Thomas Friedman is a smart guy. Whether you admire him greatly or despise him intensely, doesn’t matter. Writers, intellectuals, and great thinkers around the world respect his ideas, and have pulled out their worn, overstuffed wallets, fingered their credit cards out, and used it to pay for the bound words he has written.
Mr. Friedman did not wake up one day and begin spewing words out randomly to create his best-selling books. He spends his days doing three simple (not easy) things. He has done these three things relentlessly, as all writers who become great, have done.
Research. Mr. Friedman was not born omniscient. He is not an all-knowing, all-seeing god. Before he could apply his skills compiling his knowledge in an intriguing and attention capturing way, he had to gather that knowledge. He, and the battalions of other great authors who came before him, and will follow him, had to gain that knowledge. And so, they research.
The golden age of the internet and information has afforded writers of today with an unfathomably wonderful gift. Access to information. At some point in every writer’s day, they must sift through the mountains of available data and inspiration, stories and statistics, and gather the information relevant to the topic and angle about which they wish to write.
Some writers say that they spend three times the hours researching as writing. Some say more, some less. But there are two aspects that do not vary. They will gather far more than they will require. And they will do it relentlessly and in a never-ending process. Along the way, they will discover writing ideas hidden in deep, dark corners of their research which they would not have discovered without it. In this way, research is about more than gathering information. It is a source of inspiration.
Writing. Where the magic happens. On a good day, the ideas collected in the research flow effortlessly with a logic and rhythm, capturing the reader’s imagination and carrying them from mystery to reveal, mystery to reveal, and finally to a grand conclusion. This is a rare day for most.
On a typical day, the writer throws mud at the wall. Or should we say ink at the paper or even electrons at the screen? They do their utmost to compile a somewhat coherent collection of words, including all points relevant to their main idea. With a smattering of good luck, they have, on the front end a beginning, and on the tail, an ending. Again, hopefully, something coherent. Which brings us to Thing 3.
Editing. Many writers hate Thing 3. It’s where the heavy lifting happens. Many pieces of writing never make it to print over fear of Thing 3. But some writers embrace it. With sufficient separation between Thing 2 and Thing 3, and perhaps a healthy nap, something quite interesting can happen. If Thing 1 was done well, and Thing 2 was done at all, during the break before Thing 3 the deep mind will do a fair bit of the editing for you. Upon rereading the work, improvements that were previously hidden, now seem obvious! Whole paragraphs are deleted without hesitation and perhaps replaced with a clearer expression of the idea. This, of course, is on those good days.
Other days, editing is more challenging. There is agonizing over sacrificing a beautiful, but irrelevant nugget of prose. Just the right synonym eludes the search. Or there simply isn’t enough to say on a topic that seemed so important at the beginning. But it must be done, easy or not, because without Thing 3, there is no writing.
Mr. Friedman has traveled the world and taken research to the highest levels. He has spent a monumental amount of his life at the keyboard, writing, writing, writing. And he has possibly thrown more text into the trash than many writers have written. He has paid the price of doing the 3 Things every day. He has this in common with the lowliest writers to the giants, across all of history, and anyone who aspires to write well should be prepared to do the same.