New restaurant in [hometown]" (big text) with simple yet captivating graphics. It had a few additional points (smaller text) that I read after I got interested. Worked really well. The noiselessness of it felt pretty refreshing.

But how did you know you wanted to click it without a random picture, usually containing an attractive person, that's completely unrelated to the topic of the ad?

This author specialises in historical fiction. I remember reading a book of his (Gates of Fire) maybe 15 years ago and in my opinion he sticks to his prescribed advice well. That book had a great tempo, great characters, great story. It respected my time as a reader.

The flip side is that it's not the kind of book that would win awards.

_The Legend of Bagger Vance_ is probably his best known book (and the book is a lot better than the movie).

_Gates of Fire_ is very good.

The insight that communication is inherently transactional explains a lot about advertising/media. Maybe others find it obvious. But it took me a long time to figure out explicitly and work out the ramifications.

A great book on this idea is "Human Behavior and the Principle of Least Effort" by George Kingsley Zipf.

"The entire behavior of an individual is at all times motivated by the urge to minimize effort" -Zipf

The great Drayton Bird would broadly disagree. People who care about your shit do want to read your shit; as a rule, they matter much more than people who don't care about your shit.

As I'm typing this, Apple are an hour and forty minutes into their "special event". Thousands of viewers from around the world are watching a movie-length sales presentation. Apple will at some point promote the same products through 30-second commercials, but those long presentations play a vital role in building the culture that surrounds Apple.

If you're selling dish soap, then sure, nobody really cares and nobody is going to read your shit. If you're selling a video game or an industrial machine or a piece of fine furniture, a substantial proportion of the people who might actually buy your shit will enthusiastically read your shit.

That doesn't give you license to be sloppy or lazy or needlessly verbose, but it does give you the freedom to use as many words as you need to communicate the merits of your product.

I understand the author is trying to teach the importance of putting yourself in the reader's mind, and he's packaging that message in a kind of tough love.

He's not wrong, but if you take his article at face value you'll miss something very important.

Over the past few decades, I've had several hundred articles published in print, blogged extensively, and run a reasonably popular podcast.

By far my most successful content has been when I have opened up and shared honestly about my experiences and explained in detail how certain events and decisions affected my life.

People are happy to read your shit if you are sharing something honest. Honest, personal communication is so rare these days, people will actively seek it out. What causes readers to tune out is authors who try to fake this kind of sincerity, or who try to engage the reader emotionally while they themselves hide behind the fiction of being an objective observer.

> When you, the student writer, understand that nobody wants to read your shit, you develop empathy.

That's a bold claim. I'd argue part of the reason that no one likes advertising is that the writers, by and large, don't have empathy with my feelings, they are trying to force the issue.

Clickbait headlines, for example, attract me...and if the article behind it does not fulfill the headline (which it so often does not), I'm ticked off. I don't feel empathized with, I feel used, cheated, thwarted. I can easily rattle off other, similar examples, but the end result is the same: Empathy would be great, but empathy is not necessarily what the "student writer" learns. And if your writing is trying to get around my feelings rather than fulfilling them, you are left with an unhappy user.

I think people assume empathy is a positive thing. It's less of a benevolent feeling towards someone else and more of a skill, of how you learn someone else's perspective and internalize it to imagine how they feel. You can use that to positive effect to understand how to collaborate or help them work through pain.

But you can also use that to negative effect, as click-bait authors, con-artists and interrogators demonstrate.

Then that's a failure of the clickbait author to apply the principle beyond the headline. Certainly there's an epidemic of that, but it doesn't mean the advice is unsound.

I didn't comment on the advice, I commented on the conclusion the author made that learning that people are uninterested in your material leads to empathy.

It'd be great if it did, but that's hardly a given.

The author was extrapolating their own experience which did lead to empathy, conjecturing that anybody else going through the same process will have the same insight. I think the implication is that to be a success at advertising the empathy is a necessary skill, and you will either pick it up or wash out.

Certainly there are other paths to writing that would not lead to the same insight.

Here is a summary/review about it: https://muratbuffalo.blogspot.com/2016/06/nobody-wants-to-re...

Here is a summary/review for his earlier book: War of Art. http://muratbuffalo.blogspot.com/2016/04/book-review-war-of-...

Finally, Draft No.4 was a really good read. http://muratbuffalo.blogspot.com/2019/03/book-review-draft-n...

The author says that the right way to proceed is to provide the user value. The problem is something the author implies earlier, that lying works. You don't have to provide value to consumers to have a successful financial relationship with them. You do need to transact some wholesome value if you want to have a mutualistic relationship with people, but in the context this essay operates, it's not required to be a marketing success.

You don't have to exercise empathy in any warm way. The marketer can successfully model people as data points that respond to stimuli. That's a kind of empathy too, a kind of perspective work, it's just not what people want when they say empathy.

Ironic, because nobody can read his shit due to Wordpress crapping out.

Use a static site for static content!

The correct answer here is actually to use a standard caching plugin like WP SuperCache (https://en-ca.wordpress.org/plugins/wp-super-cache/), which will effectively cause your CMS site to behave like a static site and handle high traffic without problems.

> Use a static site for static content!

Far easier said than done.

Is there a "user-servicable" static site generator? I'm not aware of one, if it exists.

Wordpress may be a pile of junk but as a CMS you can hand it off to almost anyone and they'll be able to use it.

I used to use blosxom for this purpose. Just write the markdown for an entry and run a script to output the updated static site... Maybe not "use serviceable" enough for you, though.


> Is there a "user-servicable" static site generator? I'm not aware of one, if it exists.

Yes, there is: https://getpublii.com/

Put Comet Cache and Cloudflare in front of it. Comet Cache generates generates static files from wordpress, and Cloudflares "keep my site up if it goes down" keeps copies of the static files.

The problem with that kind of solution is that a lot of stuff stops working. For example, a static site generator can still support stuff like search functionality by generating the required files, but a wordpress plugin is going to be unaware that a static site is being generated.

In my experience, Comet Cache is pretty smart about not breaking dynamic plugins. And Cloudflare gives you a lot of power over what should and shouldnt be cached through settings and explicit page rules.

It doesn't have to be a static site, it just needs to be served by a piece of software that isn't a horrible mess. I am puzzled by these sites that break down under load: with today's CPUs it is rather difficult to have problems serving content, unless you're doing something exceedingly silly.

Since his site is down right now:

My first real job was in advertising. I worked as a copywriter for an agency called Benton & Bowles in New York City. An artist or entrepreneur’s first job inevitably bends the twig. It shapes who you’ll become. If your freshman outing is in journalism, your brain gets tattooed (in a good way) with who-what-where-when-why, fact-check-everything, never-bury-the-lead. If you start out as a photographer’s assistant, you learn other stuff. If you plunge into business on your own, the education is about self-discipline, self-motivation, self-validation.

Advertising teaches its own lessons. For starters, everyone hates advertising. Advertising lies. Advertising misleads. It’s evil, phony, it’s trying to sell us crap we don’t need. I can’t argue with any of that, except to observe that for a rookie wordsmith, such obstacles can be a supreme positive. Why? Because you have to sweat blood to overcome them–and in that grueling process, you learn your craft.

Here it is. Here’s the #1 lesson you learn working in advertising (and this has stuck with me, to my advantage, my whole working life):

Nobody wants to read your shit.

Let me repeat that. Nobody–not even your dog or your mother–has the slightest interest in your commercial for Rice Krispies or Delco batteries or Preparation H. Nor does anybody care about your one-act play, your Facebook page or your new sesame chicken joint at Canal and Tchopotoulis.

It isn’t that people are mean or cruel. They’re just busy.

Nobody wants to read your shit.

There’s a phenomenon in advertising called Client’s Disease. Every client is in love with his own product. The mistake he makes is believing that, because he loves it, everyone else will too.

They won’t. The market doesn’t know what you’re selling and doesn’t care. Your potential customers are so busy dealing with the rest of their lives, they haven’t got a spare second to give to your product/work of art/business, no matter how worthy or how much you love it.

What’s your answer to that?

1) Reduce your message to its simplest, clearest, easiest-to-understand form.

2) Make it fun. Or sexy or interesting or informative.

3) Apply that to all forms of writing or art or commerce.

When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, your mind becomes powerfully concentrated. You begin to understand that writing/reading is, above all, a transaction. The reader donates his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities. In return, you the writer, must give him something worthy of his gift to you.

When you, the student writer, understand that nobody wants to read your shit, you develop empathy. You acquire that skill which is indispensable to all artists and entrepreneurs: the ability to switch back and forth in your imagination from your own point of view as writer/painter/seller to the point of view of your imagined reader/gallery-goer/customer. You learn to ask yourself with every sentence and every phrase: Is this interesting? Is this fun or challenging or inventive? Am I giving the reader enough? Is she bored? Is she following where I want to lead her?

When I began to write novels, this mindset proved indispensable. It steered me away from Client’s Disease. It warned me not to fall in love with my own shit just because it was my own shit. Don’t be lazy, Steve. Don’t assume. Look at every word through the eye of the busy, impatient, skeptical (but also generous and curious) reader. Give him something worthy of the time and attention he’s giving you.

The awareness that nobody wants to read/hear/see/buy what we’re writing/singing/filming/selling is the Plymouth Rock upon which all successful artists and entrepreneurs base their public communications. They know that, before all else, they must overcome this natural resistance in their audience. They must find a way to cut through the clutter. As a fledgling cub at B&B, I remember days, weeks, months when our various creative teams did nothing but beat our brains out trying to find some way to make the dull exciting and the unlovely beautiful–and to make the beautiful-but-overlooked gorgeous too.

How, you ask? You’ll know you’re on the right track when beads of blood begin to pop out on your forehead.

This is great advice for technical writing, including ads, sitcom script pitches and scientific papers, all of which are addressed to humans with a very limited attention span.

In literary writing however, the opposite is true: the person picking up a novel, or even a short story, wants to read your shit. That's why people read literature (as opposed to ads or technical manuals). Because they enjoy reading. And the more of it there is to enjoy, the more the enjoyment lasts. Like a good meal, good literature makes you want to eat more, More, MORE. And then have a nice glass of wine and a cigar as you sit in front of your fireplace on your bearskin rug. Ish.

I mean, have you ever heard anyone say "I'll just pour myself a nice Chianti and relax with a nice paper on variational autoencoders", or some such? Nah. People read technical writing because they have to, because they need the knowledge locked inside. Not because they _like_ it!

This is why technical papers are written so as to minimise the amount of attention one has to invest in the task of reading them. For instance- a good technical paper keeps summarising itself. The title is a one-line summary of the work done. The abstract is a slightly longer summary. The introduction is a still slightly longer summary, with a short outline of what you are about to read anyway at the end. The related work section is a short summary of previous work in the field. The framework section summarises your intuitions of several years' work, admittedly hiding any excitement you might have felt about figuring out something new behind a barrage of impenetrable shibboleths of your field. The implementation section is a short summary of about ten thousand (wo)man hours of hair pulling. The experiments section is centered on a visual summary of what was achieved (plots). And the conclusion section summarises the paper you just read, just in case you missed the point.

It's an awful, ugly, horrible way to write that sucks all the joy out of writing and reading. It's really a kind of straightjacket. And, to be perfectly honest, far from the article author's assertion that it somehow helps "hone your skill", I find that it only achieves what a straightjacket achieves: restrain you while you go mad.

I read most of the articles from the bottom up nowadays. Most of the writers don’t get straight to the point because they click bait too much and they know that they have to fill up their articles with as much bullshit as possible in order to compensate for the lack of relevant content. If the article is long enough you might fall for the trap of wanting to save it for later rather than dismiss it completely.

The sole mission is to bait you into that cost-per-click and cost-per-thousand-impressions profit generator, that’s it.

> You acquire that skill which is indispensable to all artists and entrepreneurs: the ability to switch back and forth in your imagination from your own point of view as writer/painter/seller to the point of view of your imagined reader/gallery-goer/customer.

That's pretty similar to the API design, where you have to switch rapidly from the point of view of implementer to the point of view of user and back again.

From the title, I hoped that this was somebody from academia ranting about the high volume of low quality that their (early stage) colleagues are publishing.

(2009) is missing in the title

Some advice about pitching TV scripts and designing Magic: the Gathering cards by Mark Rosewater, who's done both, for a living:


It depends on who you are and where you are. If you are in a small community where you know everybody and you write/release something related to that community, then probably you have a good amount of "clients" or readers there. That's my experience and it worked good so far, and I never did anything simple, short, fun or sexy.

Hold up. This guy's advice on making art is: "Reduce your message to its simplest, clearest, easiest-to-understand form"?

I guess this is a road map to making great art such as uhhh [checks notes] The Legend of Bagger Vance and Above the Law.

Snark aside, I really believe this is terrible advice for an artist. I'd argue that most worthwhile art does not have a message, and if it does, the work is not a "reduction of that message into the simplest clearest, easiest to understand form."

What enduring work of art fits this description? I think that most great artworks are great because they are complex; because their "message" is something elusive that unfolds over time with deeper engagement.

This entire tough-love-self-help attitude of "nobody wants to read your shit" also seems completely counterproductive. I much prefer the advice making your work to satisfy yourself, emotionally and intellectually without worrying too much about who wants it, and to find a community where you're interested in what they're doing - so they will probably be interested in what you're doing at least in the general outlines - which can serve a place to test and develop your ideas and craft.

Pressfield's historical fiction (Gates of Fire, etc.) is top-notch. If you haven't read them, I highly recommend.

Here's my lesson on advertising: Everybody wants your stuffs because they think "another everybody" wants your stuffs.

> When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, your mind becomes powerfully concentrated.

This reminds me of a scene from The Inner Circle [1] where Tom Hulce's character has just told Stalin that the Russian projectors were just cheap copies of the Germans'. The bureaucrat who is responsible is standing right there and realizes that he is now literally begging for his life.

If beforehand he would have been officiously polite to this mere underling he now becomes powerfully concentrated. His every word is chiseled with a singular intent, to convince the projectionist to moderate his view ever so slightly, just enough to spare him his life if not his dignity.

[1] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103838/

More to the point, I think this writing advice is appropriate (very appropriate) for proposals and cold calls, where you do not have an ongoing relationship with your reader. In that case you are literally begging for your relevance. But in normal communications, clarity and simplicity is the rule. Orwell's advice comes to mind: insincerity is the enemy of clear language.

This is definitely not true or long form sales pages wouldn’t exist, nor engineers would bother reading details to make sure the product will work for them. It al depends on the audience. My guess is the person who wrote it wanted attention.

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