An Old-Fashioned Writer, Writing in the New Digital World

A relative, 10 years after beginning his Ph.D. thesis, still hadnt finished. Couldnt get it just right. Knew it would be scrutinized. Wanted to make it right; didnt want to be caught in imprecision, or worse yet, error. 10 years. Not finished.

Two years ago I had a similar problem. Trained as a lawyer, being a publisher and editor, I live in a world of words. Theyre important; theyre permanent. I am accountable for what I write, and for what my company publishes. Words will endure. They need to stand on their own, be thorough, be accurate, be complete.

But Behrman House needed a blog, and as the leader of our firm I needed to contribute. To share my views in that informal setting. So write I did, but I did it in my old way: I wrote, edited got it vetted by colleagues, checked, rechecked, sometimes rewritten. A short piece, with a quick thought, could take hours. It just wasnt worth it.

I thought back to my college days, where I wrote a weekly column for the paper. I just banged it out. Every week, one evening. Went the whole campus. It was pretty good. And I had no fear.

So I made a decision: Ill trust myself: write the damn thing, read it once, fix obvious errors, and post it. Simple as that.

So I tried it. Truth be told, the first time I chickened out. Sent it to Dena Neusner, our Senior Editor, who can tear apart and rebuild my writing like no one else, and makes it 30% shorter on a regular basis. She did her magic, and I decided I was done. Posted it. And, next time I didnt even send it to Dena.

Im writing this to all of you who grew up in my world, the world of permanent words, the world where every one of those words is equally important, and permanent. And to all of us I say: Just write the damn thing, and post it. It will be liberating. Think of it as conversation, not a permanent position. (Lisa Colton spoke at the GA of the permanent beta, and shes right.) It will never be worth it to spend a half-day on a blog post, so if thats your standard, youre censoring yourselfit will almost never be worth it to spend the time, and so youll never be able to share your views.

Just write the thing.

PS: I wrote this one on the airplane coming home from the GA. Once, straight througha half-hour. Put it aside for a day, then spent another 10 minutes cleaning it up. Im done. I hope its good, and I hope you find it useful. If not, maybe Ill be more successful with the next one.

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Screen Shot 2011-11-10 at 10.06.10 AMDavid Behrman is CEO of Behrman House Publishers, the leading publisher of textbooks, software, and other educational materials for Jewish religious schools throughout North America. Before joining Behrman House, he was a consultant with McKinsey & Co, in New York, where he served clients in the service, transportation, and not-for-profit sectors, and he also practiced corporate and securities law with Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York. He is a graduate of Haverford College and Stanford Law School, where he served on the Law Review.

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