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What is the best writing advice I ever got?

A long time ago, when I was a fresh-faced kid earning an English degree, I had an interesting professor.

He was well versed in all things Shakespearean.

He was highly knowledgeable about history.

And he was a logophile.

So a very intelligent individual.

I remember that he had very well considered opinions on Shakespeare's work that differed from other experts,

These opinions were always based in his knowledge of Shakespearean era society, mores, and language.

Specifically the unique meaning that words and phrases meant then.

As a result, he went methodically through the plays, pointing out a range of very subtle nuances in the writing that not only affirmed his interpretations of the works but also gave great insight into the motivations of the characters and Shakespeare's times.

Being impressionable, I thought he was brilliant.

It probably helped that he was regularly on the radio talking about the roots and historic uses of various words.

And that he had some dramatic flair in sharing his thoughts.

But I had the sense that the sentiment was shared by my classmates.

In particular, I remember one particular class when he was dispelling what he thought were ill-conceived notions that writers had formed about Hamlet's sanity.

He believed Hamlet was very much sane and was going through the text and pointing out every single turn of phrase or historical detail he could to make this clear.

I remember someone in the class asked him why he had not written his own book detailing his takes on Shakespeare's plays.

His answer was that he didn't want to add to the pile.

I think about that often.

I wonder if maybe there were so many Shakespeare experts out there that he couldn't bear the thought of his opinions being lost among them.

Or if he felt he just didn't need to add to the clutter.

I don't know.

But those words have always stuck with me.

And they became a kind of inadvertent guide for me when I am writing.

For one, I always think about how much content vies for our attention every day.

The fact that there is so much clutter out there.

And when I think about that, I think about how difficult it is for any new information to break through.

It always compels me to think about the audiences I am writing for.

What is going to resonate with them.

What is going to be new or unique about what I am writing.

What I can provide that is useful or invaluable in a way that I am not adding to the clutter.

I am offering something of value.

But the other thing that my professor's words remind me of is that there are no guarantees that you can rise to the top of that pile.

That you won't necessarily be the leading authority, or voice of your generation, or any other lofty goal.

And if you write with a goal like that in mind, your writing may be driven by the wrong priority.

To, as the Simpsons would say, embiggen yourself instead of producing something of value.

So, when you sit down to create content for any audience, ask yourself what you want to say, how is it different, who is it for, why does it matter, and why do it.

Otherwise, you're adding to the pile.

Funny how that one answer is the thing I recall all these years on instead of my professor's well-articulated takes on Shakespeare.

Oh well.

All's well that ends well...


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