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What should I write about? | Just Reflections - Issue #33
This week my favourite fiction author, Brandon Sanderson, redefined what publishing looks like. On Tuesday, 1 March, he made an announcement on his YouTube channel that, as we were all figuring out how to survive the lockdown, his way was to write.
During the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, he wrote 4 full-length surprise novels. Now, we all knew that Brandon Sanderson was already setting records with the rate that he pushes out books, but this time he took it to a whole new level. That’s not even the thing that’s going to change publishing.
He and his team at Dragonsteel Entertainment took a non-standard route in publishing these books and created a Kickstarter campaign for fans. Less than a week later, the Kickstarter has broken several records, including being the most funded Kickstarter campaign ever! As I write this, it has raised over US$25 million.
They will release the books one per quarter in 2023. I’m excited to be a part of this groundbreaking moment. If ever there’s a time to get curious about this Brandon Sanderson guy, it’s now. I suggest you pick up one of his books.
In commemoration, I’m writing about writing today.
To become a writer, write.
I’ve been writing every week for 33 weeks now and one thing I always think these days is that I started late.
One reason I didn’t start sooner was the struggle to find what I want to write about. The way I saw it, I needed to first figure out what I want to write about and, less critically, what my writing style was before attempting to put anything out in public. Lest I embarrass myself.
Eight months into it, I can now confirm two things.
One, no one cares! When I was thinking about writing in public, I was always worried about what my friends and family would say. I played multiple scenarios in my mind about how I’d get embarrassed when my articles are boring, when I’m not smart enough or when I say things that have already been said by other smarter people. The actual experience has been quite different. My friends and family fall into two sides, either they are supportive and encouraging, or they don’t even read any of my articles. Either way, no one has ever tried to embarrass me or prove that I’m a fraud like my inner critic had led me to believe.
Two, the best way to find out what you want to write about is to write. Building the confidence of your inner writer is no simple task. But if you keep writing, that voice will grow louder and louder. If I had kept on thinking the way I did, I probably still wouldn’t have written anything. That way, my ideas about what I might enjoy writing about would still be just random untested ideas. Writing is a craft. Just like knitting or cooking or painting, you’re only going to get better if you actually do it. Whatever your style is, the way to find it is to try many styles. The way to find your voice is to speak.
Kieren Westwood explains it really beautifully in this video:
Finding your voice as a writer (might not be what you think it is)
I heard an idea from Ali Abdaal this week; your work needs to pass your cringe test. If you meet a random friend or family member and they say they came across your work. Do you cringe or get excited about it. If you cringe, you fail the test. It means you still have some work to do in accepting your own work as worthy of being out there. If it makes you cringe, why do you expect that anyone else will be excited about it?
To be clear, I’m still not sure what I want to write about. But I have a much clearer picture of the things I’ve enjoyed writing about. More on that later.
Silence the inner critic. That internal voice that keeps saying you can’t. Your inner critic is an expression of your anxiety about putting yourself out there. But if you’re going to be anything above average—at anything—you need to face that criticism and put it in its place. Those of you who read this newsletter often, firstly thank you, second, you’ll know that while I always have something to say, sometimes I can write about it very well and other times I trip over my ideas and it’s all a big yawn. Regardless, I’ve learnt not to fear those experiences, not to ignore my inner critic, either. But to face them with humility and curiosity so that I learn and grow. And continue to let my thoughts out.
Share your work
Sometimes, to save ourselves from criticism, we think a better approach would be to lock ourselves in our cave. Work on our craft in silence, and then emerge as geniuses with a treasure trove of masterpieces, safe from anyone’s criticism.
That doesn’t work.
Allow yourself to be an amateur. The way to become good is by being not good enough first. Only people who understand that they don’t know everything can learn. And the ones who learn the most are the ones who have the clearest understanding of how much they don’t know. Only people who expose themselves to opinions other than theirs can expand their exposure. You cannot grow bigger than yourself if all you have are your own thoughts and opinions.
Like Isaac Newton said in his letter to Robert Hooke: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” Join a writer’s group, take a class, share with your friend, your mother, anyone. You’ll get criticism and rejections, but if you listen carefully, amidst those rejections, there’ll be enough words of praise, enough thoughtful criticism to keep you going and help you grow beyond your limitations.
Don’t worry too much
It’s really hard, if not impossible, to simply will your creative voice into existence. It’s something that you need to find naturally through organic growth. Over time, the more you write, your voice will develop. If you worry about it too much and you worry about where it’s going and where it is and where you want it to be, you’ll impede your own progress. You’ll always be caught up in worry and hold yourself back.
Let go and just write, and with time, your voice will become stronger and stronger. The most helpful thing you can do to find your author’s voice is to write and to write a lot, and that’s what I’m doing.
I love this idea from James Clear’s “Atomic Habits”;
“True behavior change is identity change. You might start a habit because of motivation, but the only reason you’ll stick with one is that it becomes part of your identity. Anyone can convince themselves to visit the gym or eat healthy once or twice, but if you don’t shift the belief behind the behavior, then it is hard to stick with long-term changes. Improvements are only temporary until they become part of who you are. … Whatever your identity is right now, you only believe it because you have proof of it. … The more evidence you have for a belief, the more strongly you will believe it.
For most of my early life, I didn’t consider myself a writer. If you were to ask any of my high school teachers or college professors, they would tell you I was an average writer at best: certainly not a standout. When I began my writing career, I published a new article every Mon day and Thursday for the first few years. As the evidence grew, so did my identity as a writer. I didn’t start out as a writer. I became one through my habits.
Of course, your habits are not the only actions that influence your identity, but by virtue of their frequency they are usually the most important ones.” — James Clear, Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results.
All this was leading to telling you I now have a pretty good idea of what I love writing about. I can see a general pattern in the kinds of topics that get me most excited. And judging from reader impressions, those are the articles that people resonate with as well.
The top three articles I enjoyed writing the most are:
I love writing about personal development and personal growth. Especially if I’m looking at my own life and analysing where I think I’ve grown or regressed and looking at how my ideas have changed. However, this isn’t just about me. I’ve just been an easy target because I’ve been “with me” all my life. But it expands beyond me. I enjoy learning about people and their perspectives on life. So when I’m reading a book, watching a movie or even having a conversation, I’m most intrigued when people are speaking about their ideas about life, their biggest life lessons, and their hot takes. Especially if they differ from mine. Collecting and understanding different perspectives about this complex thing called life is really fascinating to me.
That’s what I get most excited about, causes me to dig deeper into the rabbit holes when researching and put the most effort into when writing. Especially when it’s a personal growth topic that I can relate to. This means I can also reach into my personal experiences and glean some lessons from them. So I want to lean into these more. I’ll still write about many things that fascinate me. But I’ll have a strong bias towards this that I’m trying so desperately to describe; personal growth topics learned from people’s lives.
I hope you’ll stick around with me on this journey. I’ll close with one of my favourite lessons from 2021.
Get used to ugly babies!
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.
I hope I’ve given you something to think about this week and I wish you ever-increasing curiosity.
Until next week.
Weight: Get to 75kg by April 28 and 70kg by July
Broke below 78kg this week so I’m motivated. I had fallen off the path a bit, but I think I’ve regained my mojo. Let’s see how this week goes.
Sleep: Consistently sleep avg. 8 hours per day
Averages this week:
Duration: 6h 4m.
Avg. bedtime: 05:10.
Avg. wake-up time: 10:23.
Business: Start a business in 2022
Same as last week, my week was incredibly busy on many other fronts. Hoping to get more done this coming week. Keep an eye out for my Offerzen article. I’ll post the link here when it’s published.
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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