Chapter 19 of 24 from Malcolm Gladwell

Drafts and Revisions

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Getting a piece of writing to a finished state is a process. Malcolm walks you through his approach, from first draft to final polishing.

Topics include: Set a Reasonable Bar • Just Get It Down • Write as You Research • Writer’s Block: Just Keep Writing • Work Backward From Your Ending • Put It Down and Walk Away • Edit for Clarity

Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Writing

In 24 lessons, the author of Blink and The Tipping Point teaches you how to find, research, and write stories that capture big ideas.

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To me, the most important thing is, what is your expectation as a writer? How much you can write? I think it's very important to set a realistic expectation. So the feeling of failure that writers sometimes have is very often caused by the fact they have too high an expectation for how much they can produce in a given day or given sitting. Or they'll say, ugh, I only did two paragraphs today, and they'll feel like a failure. And it'll cause anxiety, and they won't sleep. The next day, they'll wake up. And they'll be exhausted and full of stress and won't be able to write. The truth is, you can't write a lot in a day. Can't-- it's demanding creative work. It's physically strenuous. It's mentally strenuous. It wears you out. I often find myself mulling over something just in my head for 10 times longer than that I would actually spend writing that section. A productive day for me is a day where if I have a good page, I'm delighted. If a book is 300 pages, and I do a good page in a day, that suggests I can do a book in a reasonable period of time. That's a lot, actually. But there are some writers who if I told-- what is a page 3 and 1/2 paragraphs, four paragraphs? Some writers would say if I only did four paragraphs in a day, I failed. Again, you set yourself up for disappointment. If you raise the bar that high, a few good paragraphs represent a substantial achievement. So once you think about it that way, you think, well, when I think about it, I think if I get up in the morning and do my writing well, my mind is fresh. I should be able to accomplish what I need to accomplish by lunchtime. So I work in the mornings, and I rarely do anything of creative value. In the afternoon, organize my life and organize the next days, do my reporting, and all those kinds of things. But the morning is if I can do a couple of good hours in the morning, then I feel like I have moved the bar that day-- moved the ball that day, rather. [MUSIC PLAYING] The perfect is the enemy of the good is one of the most important aphorisms I repeat to myself. So if you're trying to produce the perfect piece, you'll never produce it. So you have to accept the fact that your first couple of drops are going to be bad. They're always bad. By definition, they're bad. You don't know what you're doing yet. But it's very important to go through the stage of just getting things on the page. And also, the act of expanding your argument or make or telling your story is how the story emerges. You figure out how to tell the story as you tell it necessarily. Responding to pieces that you think will work together don't work together, or pieces you think don't work together do unexpectedly, where you find ways to link things just in the moment as you're writing. So you have to trust that process and just get things down-- so when I start, I'm just getting things down on the page. And I have big gaps. Or if I have problems I can't resolve, I just don't resolv...

Transform the ordinary

Ketchup. Crime. Quarterbacks. Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell, these ordinary subjects have helped millions of readers devour complex ideas like behavioral economics and performance prediction. Now, the renowned storyteller and best-selling author of Blink and The Tipping Point is teaching his craft online for the first time. Write stories that captivate by learning how Malcolm researches topics, crafts characters, and distills big ideas into simple, powerful narratives.

Learn Malcolm’s writing practices—including how he finds stories in unexpected places—through on-demand video lessons.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps, assignments, and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Malcolm will also answer select student questions.

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Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Writing