The Raymond Chandler Rule

The novelist Raymond Chandler used to write on index cards on his typewriter.

He had one rule: something had to happen on every notecard. By following the rule, his stories moved at a brisk pace. For Chandler, it trained him to be crisp and direct. The online writing equivalent is to make sure your reader has an epiphany every 250 words. This heuristic makes your prose more concise, which increases the regularity of “woah, I didn’t know that” moments which make reading so enjoyable. 

My favorite example of somebody who follows The Raymond Chandler Rule without realizing it is 3Blue1Brown, a math-focused YouTube channel which explores complicated math concepts in 20-minute videos to a subscriber base of more than 3 million people. It proves that short attention spans are a myth. In actuality, opportunity costs are rising which means that readers are more likely to stop reading if they’re bored. 

The readers you want to have appreciate long, in-depth ideas, provided that they’re wrapped in a compelling narrative and come with a string of mini-epiphanies that work in harmony. In fact, my two longest essays: What the Hell is Going On and Peter Thiel’s Religion are the most popular ones I’ve ever written. It’s not that you can’t explore the depths of an idea. But just as good comedians nest mini-jokes inside of larger ones, good writers keep readers engaged with an epiphany every 250 words. 

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