WRITING

BY THEODORE KINNI

Ayn Rand on Writing
The writer suggests five steps to clear, compelling communication.

“W

riting is something one can learn,” declared Ayn Rand. “There is no mystery about it.” In 1969, over 16 evenings, the novelistphilosopher demystified writing in a series of informal lectures given to a small group of colleagues. Her lectures were taped, and, 19 years after her death in 1982, edited and published as The Art of Nonfiction. Although best known for her two perennially popular novels of ideas, The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957), Rand devoted her later life almost exclusively to nonfiction, promulgating her philosophy of Objectivism through speeches, essays, and articles. Objectivism was and remains controversial, but Rand made sure that it was always clearly and compellingly presented. For all her success, Rand was not a born writer, at least not in English. She spoke the language only haltingly and did not yet write it when, at age 20, she left Communist Russia for the United States in 1926. It took her years to master writing in her adopted language, and throughout her career she worked hard to improve her craft. The three most important elements of effective nonfiction writing, said Rand, are “clarity, clarity, and clarity.” Beyond that, she believed in writing first from the subconscious, without the interference of the conscious mind. Once the first draft is down on paper, then editing can begin. Following are her tips for writing as clearly and powerfully as Rand herself.

I What will I write about? Define the topic and be sure that you can cover it adequately within the parameters of the project. I

the premise: my subconscious, right or wrong.” Rand suggested that you write without stopping and to the greatest extent possible, without consciously thinking out each sentence. Don’t slip into editing or make major changes in the draft, and try to work in complete sequences. All of this, said Rand, will allow you to maximize the output of your subconscious mind and minimize your need to edit.

What do I want to say about this subject? Determine the theme of your project—the point of view that you want to communicate. Is what I have to say new? If not, then don’t put pen to paper at all, advised Rand.

5 Edit objectively
Rand proposed a three-level approach to editing. First, focus on the structure of the work. At this level, you need to ensure that it progresses logically and respects the reader’s intelligence. Second, focus on clarity. Ensure that the writing is communicating exactly what you intend it to. Rand warns writers to beware of overcondensing— cramming too much into a sentence or paragraph—and automatization—a rote sequence in their own thinking that assumes too much of the reader. Third, consider style. Her tips:
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2 Judge the audience
Most of us, and certainly all business writers, are writing to an audience. So, in order to write persuasively, we need to identify the characteristics of our intended audience.

3 Create a plan of action
Like many experienced writers, Rand was a firm believer in the power of the outline and suggested two tests to measure an outline’s completeness. The first is the essence test: an outline is complete only when you can understand it as a unified whole. “If the abstract structure is not clear in your mind, you cannot hold in mind the overall view of your [project] or decide what belongs in it,” said Rand, “so problems will arise.” The second is the test of final causality. This test, which Rand adapted from Aristotelian philosophy, says that when your outline establishes and details a logical chain of cause-andeffect steps that lead to the established conclusion, it is complete.

Don’t complicate a simple thought. The simpler the words, the better. Don’t use sarcasm, pejorative adjectives, or inappropriate humor. Don’t use bromides. Don’t use unnecessary synonyms. ❑

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Williamsburg, Va.–based business writer Theodore Kinni has written or ghostwritten seven books. He can be reached at hmcl@hbsp.harvard.edu

FURTHER READING
The Art of Nonfiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers Ayn Rand; ed., Robert Mayhew Plume 2001

1 Limit subject and theme
Rand advised writers to answer three questions at the start of any project:

4 Draft from the subconscious
Rand believed in the creativity of the human subconscious. “While you are writing,” she said, “you must adopt

Copyright © 2003 by Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

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