The one about writing | Just Reflections - Issue #5
Great to have you here for the fifth round.
This past week was amazing! I got the greatest engagement I’ve gotten so far on the newsletter. I enjoyed chatting with everyone who replied to the email. For those who read this online and not on the email you can find hanging out on Twitter and Instagram, drop me a DM and I’ll definitely respond.
I also realise that all the feedback I’ve gotten so far is people sharing with me about what they agree with. That’s great, but I’d also love to hear about what you don’t agree with. I’d love to hear your alternative opinions and have a chat about them.
With that out of the way, let’s get into it.
The one about writing
As I’ve already said, last week’s issue did really well. I got a lot of positive feedback and the highest engagement so far on the newsletter. This was really great and an enormous boost to my esteem. It was also terrible because it put me under a lot of pressure and the entire week I’ve been worried about whether I can repeat it or top it. They say when you’re at the top of the hill, the next step is downhill. Seeing that I thought a lot about writing this week, let’s talk about writing. I think all of us should be writing.
A while ago I tweeted some lessons that I learned from reading Patrick McKenzie’s blog titled, “Don’t end the week with nothing” in which he details how, as employees, we can create value for ourselves while we’re doing work for our employers.
A big idea in the article was about how we should not just be consumers of content but also creators. I dug up this tweet because I think it answers a question that people often bring up when they consider writing, “What will I write about?”. Check out my summary if you don’t want to read the whole blog:
1/ 🧵Check out @patio11's newsletter titled, "Don't end the week with nothing" which talks about how those of us who are still employees can make the best of it and gain something for ourselves in the process. Here are a few things I pulled out of it: https://t.co/Dr1egF5Mm3 https://t.co/NFm3QEWZqK
I believe that all of us should cultivate the habit of writing our ideas, but I haven’t always thought this way.
In May 2018, I started the Just Livin’ Life podcast with my then girlfriend, now wife. I always thought we had a lot to talk about regarding relationships and I always found our discussions insightful. I also thought it would be a great way for us to have a project that we work on together as a couple, something separate from our relationship within which we can explore each other’s thoughts, disagree on things, etc without making it personal. I also thought it was a great way for us to explore questions about relationships and marriage that we need to talk about, but would be difficult or awkward to bring up under normal circumstances.
Despite all these good reasons, I feared putting myself out there online for people to scrutinise. I had thoughts like, “why would anyone listen to what we have to say?”, “there’s nothing original that we can produce. Other smarter people have already said everything that we could say.”, “if my friends and family find out that we’re talking online and sharing our thoughts, they’re going to make fun of us.” After a lot of thinking and reading and procrastination, we eventually got it going.
Throughout the process of preparing for the podcast and subsequently many other creative things after that, I read a lot about sharing your ideas in public. Let’s look at some of those ideas that gave me the confidence to share my thoughts on the internet that might help you do the same.
Document your process
Putting your work out there is not about coming up with new things that haven’t been said before. It’s about documenting your own process. It is also not about self-promotion, it’s about showing your work.
Several years ago, I read the book, “The friendship factor” by Alan Loy McGinnis. To this day, I still believe that it’s one book that had one of the most profound influences on my life. However, I just have the faint memory that the book changed my life, but I have no recollection of how or what exactly it taught me. I never documented my thoughts and feelings as I was reading it. Of course, I was just a 15-year-old kid so I can cut myself some slack but unfortunately, while I’ve read a lot of things since then it’s only recently that I’ve started documenting my thoughts and feelings about any of it. Most of the ideas I learnt have fizzled off. This leads us to the first lesson I want to share. Be a documentarian of the things that you’re consuming.
When you read a book or article, when you listen to a podcast, etc. Write some notes about what your thoughts and feelings are as you consume that content. It’s one of those things that you won’t appreciate much at the time because you feel you’ve understood the ideas, it’s time to move on to the next thing. But if you just take 10 or 15 mins to consolidate your thoughts or to think about what you have learnt. About how your feelings, thoughts or behaviour have changed or should change as a result that will help you in the present moment, but it’s also going to be very interesting to look back on it in the future.
Writing forces you to clarify your thoughts. You’ll never really realise how undeveloped your ideas are until you attempt to write them down. What seemed to be a very intricate plan in your mind can leave you struggling to form sentences when you attempt to write it. However, pushing through this will allow you to see the true breadth and weight of your ideas.
It creates a bank for your ideas. We all have many brilliant ideas often. We read profound things and learn life-changing principles and interesting quotations. But we also easily forget these things. Writing about the things you learn and the ideas you have creates a second brain for you to store all your ideas. Then, whenever you need to remember something, you have a quick reference. If you want to audit what you’ve learnt, you have a place to go to find that. You have a record of your progress. I guess that’s part of why so many people believe in journaling and keeping diaries. If you don’t write it down, you will probably forget it.
Author Austin Kleon, in an interview with Ali Abdaal — a popular YouTuber — shared this interesting thought about having something to say.
“What is interesting about having a blog or some sort of daily project, even if it’s like I post one thing to Instagram every day …, is that you find out it’s not that you have something to say; it’s that you find out what you have to say. … some people say, ‘oh you must have so much to say because you write every day’, I’m like actually it’s the opposite. I have more to say because I sit down and write every day and I figure out what I’m thinking and what it is that I have to say. So writing is not just a way of communicating with the world, it’s a way of communicating with yourself.”
An outlet for emotions
Writing can also be a way to express emotions that are difficult to deal with. It is a way to conserve them, allow them to develop over time, process them, and eventually turn them into art. Kendrick Lamar, the Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper, is a self-proclaimed note-taking master. Commenting on this, he famously said:
“I have to take notes because a lot of my inspiration comes from meeting people or going outside the country, … or my old neighbourhood.”
Part of why Kendrick is such a phenomenal artist today is because he’s been living in the world of ideas for a very long time. More than that, he documents all the ideas and impactful moments he encounters. In the article, “Kendrick Lamar’s Poetic Awakening”, Kendrick shares about his English teacher Regis Inge, who changed his life when he introduced poetry into the curriculum.
“Inge introduced poetry as a way to deescalate the intensity. As he saw it, if the kids wrote their frustration, they wouldn’t need to express it through physical violence. They were dealing with heavy issues at home, not just gang tension. Some of them were food insecure or had problems with self-esteem. Others trekked to school just minutes after law enforcement stampeded their homes and arrested family members. ‘Poetry was a way for them to write their emotions down so they wouldn’t come to school so angry,’”
How many brilliant ideas have escaped your mind after you failed to write them down? How much useful advice and how many memorable quotes have you lost to the chaos of memory? Writing is the best way to store our precious ideas so that we can level up our creativity and build systems to improve our craft. As the popular adage goes, ‘the ink preserves what the memory forgets’. By writing, you have the opportunity to compound your knowledge over time.
A vehicle for serendipity
Once you build the habit of documenting your work, take it a step further by sharing that work in public online. Writing online is a fantastic vehicle for increasing your serendipity. This is the idea that the wider you spread your ideas, the greater the surface area of encountering interesting things or meeting people you resonate with. This “vehicle of serendipity” term was coined by David Perell in his popular writing course, “Write of Passage”. Here’s how he explains it:
“When you create and share an idea, if you put your ideas on to the internet … little robots can carry your idea … all around the world and then there’s people who are sitting from Malaysia to Mauritius to Algeria who are scrolling the internet and they want to learn about whatever it is that you have written about or created a video about. And when you’re sleeping, when you’re out playing tennis with your friends, when you’re on a walk on the river, you pay no charge and those robots are like little carrier pigeons who deliver your ideas to people all over the world. What’s amazing is that you can make something once and the robots will work for you for the rest of your life. So as they deliver your ideas to people, serendipity happens! You meet new people, they reach out to you, they want to give you money, they want to help you, they have a consulting project that they need your help with. … But why I like the word ‘serendipity vehicle’ is what they can imagine with the ideas that they can share is beyond what you can possible think …. And the things that end up entering your life are things that are outside of the scope of your imagination and that you couldn’t have dreamed of them before.”
Addressing the fact that many people fear that they have nothing meaningful to share, Austin Kleon, in the book “Show your work” talks about how you don’t need to be a genius to share your work. You can embrace the beginner’s mindset. This can be very liberating because there is little to lose. Amateurs can try anything and share the results without the expectation of brilliance. They can take chances, experiment, and follow their whims. And like Austin Kleon puts it, “Sometimes, in the process of doing things in an unprofessional way, they make new discoveries”. After all, if you’re a beginner, you’re much more capable of teaching other beginners because you have a much clearer grasp of the things that are difficult for beginners. In the words of C. S. Lewis:
“It often happens that two schoolboys can solve difficulties in their work for one another better than the master can. The fellow-pupil can help more than the master because he knows less. The difficulty we want him to explain is one he has recently met. The expert met it so long ago he has forgotten.”
No one really cares, do it for yourself
Many of us don’t write because we think people will look at our written work and judge us for thinking we can write. We think they’ll read our things and ridicule our opinions. First, I’ve learnt from this newsletter that getting people to read your things is really hard when you’re trying to get them to read it. So if you’re not trying, it’s likely that no one will read it. So don’t worry about sharing it.
Second, likely no one will look at it and think, “you’re very stupid for sharing your opinion online”. If you’re not a celebrity or big politician, there’s a big chance that “no one cares”. So don’t write for anyone else but yourself. Get used to sharing things with no expectation of returns. We all think that people are looking at us and judging us, but people are too busy worrying about their own lives and their own battles. Do you look at people who share their thoughts and judge them for it? I’ll guess that you don’t, in which case why do you think anyone else does that. If you do judge people for sharing their opinions, you seriously need to get some hobbies.
My Twitter profile isn’t that big and no one really interacts with anything I post there. So, at some point, I started using Twitter as my personal note-taking app. When I get ideas, when I read about things that interest me, etc. I tweet about it. It forms a reference that I can always go back to. Some things I write about in this newsletter come from things I tweeted randomly, most of which got little to no engagement there, but they’ve been incredibly useful to me. So again, get used to sharing with no expectation of return. Write for yourself. If there are people out there who resonate with what you have to say, you will serendipitously find each other.
Reflecting on it now, learning to put myself out there with the podcast and getting used to the idea of random strangers on the internet listening to my thoughts got me used to the idea of sharing my thoughts. So when it came to writing this newsletter, I was no longer worried about what people will think about me sharing my thoughts on the internet and you shouldn’t either.
So get out there and write, do it for yourself, don’t worry about being judged by people. No one cares! People are too busy worrying about their own lives. David Perell sums this up well:
“When you start writing, do not even think about what the world is going to be interested in. Just do what interests you. … If there’s any lesson on the internet, it is that you are not the only person interested in whatever it is that you’re interested in.”
That’s all I have for you this week. If you like the newsletter, consider sharing it with others on Twitter, WhatsApp or Facebook. Hit the thumbs up or thumbs down below to let me know what you think about the issue.
I hope I’ve given you something to think about this week and I wish you ever-increasing curiosity.
Until next week.
Impactful ideas that challenged my thinking.
I have a lot of interests so I'm always learning all kinds of things, some of which really challenge my thinking. In the Just Reflections newsletter, I'll be sharing with you a summary of the ideas that challenged my thinking recently and hopefully they will challenge yours too and we grow together.
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