Two Questions on Writing (#27)
Daniel Gilbert once outlined his “Rules for Good Writing”. The rule number one was “strive for three things”:
There is no third thing
For me, writing is for learning. I seek knowledge. Clarity is important because clear writing is clear thinking. But I struggle with engagement. I concern myself more with the correctness of my writing than telling good stories. I find myself reluctant to improve my storytelling simply to boost engagement.
This goes against Morgan Housel’s idea that “best story wins.” I get that — I watched the movie Lincoln (2012) and noticed that Abraham Lincoln always convinced others not by arguments but by stories. Indeed, humans are deeply influenced by stories. If I’m only reading “dry” information without many examples, I internalize them poorly.
But somehow I’m still not convinced that I should spend more time on telling better stories. This puzzles me.
A second question is how much to publish.
I’m often encouraged by the first camp of people and feel I should do more, yet I find myself more like the second camp.
I thought about the value of writing privately. “If you start writing for the public, external rewards can inadvertently shift your focus. Instead of taking time to think better, you bother yourself with numbers that don’t matter.”
But if my goal is to grow knowledge, feedback and criticism are important. Putting my work out there puts my ideas to the test. Richard Hamming said in his famous speech, “...although people who work with doors closed often work harder... Somehow they seem to work on slightly the wrong thing...” For me, it also serves as an act of invitation to build connections with others.
This is another puzzle: post more or not?
I don’t have good answers. Here are a few thoughts:
The last rule from Daniel Gilbert was “Don’t try. The only style worth having is your natural speaking voice.” Maybe the way I’m writing now is my style. I don’t have to be like Morgan Housel.
My psychological hurdle towards engagement might come from people trying to “engineer” hooks to increase click rate. That’s probably too extreme. A healthy engagement is probably not about fooling people, but about making it more interesting and memorable. I’m sure Morgan Housel writes that way because it’s fun for himself, instead of forcing it.
Posting weekly seems to work well for me — a balance between posting too much or too little. I’m also experimenting with writing more tweets. We’ll see how that goes.
If you have any thoughts, happy to discuss!
On this Week
From this issue I’ll start experimenting with sharing tidbits from the week that might be interesting. I hope you like them.
📖 Die with Zero by Bill Perkins
The book Your Money or Your Life changed my perception of the time I spent at work: you’re spending your finite life energy to earn money. Die with Zero applies a similar idea on the other side: you should spend money to increase your life experience.
I’m heavily influenced by Mr. Money Mustache and probably discount the value of money too much. Even before I quit my job I would hesitate to buy “unnecessary” things. This idea from the book hit me: “It makes no sense to let opportunities pass us by for fear of squandering our money. Squandering our lives should be a much greater worry.”
Check out my book notes for more.
📜 Karl Popper on history not resembling the past
Society is changing, developing. This development is not, in the main, repetitive. True, in so far as it is repetitive, we may perhaps make certain prophecies. For example, there is undoubtedly some repetitiveness in the manner in which new religions arise, or new tyrannies… But this application of the method of conditional prediction does not take us very far. For the most striking aspects of historical development are non-repetitive. Conditions are changing, and situations arise (for example, in consequence of new scientific discoveries) which are very different from anything that ever happened before. — Conjectures and Refutations
🧘♂️ A mindful reminder
I was (again) reminded this week how important it is to remain invested in mindfulness practice and learning. It’s so easy for me to go to the extreme and get totally absorbed by my thoughts and ambitions. If I’m too much in my head, I become less empathetic for myself and others.
Sometimes releasing the grip on our quest for meanings can be liberating. Oliver Burkeman calls this “Cosmic Insignificance Therapy”:
Drop down from chasing this god-like fantasy that you have to matter in some cosmic sense, into a life that can truly matter in a human sense. (source)
I hope you find this helpful! I’d be thrilled to hear your thoughts or questions, or say hi on X.
Until next week,