2010-04-20

on writing, first draft vs perfection first

2010-04-20

m_mom...@yahoo.com (Mario S. Mommer) writes:
«In my experience, writing directly to TeX or anything similar is asking for trouble unless you are doing simple things. The source is not all that readable, and the hardcopy looks too good. The result is that you do not see the mistakes and the holes in the arguments. Taking a draft on paper and cleaning it up by copying the non-strike-out to new a paper draft is the only really good way to make sure you are really really really going over every detail again.»

I agree here.

«My senior year, I chose to write all my papers by hand, starting from an outline, then rewriting it fleshed out a bit, then rewriting again, and so on until I had a finished paper, all written longhand.  Then I'd go home and typeset it with LaTeX.»

lol. Writing by pen on paper? That's not a good advice. In fact, it would be too slow to be workable for me. For me, the ratio of ideas i need to put out vs the speed i can do with pen is not good, resulting in many thoughts lost in the hand laboring.

It is important to make writing a separate process from typesetting and or the technology used in writing. So, when i write math, or in general other subjects, the first draft i just quickly put out all my main ideas quickly, then, edit, format, typeset, and prettify.

For example, in the edit process, if the text is technical tutorial or exposition, i reduce difficult word, shorten sentences, make steps explicit, make statement precise, add code samples, more research for code snippets, references, etc.

If the writing is essay in literary context, i may for example add more fancy words or literary devices.

Actually, just yesterday i wrote:

• The Writing Style on XahLee.org
http://xahlee.org/Periodic_dosage_dir/bangu/xah_style.html

it describes the writing style i follow.

On Apr 19, 4:40 am, r...@rpw3.org (Rob Warnock) wrote:
Robert Uhl   wrote:

> As Halmos said in his classic little essay:
>
>    http://www.maths.ed.ac.uk/pg/data/halmosw.pdf [3.3 MB, 30 pages]
>     How to write mathematics
>     P. R. Halmos
>     ...
>     6. Write in Spirals
>     The best way to start writing, perhaps the only way, is to write
>     on the spiral plan. According to the spiral plan the chapters get
>     written in the order 1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. You think you
>     know how to write Chapter 1, but after you have done it and gone
>     on to Chapter 2, you'll realize that you could have done a better
>     job on Chapter 2 if you had done Chapter 1 differently. There is
>     no help for it but to go back, do Chapter 1 again differently, do a
>     better job on Chapter 2, and then dive into Chapter 3. And of course
>     you know what will happen: Chapter 3 will show up the weaknesses of
>     Chapters 1 and 2, and there is no help for it... etc., etc., etc.
>
> I especially have always liked this bit:
>
>     When you come to rewrite, however, and however often that may
>     be necessary, do not edit but rewrite. It is tempting to use a
>     red pencil to indicate insertions, deletions, and permutations,
>     but in my experience it leads to catastrophic blunders. Against
>     human impatience, and against the all too human partiality everyone
>     feels toward his own words, a red pencil is much too feeble a weapon.
>     [...] Rewrite means write again -- every word.

Can't say i support this idea at all. Such “spiral” method result in never finishing anything.

with this context, i'd recommend rather to actually complete a first draft of the whole, first. Then, come back and revise. The gist being that you want to get it done first, and never fuzz over on what you've already written.

knowledge and learning is a life long process. One always learns more and more. I'd say most authors would write a better book if they can do it again.

... which clown is it that gave this “spiral” shit? So i looked up:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P._R._Halmos

ok, a known mathematician. O well. Know that tremendously many specialized experts in history have given outrageously stupid advices in areas outside of their expertise. Not saying that his “spiral” method is such example... since all i know of it is the quoted paragraph here. Note also that Knuth has published a booklet (or so) about technical writing. (i think i scan'd it in early 1990s) Cant't say i was impressed in anyway by Knuth's writings... though it's long ago and i don't remember what it says, but usually i'd remember something about it if it made a impression on me.

Xah
∑ http://xahlee.org/

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