Tiny thought: Writing for recipe cards

Tiny Thoughts are little (500 word) essays. They're concise.

I've spent the past three months consciously trying to write and read more. I want to improve my ability to refine and communicate thought, and doing it in public helps motivate me to produce work.

One of the hardest problems I find myself addressing frequently is my desire to over-explain or provide too much information. I have read many times that good writing is about being concise. Being direct and undistracted help you get your point across. You're not tiring the reader, and you're not brining in unnecessary information. Being concise is good.

A few weeks ago I was listening to the JS Party podcast, a show I subscribe to but often skip. I picked up this episode because its title, Content is Queen, seemed relevant. I don't see my writing as content, but I know other people view theirs that way - and so I listened it.

Something that came from that episode, which I really liked, was the idea that you should write like you're creating a small recipe card. It's a good analogy, and it implies the following things to think about when you're writing:

  1. Realise sometimes you're trying to get to a point or a result, you're not trying to be witty or identifiable in your writing style.
  2. Identify and sign-post the most important steps in a process, or points in an argument.
  3. Figure out how to your points reproducible, undeniably clear, and re-usable.
  4. Condense your points down to as small a number as possible, you're writing for a small recipe card.

I don't know how well these items hold for longer pieces, or opinion pieces. Sometimes you want to let your personality shine through in your writing, and sometimes you can let yourself wander. That said, I've been working a lot harder on deleting sentences, rather than adding them in, for the past month or so. I think that's, at least in part, because of this little realisation.

You can see the full transcript for the episode on the episode page, but the original quote comes from Stephanie Morillo that sent me on this thought is:

You know the recipes you get with a Blue Apron or a Sun Basket subscription? They fit on a card, right? And they’re not superfluous and they’re not using all these great words. Every word there is there for a reason, and they’re not gonna give you the back-story and all that fun stuff. They are “You've gotta do this, you've gotta do this, you've gotta do this.” But the great thing is that as a result, you pretty much don’t mess up the recipe.