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The Von Drehle Rules

Yesterday I didn't blog, because once again I had to do real journalism, specifically write my Rough Draft column, which is my primary job. The blog isn't even my secondary job, or even tertiary, but is more like quaternary (using that word just boosted my self-esteem. Gosh I hoped I used it correctly!).

Another reason I didn't blog is that I wrote a blog item that didn't quite make sense. (You are thinking: Since when is that a requirement for this blog?) The item failed, I suspect, because I hadn't thought it through sufficiently. This brings up one of the key Von Drehle Rules: Good writing requires clear thinking. Von Drehle spoke last week to my class, and said that whenever he finds himself struggling with a piece, it is inevitably because he hasn't quite figured out what he is trying to say. He needs to do more reporting. He needs to do more THINKING. Muddled thinking leads to muddled writing. No amount of literary finesse can get around that fundamental fact.

Which brings up one of my rules: When in doubt, go for a walk, a long walk, leave all the chatter and beeps and crackes of daily life behind, and just let yourself think for a little bit. (Back when I did the Rough Draft column online, with a noon deadline, I'd still find a way to work in a walk or a run in the morning, and would write a lot of the column in my head. The only bad thing is that when you get back, and race to the computer to write, someone might try to speak to you and you have to shout, "Back off! I'm creating!" You know it's hard being an artist.)

The other reason to go for a long walk is that if you're really in a jam and there's no way out, you can keep walking, and disappear completely. They can't hurt you if they can't find you.

By Joel Achenbach  |  February 24, 2005; 7:00 AM ET
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