Writing Practice

This is the last page of a guide to Writing Well. Start at page one.

Key learnings from this guide

All of these takeaways, and more, are recapped in a cheat sheet at the bottom of this page.

Building the writing habit

I became a writer when two things were true:

  1. I had strong opinions to express and nagging questions to answer.
  2. I could build the discipline to fully reason through my ideas.

And I'm ready to write a given post once I've reached two thresholds:

Even if you reach these thresholds, sometimes you'll encounter existential blockers. Let's tackle them.

1. Blocker: Lacking good ideas

Four shortcuts for sourcing topics to write about:

2. Blocker: Concerned no one will read

Write in order to make sense of your mind and the world around you. Accept that most of writing's value comes from helping you clarify your own logic. The resulting clarity makes you a wiser speaker and decision-maker.

When clarity is your goal, having an audience matters less. For a writer to have a long career, I find it's critical to approach writing this way.

Fortunately, getting to the bottom of the ideas you truly care about is also how you grow a loyal audience. Thanks to the algorithmic nature of Twitter, YouTube, and SEO, truly great and authentic content eventually surfaces over time.

If you're looking to learn about content distribution, here's my guide.

3. Blocker: Fear of being judged

Some writers fear their writing opens them up to attack: they worry that if a reader finds fault in their writing, they are finding personal fault in the writer.

If you're frozen by the fear of judgment, you can hedge against it:

Candidly, an unspoken ingredient to writing success is having a bit of shamelessness about getting things wrong in public. Too much shamelessness means you're a charlatan. But too little means you'll never publish.

No blogger is always right. Accept it.

4. Blocker: Procrastination

If you procrastinate occasionally, that’s normal—forgive yourself. However, if you procrastinate endlessly, that’s a problem.

Overcoming short-term procrastination

Procrastination is the result of two reflexes:

  1. Indulging in immediate rewards like browsing YouTube instead of writing.
  2. Avoiding work you perceive to be uncomfortable or tedious.

Let's tackle these two blockers.

1. Avoid distractions

Have you noticed how much writing we can get done on airplanes—despite having our knees and shoulders uncomfortably squeezed together for hours? Why is that?

It's because there's nothing else to do on an airplane.

This reveals a contrarian truth about writing: needing a comfy chair, room, or "the right ambience" is a myth. If you're waiting until your room is the right temperature to begin writing, you're lying to yourself.

Your blocker is not comfort, but rather distractions. Two strategies:

2. Speed past tedium

One trick for getting yourself to write is to only write sections that immediately interest you. Perhaps it's the middle of a post—that's okay. You don't have to write in order.

Sit down and write any three paragraphs you can. And do it fast. You'll find that by forcing yourself to start with speed, momentum carries you forward.

If this doesn't work for you—and you find yourself procrastinating for months—you may have one of three underlying problems:

Blockers recap

"If people cannot write well, they cannot think well. And if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them."
—George Orwell

Practicing

Don't practice writing by targeting a weekly output of words or posts. Output volume measures your busyness instead of your improvement.

Cadence is still useful for forcing yourself to overcome the friction of writing, but your primary goal should be making your writing increasingly persuasive or resonant. That's how you hone your eye for rewriting.

Persuasive writing requires logic and clarity. If you’re neither, readers cannot follow your arguments to become convinced of them. And if you fail to be succinct and intriguing, readers quit before digesting your full argument.

But what should you write about? Simply ask yourself, What's bothering you most right now? Write a post where you work through that—and get to a conclusion.

This is how I start every time. Writing is therapy that you publish for the world to learn from.

Note that I share a lot more advice on honing your writing on my Twitter feed.

The steps

  1. Write short posts that persuade your friends to change their minds.
  2. Ask them to score from 1-10 how much your writing sustained their interest.
  3. Rinse and repeat until you're regularly churning out 7.5+ posts.

Make this is a game, not a chore

Great writers make a game out of rewriting:

The more posts you run this process on, the better the writer you become. Personally, I believe I wrote 30 posts before rewriting finally clicked for me.

Dissect good writing

To learn what a job well done looks like, dissect your favorite posts: highlight the best and worst parts of each and identify what makes them so.

Writers who post frequently (say, twice weekly) are rarely worth reading consistently. I read for insights. And no writer can generate profound insights on a fixed schedule. I aggregate writers who publish sporadically. When they post, they truly have something to say.

From the writer's perspective, frequent writing is good for building a writing habit and improving writing skills. But that's mutually exclusive from my point.

Writers I like

Telling an author “You’re my favorite writer” is like telling a comedian “You’re my favorite speaker.”

Writing and speaking are how ideas are distributed. But 90% of the work is the thinking before the distribution.

I like to tell great writers that they’re “great minds.”

Here are some of those minds:

Example of dissection+

First, read the post below in its entirety. Then, re-read it while referencing my commentary underneath.

My dissection

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Writing examples

Below are blog posts that exemplify the topic objectives:

  1. Open people’s eyes by proving the status quo wrong. Example.
  2. Share a solution to a tough problem. Example.
  3. Distill an overwhelming topic into something approachable. Example.
  4. Tell a suspenseful and emotional story that imparts a lesson. Example.
  5. Articulate something everyone’s thinking about but no one is saying. Cut through the noise.
  6. Identify key trends on a topic. Then use them to predict the future.
  7. Contribute original insights to a field through your research and experimentation.

The wonder of writing

What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you.
—Carl Sagan

Cheat sheet

Below is the cheat sheet for this entire handbook.

If you enter your email below, the cheat sheet is emailed to you so you can easily reference it in your inbox. You'll also be notified when my next guide is out.

If you liked the quality of this handbook and want to learn how to play piano or how to write fiction, get excited because I'm releasing those handbooks next. You can get them a couple months early via email:

You're good to go  ⚡ Say hello on Twitter.

Writing process

  1. Choose a topic
  2. Write your intro, and use it to brainstorm talking points
  3. Get feedback on your intro
  4. Create a starting outline
  5. Explore talking points within your outline
  6. Rewrite for clarity, succinctness, and intrigue
  7. Cycle between rewriting, resting, and receiving feedback
  8. Copy edit for grammar, word choice, and flow

Objectives

Motivations

Introductions

First draft steps

  1. Choose an objective for your post.
  2. Write a messy braindump of your ideas.
  3. Transfer your best talking points to an outline. Use supporting points and resulting points: what is needed to make your argument, and what are the implications of your argument being true?
  4. Write your first draft using that outline.

First draft writing process

Clarity

Succinctness

  1. Rewrite sections from memory. Focus on the key points and let the fluff fall away.
  2. Then remove unnecessary words from each paragraph.
  3. Then rephrase paragraphs to be as succinct as possible.

Intrigue

Feedback

Style

Copyediting

Practice

Julian's blog posts

Creativity faucet

How to generate ideas

What to work on

How to choose projects

Vanity metrics

How to choose goals

Mental models

How to make decisions

My favorite stuff

Shows, films, artists

How to punctuate

How to write clear sentences