Straight Talk on Effective Communication in a World Awash in BS
How to Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say When You Write – And Maybe Move Some Hearts and Minds
Ernest Hemingway’s short story Hills Like White Elephants begins: “The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun.”
Two sentences. Thirty-four words, 50% three letters or fewer. Yet these two spare sentences conjure a vivid, arid setting of heat, barrenness and no small amount of tension. And Hemingway does it by pointing out what’s not in the scene. The entire story has fewer than 1,500 words but illustrates what Hemingway called his “iceberg” theory of writing. The words of the story are the part of the iceberg visible above the water; the 90% under the water go unseen.
People had short attention spans when Hemingway wrote his story in 1927. Nearly a century later, attention spans are of course much shorter. Readers today are acclimated to 15-second TikTok videos vs. the 587,287 words that make up War and Peace. Assume you need to re-earn your audience’s attention every 15 seconds. You need to say a lot using few words.
But how? Business writers face the challenge of communicating challenging, complex (and dull) information and ideas to audiences with a wide range of existing understanding and ability.
The first goal is clarity. Before you can persuade anyone, people need to be able to figure out what you’re trying to say. How important is clarity? Some suggest the redoubtable “Gods of Strategy” at Bain and McKinsey & Co. earn their extraordinary fees not so much by creating novel strategies that executive management of their clients failed to consider. There’s the legendary story of a client who complained at the conclusion of a strategy presentation, “You haven’t told us anything we didn’t already know.” The consultant rejoined, “I cannot speculate what you did or did not know prior to our engagement. I can only comment on what you did, or in this case, did not do to act on this knowledge.” Instead it is the clear manner and compelling logic Bain and McKinsey use to explain the rationale for its recommendations that renders them ineluctable and enables people to grasp their merit and act on them.
For rarefied top tier management consultants, clarity is sufficient because their clients pay them millions of dollars a page and they damn well better pay attention. But clarity alone for you and me is not enough. Unless you engage and perhaps even entertain, people are not going to stick around long enough to be convinced by your brilliance. Don’t despair. There are a bunch of techniques, tactics and tricks successful writers use that you, dear reader, can deploy on your own – including techniques from writers of fiction, true storytellers, that will help even the most downtrodden technical writer achieve maximum impact.
Were you to travel to the Ernest Hemingway Collection at the JFK Presidential Library in Boston to examine Hemingway’s drafts and manuscripts, you would discover how he pulls this off. Many people think that Hemingway was a testosterone-charged autodidact oaf on autopilot banging out the spare, staccato, singular paratactic style that’s been parodied countless times. Far from it. Hemingway’s drafts are remarkable for how much original work he excised. Through a process he called “boiling it down, never spreading it thin,” Hemingway took the sharpest of sharp pencils to his work and left only the essential essence – the 10% – for his readers. No subordinate clauses. No flowery digressions. No self-indulgent turns of phrase or languid descriptions. Just the essence of what he intended to communicate.
We can’t write like Hemingway but what if business writers took to the task of writing and communicating with the same level of dedication and care? What if business writers cared if people read and understood what they were writing about? What if straight talk took the place of BS? Not likely, as bad writing and ineffective communication have been with us a long time, and always will be. But you don’t have to be a part of it. In homage to clickbait listicles everywhere, here are:
The Lucky Seven Simple Things (Plus One Bonus Advanced Move That Requires a Bit More Practice) You Absolutely, Positively Must Do to Suck-Proof Your Writing
#1 There Is No “Good Writing.” Only Good Rewriting.
Seeing a writer as talented as Hemingway taking such pains to edit and rewrite his work serves as a helpful reminder – and inspiration – to lesser scriveners to spend more time editing and less time regurgitating words as fast as fingertips allow. With the possible exception of Thomas Jefferson, the more fluid and effortless a piece of writing feels to read, the more excruciating effort has been put into its creation. The most celebrated writers will tell you they spend hours rewriting a paragraph or even a single sentence.
People assume because they can read and talk, they can also write. Right? Wrong. Well correct in that there are subjects and verbs, adjectives, adverbs and dangling participles all akimbo on the page. Dialogue in movies and plays is not conversation; it is a stylized artform that produces the simulacrum of conversation distilled to its essential essence where every word needs to land.
Unless you are writing a secret script on the weekends, you won’t need to write actual dialogue. But you can still learn something from it because it reminds you that every word must count, and how even single words used as inflection points communicate more than their dictionary definition. Take this example from maestro of snappy dialogue Aaron Sorkin in the movie “The Social Network”:
Lawyer: Do you think I deserve your full attention?
Zuck: I had to swear an oath before we began this deposition, and I don’t want to perjure myself, so I have a legal obligation to say no.
Lawyer: Okay – no. You don’t think I deserve your attention.
Zuck: I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try — but there’s no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention — you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing. Did I adequately answer your condescending question?
Sorkin is able to express intellectual ferocity, technocratic fastidiousness, processing power, dismissiveness, sarcasm, derision, contempt for the proceeding and unbridled arrogance in his character of Mark Zuckerberg, all without describing any of it. Pay attention(!) to how Sorkin works the word “attention” from the beginning of the exchange. He doesn’t have Zuck say, “You have my minimal attention.” Instead Zuck throws the word back at the lawyer: “You have part of my attention – you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention…” People don’t actually speak like this (or maybe Mark Zuckerberg does, but he is sui generis) but here part – no, wait, make that the smallest possible part – of Zuck’s attention is able to eviscerate a seasoned inquisitor while the remainder is thousands of miles away building one of the most successful businesses in history.
This conversation would never occur IRL. The lawyer’s clients, identical twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, would have been baffled rather than intimidated by Zuck’s monologue. Earlier in the film Tyler notes he is “6’ 5”, 220 and there’s two of me.’’ They are in no need of assistance to feel tall – in any respect. The real Mark Zuckerberg would not use such an inapt cliche about the 6’ 5” Winklevi sitting on his 5’ 7” shoulders. Yet we don’t even notice the lapse in logic because the diatribe feels so appropriate for the character. That’s what great dialogue can do.
Sentences like these don’t just jump from the brain to the page fully formed, not even for Aaron Sorkin. Writing is not about sharing a stream of consciousness of what happens to be going through your head. Put in the hard effort to create your own version of an iceberg. If you find you have written a sentence or phrase you think nails it dead to rights, erase it. You might be enamored based on personal relevance that’s not shared with your readers. Or if it is really all that great, you should be able to recreate it. But chances are, you can do better! Don’t waste a single sentence. Don’t waste a single word! Hone until your sentences are as taut as the first two in Hills Like White Elephants.
#2 My First Rodeo
The first thing – and the easiest – to eliminate when rewriting is jargon. So much business discourse and business writing is utter nonsense. Groaner clichés, hackneyed metaphors and reflexive expressions that fill dead air while signifying nothing abound. Because they are so common it’s easy to become desensitized to how idiotic these expressions are until you string a few of them together:
We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, but apples to apples, it still can be a bit of an eye chart when you’re on the bleeding edge, even when we’re all on the same page. While the devil is in the details, keep it at 30,000 feet before getting too caught up in the weeds and inside baseball. We need to time-box this meeting, so let’s spin up a Zoom, have the team double click to drill down for a deep dive, grok the numbers and suss out new learnings before we run it up the flagpole.
At the end of the day, it is what it is. Full stop.
Fun? Not so fun to listen and read this insipid drivel uttered in earnest. How many people who inquire about what’s in your wheelhouse are aware that the expression refers to a deckhouse for a ship’s helmsperson? How many people who offer assurances that this isn’t their first rodeo have ever been to one? This numpty blather is not worth the energy of the pixels needed to display it. Be brutal eliminating doofus lingo, regardless of how common it is among your colleagues. Better yet, pretend that you’re playing a round of “Dotard Bingo” on a conference call and create your own bingo card with the business clichés chimed in. Just say no.
Even without the buzzwords, sloppy business-speak is a waste of hot air… and money. Take for example this utterance:
“We thought it would be important to take this brand and bring it or evolve it into a more current or modern state.”
Huh? Why did you think it would be important? Bring it or evolve it? A more current or modern state? Peter Arnell, the author of this sentence, thought wrong. He was speaking about what may stand as the most egregious rebranding debacle in the history of capitalism. In 2009, Tropicana spent $45M in fees and marketing spend with the Arnell agency on a rebrand that caused orange juice sales to plummet by $20M – 20% of sales – in the first 30 days after launch. By bringing, or evolving the Tropicana brand to a more modern state, they removed the one thing consumers used to identify the product in crowded supermarket reefer cases: a straw sticking out of an orange. The orange with the straw came back, sales recovered and Arnell ceased to exist.
Don’t talk like this. Don’t write like this. Above all don’t think like this. Don’t end up like Tropicana. Instead of entertaining abstract ruminations on evolution to a more current state, ask simple, straightforward, jargon-free questions like, “How can we sell more orange juice?”
#3 Write for Your Audience
Avuncular boffo bijillionaire Warren Buffet is equally famous for his love of Cherry Coke and his “just plain folks” ability to explain abstruse financial concepts like synthetic collateralized debt obligations with breakthrough simplicity. He does so by putting himself on the reader’s side and in the reader’s shoes. He acknowledges that it’s difficult to set aside the “curse of knowledge” that presumes existing understanding. Buffett wrote this in an introduction to A Plain English Handbook for the Securities and Exchange Commission:
“One unoriginal but useful tip: Write with a specific person in mind. When writing Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report, I pretend that I’m talking to my sisters. I have no trouble picturing them: Though highly intelligent, they are not experts in accounting or finance. They will understand plain English, but jargon may puzzle them. My goal is simply to give them the information I would wish them to supply me if our positions were reversed. To succeed, I don’t need to be Shakespeare; I must, though, have a sincere desire to inform.”
No jargon (see tip #2). Don’t presuppose a level of expertise and interest on the part of your audience. It’s fantastic you’ve mastered the material and can now write about it. Think of a person who has no knowledge of what you’re talking about. Write to that person to educate or persuade. Explain your subject in a way that someone of average intelligence and no preexisting background can understand.
Since Warren brought up Shakespeare, The Bard alone could illustrate all of the writing suggestions here and then some. He was just that awesome. But then you might think this was an article about how great Shakespeare was, and blah, blah, iambic pentameter, Shakespeare sounds like gibberish, zzzzz, – with no practical applicability to business writing. So instead you’ll find a pastiche of different voices and examples (and only one will be from Hamlet, and it only in the advanced bonus tip) throughout that, with luck, will feel more accessible and within reach.
#4 Mistakes Were Made
When certain people aren’t using the lingo de jour to demonstrate they are in with the in crowd while trying to add 50 points to their perceived IQ, they exert equal energy shirking accountability. And abnegating responsibility never had any better friend than the passive voice. (Fear not, this is the only tip that discusses grammar). In more technical terms passive voice makes the object of an action the subject of the sentence. Passive voice slows down comprehension because by design it makes it impossible to determine who did what. When you can, write sentences with subjects that do something vs. having something be done. If you have trouble distinguishing passive from active verbs, have your hackles up any time you use a form of the verb “to be,” (am, are, being, had been, has been, have been, was, were, will be, will have been) followed by a past participle form of a verb (often, but not always ending in “ed”):
Shots were pounded vs. The brothers of Sigma Chi pounded shots.
The target has been eliminated vs. James Bond eliminated the target.
Oil might have been released in the Gulf vs. The Deepwater Horizon released 4.9 million barrels of oil in the Gulf.
The race was won vs. Lance Armstrong “won” the race.
Mistakes were made vs. I made a mistake losing my audience with the passive voice.
Researchers and scientists make the most impassioned case for the passive voice because they want to appear objective:
The double-blind study was conducted using a peer-reviewed, proven methodology.
The think tank manipulated the study to support the foregone conclusions they sought to hoodwink the gullible.
But are you a scientist? Does “the study was conducted” sound fascinating or BORING? Someone had to conduct that study:
The Nobel Prize-winning chemist Dr. Frances Arnold conducted a new study building on her ground-breaking research for replacing toxic chemicals with sustainable biofuels.
Now there are occasions where passive voice works. In 1897, Mark Twain sent a telegram from London with perhaps the best passive voice sentence ever written:
Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.
Mark Twain’s sentence doesn’t work as well any other way and he saved money vs. “Newspapers have reported inaccurate obituaries about me, but I am very much still alive.” But Mark Twain wrote between 1,400 and 3,000+ words a day for thirty-six years. If you have a similar level of experience and wit, indulge in passive voice with abandon. If you don’t, use passive constructions with caution and see if you can make a passive sentence active without undue convolutions.
Active verbs are filled with vigor and vim. They make things happen. Put them to use. Find verbs that leap off the page to move your writing along, lickety split.
But all active verbs are not created equal. Some are vague, weak and convenient crutches to avoid being more precise. One of the wimpiest verbs of all is “get.” Avoid it like COVID-19. Almost any verb is better:
Get milk vs. buy/find/borrow/drink/chug
Get dinner vs. grab/cook/fry-up/scarf
Get wood vs. gather/scavenge/chop/split
At the same time, leverage the power of verbs, but exercise caution with adverbs. United States Supreme Court associate justice Elena Kagan has earned a reputation as one of the high court’s most lucid and conversational writers. Despite the weightiness of the subject matter, and the cases that make it to the Supreme Court are always the hard ones, her opinions have a lightness, an effortless feel. Yet, Kagan has noted how hard she works to refine her early drafts of opinions and dissents to make them seem natural (see tip #1). Justice Kagan is a hunter (and was a frequent, if curious, hunting companion of the late associate justice Antonin Scalia… but we digress) not only of birds but also of adverbs. Justice Kagan reviews all her drafts to see if she has used adverbs in the place of more precise verbs and adjectives. Why?
Back to Mark Twain, he was said to observe, “Adverbs are the tool of the lazy writer.” Indeed. Many, many adverbs also tell your readers something they already know:
“It wasn’t my fault,” Scooter said defensively.
“Honestly, you’ve never looked more fetching in that hat!” (do you think?)
“These cookies are ridiculously good.”
Adverbs make flabby, long sentences longer. They sprinkle gratuitous and annoying “ly”s all over the place. They’re vaguely lame. Nope, they’re just lame. Ridiculously good cookies are great. Of course Scooter is defensive in disclaiming liability. And never, ever trust anything anyone says who starts a sentence with “honestly.”
Work those verbs and hunt adverbs and you’ll soon see your writing acquire new zip, zap and zing.
#5 Channel Your Inner Copywriter
Remember that clarity is the paramount goal, but it’s not sufficient to hold your audience. Once you achieve clarity, you have a chance to have a bit of fun. Writing that’s the most enjoyable and rewarding to read isn’t only clear, it modulates between consistency and novelty to create a liveliness that rewards readers to discover what’s around the next bend. Like screenwriters creating dialog, copywriters feel the musicality of language as well as its communicative power. One of the ways they draw us in is by bringing to the fore contrasts that are at once relevant, but unexpected. That’s not to say a product spec sheet or an essay should sound like an ad. But drawing a contrast or two can help modulate the rhythm of your writing and serve as an interstitial amuse bouche to re-engage with your readers when their attention flags after 15 seconds. Consider the copy from this Nike spot:
Don’t believe you need to be like anybody to be somebody…
Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything…
So, don’t ask if your dreams are crazy. Ask if they’re crazy enough.
It’s only crazy until you do it. Just do it.
Anybody/somebody. Something/everything. Crazy/crazy enough. Simple contrasts, but clever and thought provoking… and above all pithy. Try some yourself. The goal is not to transform into Dan Widen or a reincarnation of Jay Chiat. Start with the basics: Big/small. Soft/hard. See, it’s easy! Contrast spices up your work like a habanero pepper.
#6 No Tears in the Writer, No Tears in the Reader
Too many business writers think that in order to be serious they should be as free of emotion as possible. This can make boring topics even more dust dry. Try to have people feel something when they read your work. It doesn’t have to be touchy-feely – it can be amusement, inspiration or even outrage (although we have had a surplus of reflexive outrage as of late, so see if you can avoid unnecessary outrage, at least in the near term). Think you don’t have it in you? Nonsense.
If you feel trepidation staring at the tyranny of a blank screen, rewind to January 28, 1986 when President Reagan assigned self-described “little schmagoogie” Peggy Noonan the impossible task of writing his speech to console America after the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up killing five astronauts and a beloved schoolteacher. What did she do? Noonan first had Reagan acknowledge the tragedy of the six souls lost, but then reiterated the eternal need for pioneers to look ever forward:
“The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.”
Notice how Noonan uses the copywriter’s contrast trick too: fainthearted/brave, pulling/follow. And then she closed with a reference to the poem “High Flight” she remembered reading in 7th grade by airman John Gillespie Magee who died in flight during World War II:
“We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.”
We haven’t forgotten them, or the last time we saw them, even though it was nearly 35 years ago. But you don’t need the gifts of a poet or Peggy. You only need to be able to recognize them. Take the character of Zuck’s invitation to hop atop the shoulders of giants. But make sure you quote giants vs. wantwits. “That’s hot” may be Paris Hilton’s (remember her?) trademarked catchphrase, but it does not stand the test of time. To find good quotes, read good writing and discern actual insight and wisdom from pablum. One potential test: if a quote sounds like something that could appear on a Successories poster, find a quote that says the opposite. Don’t over do it and try to take on Bartlett’s. Judicious use of eloquent quotations (with proper citation) in your own work will engage your readers and enliven your prose with words that have already proven their ability to inform, educate and inspire. What’s better yet, when you associate with them, you’ll benefit from a halo effect that can make your readers feel that you’re a better writer. As long as you remember your 7th grade English class, you already have a head start.
#7 Nothing Sticks Like Concrete
In the book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath explore why some ideas gain traction and endure… and others never have a chance. It’s a helpful book and you should read it. A key point emerges: it is easier to grasp and recall specifics vs. abstractions. We remember concrete ideas when they reference things and experiences with which we are familiar and describe or evoke human senses with specific details. Animals, vegetables, minerals. Everyone has at least seen a picture of the world’s largest land animal and symbol of the GOP. That’s why professor George Lakoff called his book Don’t Think Like an Elephant vs. The Conservative Paradigm That Frames the National Debate. Experts in a subject can process abstractions because they already have the necessary understanding of the details that comprise the fundamentals.
Take “Rumble Seat” automotive columnist Dan Neil. Every week he reviews a new car and has to find something interesting and entertaining to say while furnishing practical insight into the merits and limitations of the vehicle and what it’s like to drive. When he reviewed Rolls-Royce’s new “Cullinan” SUV, he didn’t describe it using abstractions like “big,” “decadent,” “fast,” “high-powered,” “opulent” or “quiet.” Instead he made his review stick:
Big: “a wantonly large people-mover, 6 feet tall and 7 feet wide. On the Cullinan, the Black Badge raiments hang less like a Brioni tuxedo and more like one of CeeLo’s after-six caftans.”
Decadent: “curated for its young, transgressively rich global clientele—your Instagram influencers/producers, ballers, nightcrawlers and celebrity guttersnipes, living large, making it rain, from Macau to the 310.”
Fast: “Zero to 60 mph acceleration can be as brisk as 4.9 seconds, the class privilege hitting with the fluttering force of a million butterflies.”
High-Powered: “a bi-turbo V12 lubricated with the tears of saints, in the traditional displacement of 6.75 liters, producing an oceanic 600 hp and 664 lb-ft at an effortless 1,600 rpm.”
Opulent: “the 22-inch wheels, black-lacquered like Harry Styles’s manicure; the tarty red brake calipers; the animated shooting stars whisking across the ceiling, itself a fabric firmament twinkling with fiber-optic stars”
Quiet: “With its wraparound acoustic glass, hundreds of pounds of sound insulation, and four-corner air suspension, the Cullinan’s cabin ambience and drivetrain isolation reach pharmaceutical levels. The highway noise level has been reported as a remarkable 62 dB, which is quieter than a Tesla Model S.”
Not just smooth, but lubricated by the tears of the saints! Not merely shiny, but black-lacquered like Harry Styles’s manicure. And who among us wouldn’t try to spot Orion’s Belt amid the fabric firmament of twinkling fiber-optic stars? Were you never to even see a photo of this SUV, you still have a rich, nuanced understanding of what it’s like. And you’ll remember it too. Even the adverbs “wantonly” and “transgressively” work – there are no absolute rules in which to find writing safe harbor, alas – because they add precision and greater stickiness to just what kind of excess Neil is talking about.
Telling, concrete details in your writing can make your writing not only memorable, but unforgettable.
#8 Bonus Advanced Move: Prestidigitation Through Anacoluthon
Sometimes writing that’s most rewarding to read starts out one way but then takes you to insights, actions and even emotions you didn’t expect. The simplest form of this rhetorical technique of “anacoluthon” – making an abrupt change of course – is in a sentence.
The Sweet Swan of Avon anacoluthons in Hamlet as he transforms death to sleep through the potential of devout consummation:
To die, to sleep—
No more—and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to—’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished!
You can enlist anacoluthon not only for a larger shift outside of a sentence. You can also start down a path, educate and inform on one subject and then change direction on a dime and end up in place no one expects at the outset.
Take the essay Joyus Voladorus by the late John Doyle. It’s a nature essay with the fascinating premise that all creatures with hearts have give-or-take two billion heartbeats to use over a lifetime. The Joyus Voladorus aka hummingbird at 1,200 beats per minute burns heartbeats fast and lives two years. The Galapagos tortoise’s heart beats six times a minute and can live 200+ years. All other creatures lie somewhere in between. Learning this astounding observation is reward enough for reading the essay. But Doyle continues to discuss blue whale hearts (the largest, with valves “as big as the swinging doors in a saloon”), reptile hearts, turtle hearts, insect hearts, mollusk hearts, even worm hearts(!). If Doyle can make worm hearts compelling, how hard can the topic you’re trying to write about possibly be? But then, the anacoluthon:
So much held in the heart in a lifetime. So much held in a heart in a day, an hour, a moment…. [a]ll hearts finally are bruised and scarred, scored and torn, repaired by time and will, patched by force of character, yet fragile and rickety forevermore, no matter how ferocious the defense and how many bricks you bring to the wall. You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman’s second glance, a child’s apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words I have something to tell you, a cat with a broken spine dragging itself into the forest to die, the brush of your mother’s papery ancient hand in the thicket of your hair, the memory of your father’s voice early in the morning echoing from the kitchen where he is making pancakes for his children.
Who knew pancakes were the meaning of life? Assuming you are neither a sociopath nor owner/operator of an artificial heart, you may need a moment or two to compose yourself after reflecting on Doyle’s examination of the vicissitudes of the human condition. But after you brick back up your heart, try to identify how many of the tips and techniques discussed here he deploys. You won’t be alone; the essay has hundreds of thousands of downloads from individuals and teachers for classroom use over the past fifteen years. Made to stick indeed.
Before you sit down (or better yet, approach your standing desk like Hemingway) to write, think hard about what you’re trying to say. Does it need to be said? Has someone else already expressed the same thoughts or content? Are you saying something new or adding your voice to a preexisting chorus? You may need only link to an existing post instead of, wait for it, reinventing the wheel. Think of how much time you’ll have back for your life – how many free heartbeats you’ll enjoy to think great thoughts or play Fortnite – or both. Think of the frustration and angst you’ll avoid.
If not, take time to outline and structure your thoughts. Remember your audience with the fifteen-second attention span along with the hours required to create fifteen seconds of effective prose. Set your jargon detector to eleven. Verbs are ever at the ready to do what verbs do, chomping at the bit – put them to work and slay those adverbs. Try to inject a soupçon of levity, humor, pathos… or all three. Work hard to avoid abstraction and find the right concrete details that will stick. And let it flow. Let the words come flowing, tumbling, cascading out, each coruscating with more fulgor than the last.
After you catch your breath and return to what you have written hours, days or weeks later take a moment to admire what you’ve accomplished. Then cross out 90% of what you’ve written. You now have the beginning of your iceberg. Rest, refresh with a sarsaparilla or Papa Double (Hemingway would have six on an average afternoon but would up crank it up to a baker’s dozen or so when he wanted to take it to the next level of figgity, figgity lit) and repeat as necessary. You’re a writer.