Steven Pinker, On Writing Well
More on the “curse of knowledge,” or the blind spot that prevents experts from being aware of what novices don’t know. Steven Pinker talked about the concept in a recent presentation about good writing (the subject of his next book), as reported by Chuck Leddy in the Harvard Gazette:
Pinker made a final suggestion to those seeking to improve their writing. Take a piece of writing (a book, an article, etc.) that you deem exemplary and ‘re-engineer it,’ meticulously examining its component parts in order to understand exactly how the writer constructed it. Writing is an all-important skill, said Pinker, one ‘many people consider the signature accomplishment of a university education,’ and we can do it better.” (Read more here.)
This last suggestion is one I often gave to my writing students at Yale—I called i “reverse outlining.” It involves taking a finished piece of work and outlining it so you can see its architecture, how it was put together. It’s a technique that was taught to me by my first editor and it’s very, very useful.