The Shape Of The Thing

The Eight of Wands is about swift action.

My penmanship is so poor that my wife banned me from writing our wedding thank yous.1 And while some people claim to like my handwriting, they often aren’t the same people who bear the burden of reading—and deciphering—it.


To those unfortunate souls who do have to interpret something I’ve hand-written, I share this advice: read quickly. Get a sense of the shape of my words and you’ll find your way to the end. But slow down at any point, look too closely at any one word, and you’ll lose your way.

It’s a bit like reading words with scrambled letters:

This approach—quickly getting a sense of the thing rather than digging deeply into the details—doesn’t just apply to reading. It applies to writing (and creative projects more generally). As designer Frank Chimero says:

“I’m a big proponent of ‘once through, cleanly.’ You think about your idea, sketch a little, then put some glue in your hair and bang it out in one sitting. All of my best work happens this way: posters, collages, essays, outlines for talks, and so on. The work seems to be more cohesive and its energy more concentrated and palpable.”

I don’t necessarily recommend publishing your first crack at a project. I don’t often share mine. But there is something to be said for the magic of a quick first draft. Roughing out the shape of the thing gives you momentum at the start of a project, and serves as a solid foundation for the hard work of editing and rewriting ahead.

It’s not for every project. Which, to be fair, Chimero recognizes:

“It’s probably irresponsible to work this way when other people are involved, and it is definitely no way to write a novel, but for my smaller self-initiated projects, this method has produced the greatest rate of success. It makes it so much easier to know what you’ve got while you’re working on it: the closer you are to finishing, the more difficult your enthusiasm makes it to sit down, focus, and finish.”

But if you’re having trouble getting started, I know of no better method.

1.*I was only banned from physically writing the messages. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a way to extricate myself from the tedious work of thinking them up.

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