Practicing Writing

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 cheatsheet at the bottom of this page.

Overcoming writing blockers

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 passionately 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 writer 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 often an excuse you're giving yourself.

Your blocker may not be comfort, but rather distractions. Two potential 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 a deeper underlying problem. A common one is choosing a topic you’re not sufficiently passionate about.

Blockers recap

Practicing writing

Writing a high volume of posts is important for building a writing habit and generating new ideas, but volume itself is not the goal. Getting better as a writer is the goal. This requires deliberate practice and feedback.

For example, turn writing into a game:

Feedback from friends is how you validate you're making progress. In writing, feedback is inseparable from practice.

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.

I find that 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.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't write a lot. You should get your practice in. I'm just telling you how I personally seek content.

Writers I like

The past few years have shown that the Shakespeares, Twains, and Austens of the future won't emerge from the book publishing industry. They’ll come from YouTube, podcasts, and blogs.

Here are some contenders whose writing I like:

The difference between good writers and bad writers is good writers know when their writing is bad.
—Dan Brown

Example of dissection+

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

My dissection

1

2

3

4

5

Now, were all these choices deliberate by Paul, and do they reflect his true intentions?

I don't know or need to know. I think about it like this: Find what you love about great writing then deconstruct them, take notes, and experiment yourself.

Ultimately, keep rewriting until your writing is clear, succinct, and compelling.

Writing is clear once your ideas are self-evident.

Writing is succinct once everything low-value is removed.

Writing is compelling once the reader effortlessly makes it to the end.

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

Cheatsheet

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. I will not send you any other emails. Don't worry!

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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

Storytelling

How to engage listeners

Creativity

How to generate ideas

Life advice

How to act on advice

Personal values

How to choose a career

Mental models

How to make decisions

Vanity metrics

How to set goals

Punctuation

How to write clear sentences

My favorite stuff

Shows, films, artists

Newsletter

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