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A few things I’ve learned about writing

On the joys of writing

I don’t have a good memory, but the very first time I wrote something semi-serious was about a decade ago. I used to write some spectacular nonsense about what was in the news. Then I lost the habit.

Later, I started working in financial services. Finance is a weird industry. You rarely make a lot of money if you do what’s right. You make some, but not a lot. The only way to make a lot of money in finance is to sell your soul, one tiny bit at a time. It’s like a systematic withdrawal plan (SWP), but for selling your conscience.

The industry thrives on exploiting the little guy. If you, by chance, believe in nonsesne like morality and have some of it stuck on your calves and hips, the industry will make you miserable. I’m one of those people. It’s an industry where there’s no shortage of ethically bankrupt behaviour. So out of pure righteous indignation and laced with a coward’s savior complex, I started writing about 3–4 years ago. Pretty much everything I wrote was about how normal people could get rich slowly without being scammed.

Around the same time, I set up a personal blog and started writing about finance as well. Given that youth unemployment is a huge problem, I created another blog last year with the nominal goal of curating good things on the internet. I’ve been more or less doing that for the past five months.

Writing has been more or less fun, and I’m glad that I started. I wish I had a robot stenographer or Elon’s Neuralink so that I didn’t have to type, but I’m poor. Until I’m rich, I have to engage in the disgusting act of pressing buttons on a keyboard to type the thing that I want. Being poor sucks. This quote sums up how I feel about writing:

“I Hate to Write, but I Love Having Written”

I never really thought of myself as a writer, and I still don’t. But over the last year, people started reaching out to me to say that they liked what I wrote or that it helped them in some way. Although attention was never the goal, I’m not gonna lie, it feels good.

Writing has been enormously rewarding, and it’s made me much less dumb. As I’ve written over the years, I’ve learned a few things about writing. For some reason, my mind has been pestering me for weeks to write about it. I didn’t because I’m not a writer, but then again, that’s 99% of the people. I’ve no idea why I’m really writing this—I’m not kidding—or if it’s useful, but here goes nothing.

This is neither a comprehensive post nor gospel. These are a few things about writing I’ve learned so far in my life, and this is more of a permanent draft than a complete post. It’s guaranteed that my views on writing will change as I learn more. That’s life. So I intend to keep updating the post at regular intervals.

Writing is the easiest way to be a little less dumb in life

Like 99% of people, I’m a regular person trying to make a living. I don’t really have any notable skills to speak of. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that being a little less dumb every day is a phenomenal advantage. The best way to be a little less dumb is to write regularly.

Being just a little less stupid compounds over time, and as you near your final breath, you may even be a little wiser.

It reminded me of something I heard A. C. Grayling say when he was talking about the Stoics:

Epictetus used to say to his pupils every day when they had their discourses and they had had their discussions and they were leaving, he would say to them, “Tell me, how long will you delay to be wise? How long will you delay before you really think about this challenge and come up with some views about how you might live and what you might be?”

Then, of course, there would be among those who attended his discourses folks whose 31st birthdays were a bit of a faded memory, who were a bit superannuated. They’d say, “Well, I mean, you know, what’s the point now?” And he would say, “No, no. Even in the last hour of a very, very long life, you could become wise. Even in the very last hour of a long life, you could make that choice.”

This quote is from the same video, which I wrote about a few weeks ago.

Writing is the easiest way to read more

You can only write well if you think well, and to think well, you need to read well.

I think of the human brain as a large language model (LLM). To make it smart, you need to feed it mountains of information, both good and garbage alike. The way you feed your brain is by reading extensively. Once you have stuffed your brain, over a period of time, it will start seeing patterns and learn how to sift the sense from the nonsense.

Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window. — William Faulkner

The closest thing to heaven on earth is a good book, a decent place to sit, and a strong filter coffee. There’s something magical about books. It reminds me of something Albus Dumbledore says in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban:

For in dreams we enter a world that is entirely our own. Let them swim in the deepest ocean, or glide over the highest cloud.

A book is much like that. In between the pages of a book, you can get lost in distant words, become a hero in thrilling fantasies, witness historic tragedies, speak to the greatest, and argue with the smartest people to have ever lived. A book is not just a collection of pages; it’s a magical portal.

Wherever we want to go, we go. That’s what a ship is, you know. It’s not just a keel and hull and a deck and sails. That’s what a ship needs. But what a ship is… what the Black Pearl really is… is freedom. — Captain Jack Sparrow

Good books have the ability to shatter our delusions and poke holes in our ignorance. They can unmake you and lead you down whole new rabbit holes that you couldn’t have imagined. I don’t think everyone enjoys writing, but I think anybody can be a writer.

You’ll know if you like writing when you read amazing books, because they can cause a profound yearning in you to tell the world about them. They stir and provoke you, and before you know it, your keyboard becomes a witness to the maelstrom in your head. You try to scratch that itch by writing, but it’ll never go away, so you keep writing.

Writing helps you think.

You can only write well if you think well. To think well, you need to read well.

The quality of your writing is directly proportional to your thinking. To think well, you need to read well. Of course, reading alone won’t make you a good thinker. You also have to live a little. That means fucking around in life, making mistakes, and learning from people who’ve been around the block.

Nothing clarifies your thinking like writing.

Writing helps you wander

I don’t know why I’m remembering all these Pirates of the Caribbean quotes, but in At World’s End, Barbossa has a banger when he and the rest of the gang try to rescue Jack Sparrow:

Will Turner : Barbossa, a heading!

Barbossa : Aye… we’re good and lost now.

Elizabeth Swann : Lost?

Barbossa : For sure, you have to be lost to find a place that can’t be found, elseways everyone would know where it was.

Reading is just like that; you need to get lost to find things you didn’t know you were looking for. One of the best things about writing is that it forces you to be honest. The more you write, the more you stop talking out of your ass by writing about things you aren’t sure about. When you aren’t sure about something, you start looking for answers. When you seek answers, you discover whole new worlds that you didn’t know existed.

Writing is a way of saying thank you

I don’t know about you, but I often marvel at the time we live in. There has never been a time in history when so much information was available at our fingertips for free. It’s nuts.

A big part of why I write is to share interesting perspectives from smart people. When I read, watch, or listen to something good, my brain automatically says, “More people should know about this.”

If you read the last few posts I’ve written, they are all summaries of insights from others. I write about them because that’s my way of saying thank you to the writers. When you think about all the amazing things people share for free, it blows my mindhole. On the one hand, climate change will slow-tandoori us to death, but on the other, we also live in a golden age of knowledge. Bullshit too, but knowledge as well.

Writing helps you calm down

If you are anything like me, you are always pissed at something or someone. Having this feeling of righteous indignation fucking sucks. The only things that help you calm down are being high on drugs, punching the shit out of someone, or writing about whatever is making you angry.

Drugs and violence rarely end well, so that leaves you with the least desirable coping mechanism: writing. I read somewhere that the antidote to writer’s block is to write about things that make you angry. It’s the same if you feel mad about something. The way to calm down is to write about it and tell the world about it.

I’ve also noticed that people who write have this constant chatter in their heads. Their heads are filled with voices that never shut up and thoughts that never stop. The only way they can calm down is to get out as much as possible by writing. This reminded me of something that I heard the author, Margo Steines, say on a podcast. In this case, she was talking about her use of checklists, but it might as well have been about writing:

Margo Steines: I mean I always love a list and I feel like it’s very representative of the way that I think where I often feel like there’s an accumulation of thoughts that is like faster and more urgent than I can write. — How to Write About Pain

Writing is the world’s oldest social network

A few weeks ago, I read about the legendary lifelong friendship between Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx. Engels discovered Marx through his writing, and their meeting led to one of the greatest intellectual partnerships in history. Their friendship was so strong that Engels supported Marx’s family financially because Marx could never stay in one place or hold a job due to his radical views.

That writing can connect people was a bit of a revelation for me. A few weeks ago, I published this post over the weekend and then went to sleep like a BBMP dog. But when I woke up the next day, both Tom Morgan, whose podcasts I had summarized, and Bogumil Baranowski, whose podcast I had mentioned in the post, sent messages.

If not for the post, it would’ve been near impossible for me to talk to them, partly because I’m a wuss. But I was stunned that accomplished people like them would bother to say hi to some random weirdo on the internet like me.

Every month, at least one or two people send a message saying that they liked something I wrote. All of these people are amazing and accomplished in their own right, which always blows my mind. This wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t writing.

Writing helps you connect random dots

If you’ve noticed, I’ve used references from two movies and two videos so far. That’s the amazing thing about writing. It helps you connect the dots between random things and gain a better understanding of things. Oh, and I’m not saying this because I’m a genius dot connector; I suck at it, but I’m getting better.

Mike Sowden and Morgan Housel are two insanely gifted connect-the-dot’ers. I love reading both.

Of course, for this, you have to be indiscriminate in the things that you read, listen to, and watch, but writing forces you to do that. The best part of connecting random thoughts is that it makes your writing and thinking much more clear and vivid.

Writing helps you be true to yourself

Unless you are an expert on something, most of your initial writing tends to be bad. You also tend to imitate other writers, confidently bullshit about things you don’t understand, and write fluffy nonsense.

If you are conscious of this, you’ll have an annoying voice in your head that will keep saying, “You’re a hack.” With some practice, you’ll slowly get rid of all the bullshit and find your own unique voice and lane. At least this was the case with me.

The more you write, the more honest your writing becomes. Unless you are sure and confident about something, you won’t publish it. In a way, your writing will reflect your values. You will stumble in the dark before you get there, but you will.

This reminds me of something the legendary Michael Schur, who’s responsible for amazing TV shows like The Office, Parks and Recreation, and The Good Place, said on a podcast:

Some people might describe it as finding your voice. It’s a place where I personally like… it took me a while to find that spot. I started at SNL when I was 21. I was terrified. I didn’t know what I was doing. I started the job, I went to therapy, I talked about it with people. I like… overcorrected. I spent way too much of my time thinking about the job and trying to outflank it.

I was also trying to imitate people. Like, Adam McKay was head writer at the time, and Tina Fey and Will… I was like, “Whoa, I’m just gonna copy them.” But I can’t, because I’m not them, and I don’t write like them, and I don’t come from a Chicago improv background. And so, all of my attempts to copy them and capitalize on their success were flops, because I just wasn’t authentically that person.

Eventually, through a combination of hard work and therapy and a bunch of other stuff, I found my little pocket, I found my little voice. And the stuff I wrote started to be better and started to be received better.

Good writing comes first, and all the bullshit comes later

I follow some crazy smart writers on Twitter. One thing that drives me mad is that many of these people publish anodyne and formulaic bullshit because they’re writing for engagement and virality. These people spend countless hours trying to “hack” the algorithm. More time is spent on how to seduce the “algorithm” than on writing something good.

It’s the same on other platforms, like Substack. Brilliant writers spend an insane amount of time “hacking” and “optimizing” in the hopes that the algorithmic gods will look down upon them favorably. This optimization culture has become a disease, leading to an ocean of undifferentiated bullshit.

Wherever you look, it’s the same clickbaity headlines, captions, and exaggerated nonsense. As tech ethicist Tristan Harris says, “it’s a race to the bottom of the brain stem.” It makes me sad that the entire generation has been wired to write in ways that please the algorithms.

All the hacks and optimizations in the world can’t make terrible writing seem good. Trying to write something good is 99% of the game.

To write something good, you need to write a whole lot of bad stuff

I’ve realized you need to write a whole lot of horrible and embarrassing shit before you can write something good. Once all the gunk is out of your system, you’ll automatically start oozing lyrical sentences.

Trying to please others is a slippery slope

I often hear the advice, “Write for yourself.” It’s good advice, but the truth is, we all crave attention and adulation deep down. As so often happens, writers unconsciously end up writing to please their readers rather than what they want.

The desire to please readers reduces with time, but I don’t know if it’s possible to have 100% Zen-like detachment from the whims of the readers. That being said, you can use that to your advantage. I came across this brilliant piece of advice yesterday:

The instinct to fit ourselves to our milieu is tricky. It often leads us astray. If not deliberate, we end up internalizing behaviors and values that do not serve us. But it can also, in this way, be a strength: by actively curating your “audience”, as well as what you let into your senses, you can leverage the instinct to conform in your favor. You can create an environment that pulls you in the direction you want to go.

Writing is an antidote to impostor syndrome

I’ve long had a raging impostor syndrome, and writing has helped immensely in dealing with it. The more you write, the more time you spend understanding things, and so the lesser the odds of you saying dumb and stupid shit. In time, you’ll feel less like a phony.

Beware of writing tools

Be careful when using writing tools and AI tools. The more you rely on them to write, the more generic and undifferentiated your writing will be. You can’t outsource your thinking to these tools, and if you do, they will become a crutch. I use these tools, and I can see them becoming a problem. I’m consciously trying to reduce their use.

Own your work

A rookie mistake I see writers make is to rely only on platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Substack to host their writing. That’s a recipe for disaster. From MySpace, Vine, Tumblr, Facebook Bulletin, Revue, to Medium, history is littered with cautionary tales.

If you rely on platforms, you’re nothing but a digital serf, and you don’t own your work. You’re just toiling away for their benefit. Build your own website and own your work. It’s 2024, and there are hundreds of tools like WordPress to build a website without having to code. Don’t be one of those schmucks who lose all their work because some platform goes kaput.

A few more thoughts

  1. A good night’s sleep is mandatory for good writing.
  2. Writing helps you figure out what’s important and what’s not.
  3. The ability to murder your darlings is important when you write. This is something I struggle with. I get attached to words and sentences.
  4. Writing is a good way to talk to yourself. Given the pathological narcissism that plagues our world, we’d do well to look inward.

As you can see, all those thoughts are a little messy and incomplete. But I hope you are feeling like Ernest Hemingway, thanks to all my wisdom.

You will never be as good a writer as I am, but you can try. Go on. Start.


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  1. This is a fantastic piece of writing, about writing! You have got a reader here. Looking forward to see what more is in store. Love the style, brilliant.

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