Ask Ero: Answers for confused and baffled Idealists

Ero is Thoughtful Adjusted Cropped3In this series of blog posts, I’ll try to answer all your questions (regardless of how ridiculously unqualified I am to answer them.) Consider me sort of a tech-literate, bearded, Ann Landers, or a work-safe Dan Savage.

In the last installment of this series, I answered questions about Google Voice, finding a career path in an unusual field, and the meaning of life. How were my answers? I hope you’ll tell me. Now, on with the questions!

I am writing you from the library of a renowned university, and I have cried my eyes out. I am a doctoral student, and need to know how I can cut five thousand words from a proposed chapter for publication, while still adding more information. Is there a trick to radical editing? St. Hildegard said one should lick sapphires to clear a dull mind. I’ve done this with the ring that my husband gave me for our tenth anniversary, and it did help me cut another 300 words. But I can’t keep licking sapphires from now until my deadline. Or can I?
-Your Friend Flora

Editing is much harder than writing! I think you have what’s known in the writing world as “too many ideas.” Whether you’re writing a chapter like yourself, a grant proposal, or a Kickstarter plea, what a beautiful problem to have.

The unfortunate truth is that what’s really important in writing is the ideas themselves, not how they’re expressed. Being understood often means using as few words as possible. Your goal here is the simplicity and austerity of a children’s storybook.

It’s never easy. But you can try to take a sadistic pleasure in destroying your own beautiful words. Repeat to yourself: “The more I delete, the better writer I am.” All those pretty metaphors, all those decorative phrases and moving examples and colorful asides are going to have to go. All of them.

Keep an untouched copy of your text so that you don’t have to feel like you’re losing everything. Then, in your new copy, be absolutely brutal. Reduce a paragraph to a sentence. Then another. Then another. Before you know it you’ll be left with ugly, bare, bony sentences that say nothing except tiny little ideas. This is your best writing.

You’ll have created something rare and perfect and you’ll be glad for all the struggle that got you there. I hope your ring will still be okay.

l have some substantial ideas for solving this healthcare crisis, and it does not involve ObamaCare. How should I try to promote it? It involves attempting to save Medicare and Social Security, for future generations, so I thought some might be interested in looking at the proposals.
-Jamesmmm

Hi Jamesmmm! I’m glad you have substantial ideas. Ideas are important and powerful, and they’re how we start to change the world. (You can’t make an idea-list without them). There are a lot of great ways to share your ideas with others: you might, for instance, attend a Sunday Soup Potluck. Or an Ignite event. You might even find someone who’s an idea collector!

Now, the healthcare crisis is complicated, and a lot of very smart people have worked on it over the decades. You also mention Medicare and Social Security, which are big, complex institutions that aren’t much like each other. So your ideas must be pretty powerful.

What we really love at Idealist is people who take good ideas, and make them real, by finding ways to take action. Otherwise ideas aren’t worth very much, and you may as well just write blog posts, like me.

If you want to really make a difference, do things. There are 446 volunteer opportunities listed on Idealist.org right now that involve healthcare. Maybe you’re an expert in government planning, or maybe you’re a financial wizard who understands long-term budgeting. There are plenty of financial planners, economists, and budget experts needed in this world, and our site is full of organizations that need your help!

So please, make your ideas real, and take action to help people in your community. If you’ll do it, so will I; and we can start making this world a little better.

Top 5 albums you’d prefer to be stranded with (with a listening device)?
-Christina

How’d you know I’m a fanatical music listener? Well, I don’t really believe that one person’s recommendations are better than any other’s. Music is one of the best ways to make sense of the world, and so it’s very specific to who each of us are and what we need.

This list totally misses all sorts of other things I love, but if I was really going to be stuck listening to only five albums, these would certainly do the trick:

  • Midnight, by Pandit Pran Nath. An amazingly rich document of Hindustani classical vocal. Listening to this album is like praying.
  • Bach Cello Suites, by Pablo Casals. Much of the beauty of European classical music is here; a belief in a divine order, in mathematics. But it’s balanced against the rustic, almost earthy, sound of the cello, and there’s repetition and sequential iteration that reminds me of raga.
  • Daydream Nation, by Sonic Youth. Noisy and punk-rock artsy and intellectual.
  • Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues, by Charlie Patton. The foundation of Mississippi blues, and thus: rock and roll, jazz, blues, R&B, funk, and, well, most everything else afterward. And impossibly beautiful.
  • Monk’s Dream, by Thelonious Monk. This was one of the first albums I ever bought, and that crackly record, with its strange rhythms and inexplicably haunting chords, still sounds like everything I could ever hope for from good music.

That’s all for this installment. Have questions about anything I’ve said? Or about anything else (and I do mean anything)? Ask me.

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Ask Ero anything (anything anything anything) at ero@idealist.org.

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Comments (3)


  1. michael pappoe writes:
    June 10, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    I wanted to find more information on job posting to Ghana Accra, and internships if possible i was not able to find much.


  2. Ero Gray writes:
    June 11, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    Hi Michael! If you’re not sure how to use the site for this, feel free to contact me by email– ero @ idealist.org — and I’ll be happy to help.


  3. [...] the last installment of this series, I answered questions about editing for brevity, solving big problems, and listening to music. How [...]


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