On writing daily, style, and clarity

I really enjoyed this post by Ryan Holiday: Why do you write so much1? Nobody has ever asked me why I write so much. Maybe that can be a goal. Recently, it’s certainly crossed my mind. “What’s the point.” Sometimes I’ll read things I’ve written recently and I wonder how long it’ll take until it’s worth reading. I believe in the system — just not all the time. Most of the time, though, I do. If I publish2 100 things, I’ll be better than when I started. I think it’s going to start taking some deliberate practice.

One technical communication class sticks out to me. First, it was with one of my favorite teachers from college. Who believed in me enough after I graduated to hire me to build her portfolio site (she was a freelance writer). Anyway, I can’t remember what the class was called. But we did some deliberate practice. Most helpful were exercises about cohesion and coherence in writing.

Up to that point, coherence was stressed in English classes or for writing assignments in other subjects. But in these writing exercises, we would get lists of sentences and analyze how rearranging the sentences could emphasize or confuse points. I really got to see that there are many ways to write the same sentence, but some can be much clearer than others.

Here’s the book: Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace. For some reason, it’s over $50 new and not available on Kindle. But I found my old copy at my parent’s house and brought it back to New York. I’ll have to take some time to review it. Maybe I can share some examples of good sentences. And eventually create my own.

While we’re at it, here’s another link from Ryan: 44 Writing Hacks From Some of the Greatest Writers Who Ever Lived. A great collection of writing tips from Ryan Holiday. He’s got a new book out that I’ll try to check out soon. I enjoyed The Obstacle is the Way and have tried using some of the techniques in the past year. Though I could use a refresher.

I listened to Ryan’s appearance on The James Altucher podcast. He talks about finding someone better, the same, and worse. And explains how important each one is and why.

There’s an interview with Frank Shamrock. You’ve gotta find someone who’s better than you, because they show all the things you don’t know. You have to find someone who’s as good as you, so that you’re challenged at your level. That’s sort of how you generate strength. You have to have someone who’s less than you, who’s not at the same level as you. Who you are in turn teaching. So you’re cultivating humility because this person is so superior to you, you’re cultivating confidence because you’re challenging and hopefully besting this person who’s your equal, and then you’re also paying it forward and articulating what you’re learning to this other person. One of the best ways to learn something is to try to teach what you know to someone else. And *wait I don’t understand this so I have to go back to the material. *

Anyway, I’m a couple weeks into this writing project and here are three things working for me.

  1. Just two crappy pages. Or making sure to separate writing and editing. The first draft will be bad. It’s important to get to the first draft. A lot of times, the final draft won’t be good either. I’m subscribing to the lessons in Show Your Work. Getting the misses out of the way and all that. I’ll get better and this is part of the process.

  2. Writing by hand. There’s something to being able to write on something that doesn’t let you check your email or look up… anything in the world. I think it takes longer up front, you write slower than typing, but being able to focus deeply might be worth the trade off. And it feels cooler.

  3. Setting a timer. A lot of this stems from the success I’ve had using a timer for things like design sprints. If I write different sections against a timer, I’m able to get a draft of a portion done. Then move on. Even if it’s not done I can move on and evaluate later whether I want to come back to that or if it’s just a dud.

  1. I found this post in Keep and it was mostly complete. Already wrote about the “Why do you write so much?” link in another post, but it’s fine. I’m realizing it’s fine to link to the same things more than once, because it’s unlikely that anyone’s reading every. single. post. And if you are: thanks for the support.

  2. It still feels weird to say “publish” when it’s just posting something to a blog. Mostly because I think of scientific journals when I hear “publish”. So maybe I’ll say ‘post’.