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This week: the fear of first drafts, the value of teasing, and why you don't need to walk 10,000 steps today.
THE FIRST DRAFT CLUB
I enjoyed this reminder, from the writer Ryan Holiday, that "the first draft of anything is shit". Having said that, I'm reminded of it more often than I'd like. It's the most painful thing about writing, and it must be the single thing that stops writing from getting done at all. You have this idea, this vision, this thing you want to say, and then you get some words on a page and they're just so embarrassingly lame that you give up. If you write for a living it's because you've learned to get through this bit, though it never quite goes away. What you have to bear in mind is that the reader sees none of it. The reader doesn't know shit about all the shit that went down before the words they see, or about all the work that went into making it like this. Writing is a confidence trick. Like other confidence tricks, even when you know how it's done, you still believe in it. Good writing always seems spontaneous, a flow of thought. If I read Geoff Dyer or Sheila Heti I can tell myself this stuff probably didn't just pour out of them on to the page, but it still feels like it did, so when I'm struggling to make my lame, ugly sentences fit together, I still think I'm the odd one out. How about we create website of shit first drafts? We get fantastic writers to donate the shit first drafts of their brilliant books or articles or poems. Then whenever a novice writer is filled with despair at their own shit, they can visit this site and remember that even the best writers have to wade through excrement to get to gold.
SORRELL'S NEXT MOVE
This short profile of the big short guy is worth reading just as a piece of writing - it's a very familiar story to me but David Segal delivers it with such panache that I was never bored. I was struck by how small his big idea is (see the paragraph on Narcos) - it's just micro-targeting, which everyone else does, and which has very limited value to brands, though admittedly not all of them have worked that out yet. But then I suppose he's never been a visionary, he's a brilliant businessman (if you're interested there's quite a good discussion under my tweet about the piece). I just don't think it's much fun to work for him.
In my New Statesman column this week ask why some popular culture hits take us by surprise, using Elton John's Your Song (previously discussed in The Ruffian) as an example.
The American footballer Alex Morgan scored against England and mimed a tea-sip in celebration. Some people got very cross about this. To me it seemed like teasing. I like teasing. I am pro-tease. It would be a shame if we lose the knack of it because we're so worried about offending people. At work, or at home, teasing is an invaluable social feedback mechanism. It enables you to find out what you're like. Of course it can be misused, or done badly - it requires tact and skill and good intent - but when it's done right it's a wonderful thing, because the teaser is telling you things about yourself that you really need to know, but doing it with affection and humour rather than through confrontation. I've learnt so much about myself, over the years, from skilful teasers, and I'm grateful to them. Maybe I'll write more on teasing at some point but in the meantime, here's an excellent piece on it.
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DEPT. OF UNNOTICED PROGRESS
The tuition fee system for university funding has its problems, not least that it's unpopular, which is why Labour has promised to abolish it. But paying for the expansion of higher education is a very difficult problem, that is currently stumping much of the developed world. In that context, the UK (well, England) has pulled off an enviable feat: it's moved to a more viable model in a relatively short period of time without creating losers. As a major new study puts it, "England's shift has resulted in increased funding per head, and rising enrolments, with no apparent rising of the participation gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students." This last in particular is the opposite of what critics of the policy predicted. Of course, they're all happy to concede they got that wrong now, as this article by, er, sorry I can't find the link.
ONE STEP FORWARD
Walking is good for us, and you should probably be walking more, but the popular notion that everyone should be walking 10,000 steps every day is utterly baseless. Like many of our ideas about life, it actually started as a marketing gimmick. In 1965, a Japanese company was selling pedometers, and they created a brand name for it that means "the 10,000 step meter". Why did they choose 10,000? Because in Japanese script the character for 10,000 looks kind of like a man walking. It's actually a very neat piece of branding. It's just not science. (We seem to like that number - there's the similarly dubious 10,000 hour rule too).
I've been deep diving into the Switched On Pop series in which a musicologist and a songwriter dissect modern pop hits in minute detail. This could be dull but it's the opposite because the two hosts are so lively and enthusiastic and above all so incredibly smart and interesting on every aspect of how music works. If you don't know or like modern pop that doesn't matter because neither did they until they started the series; part of its joy is how they reveal the incredible depth of skill it takes to make this music. I recommend the episode on Janelle Morae's song Make Me Feel, which is co-hosted with the irrepressible Lizzo, a pop star herself (she did a Glastonbury show last weekend). Plus the ep. on Selena Gomez's work of genius, Bad Liar, which I already liked and now revere.
GO PRINCE GO
Best. Press. Conference. Ever.