The Benefits of Writing

A few weeks ago I talked with Robin Powell about our upcoming Evidence-Based Investing Conference and a host of other topics. He asked me what my motives are for writing this blog. I don’t usually put much thought into this but here’s my answer:

I was never much of a writer before starting my site, but it really is a great addition to the learning process. Documenting your thoughts and ideas is a great way to understand what it is you really think about something. And I’ve found that the more I write the more I’m willing to learn. When I started writing the blog a few years ago I assumed I would run out of topics to write about fairly quickly. Instead, I find I now have more ideas than ever because my writing habit has increased my reading habit.

I don’t consider myself a writer so much as someone who writes in order to enhance the learning process. It really is a great way to gather your thoughts and get better at figuring out how to say things in a more accessible, understandable way for both yourself and others.

This learning process has led me to try to understand how real writers approach their craft. I’ve come across a number of good books and essays in recent weeks that contain some very useful advice on how to think about the writing process.

This week I read a piece by Rebecca Solnit with 10 tips on how to be a writer. I thought this one was important:

2) Remember that writing is not typing. Thinking, researching, contemplating, outlining, composing in your head and in sketches, maybe some typing, with revisions as you go, and then more revisions, deletions, emendations, additions, reflections, setting aside and returning afresh, because a good writer is always a good editor of his or her own work. Typing is this little transaction in the middle of two vast thoughtful processes.

Like any worthwhile endeavor, there is much more that goes into writing than simply the act of doing it. There’s a lot of preparation and critical thinking required for good writing. It’s also a process that I’ve found can change your mind on certain topics. There have been countless times when I start out with a theory only to come to a completely different conclusion by the time I’m through writing a piece. Writing is a good way to edit some of your own entrenched thoughts and opinions.

In his book The Win Without Pitching Manifesto (a book I highly recommend for anyone selling a product or service) Blair Enns talks about how writing can help your expertise on a given subject:

Writing about what we do is the fastest way to deepen our knowledge. Writing at length on our expertise drives us into the deep crevices of our territory. As focused experts, we benefit from repeated observation of the same challenges. Writing is the tool that helps us formalize our thinking on these observations. It forces us to tighten our arguments and therefore our understanding. Writing might not come naturally to us, it might be painful at times, but the rewards are significant and the exercise is mandatory. If we are to be experts we must write.

Lest you think all people who write are experts or should consider themselves experts, Steven Pressfield has a sobering dose of reality in his book Nobody Want to Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is And What You Can Do About It:

In the real world, no one is waiting to read what you’ve written.
Sight unseen, they hate what you’ve written. Why? Because they might have to actually read it. Nobody wants to read anything.

It isn’t that people are mean or cruel. They’re just busy.
Nobody wants to read your shit.

Everyone can have a platform these days to write and share their thoughts or opinions if they so choose. That means it could be easier or harder than ever to get your work noticed depending on how well your message resonates with the target audience.

I think anyone can benefit from writing, whether others read it or not, but if you do want others to find value in your work Pressfield has some good advice on how to make that happen:

What’s the answer?

1) Streamline your message. Focus it and pare it down to its simplest, clearest, easiest-to-understand form.

2) Make its expression fun. Or sexy or interesting or scary or informative. Make it so compelling that a person would have to be crazy NOT to read it.

3) Apply that to all forms of writing or art or commerce.

When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, your mind becomes powerfully concentrated. You begin to understand that writing/reading is, above all, a transaction. The reader donates his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities.

In return, you the writer must give him something worthy of his gift to you. When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, you develop empathy.

Many people seem to assume that all creative types must just have natural gifts that allow them rely on talent alone to get things done. But the more I read about successful writers, comedians, athletes, actors, entrepreneurs and investors, the more I understand how important it is to work at your craft and create a sustainable process.

How to Be a Writer: 10 Tips From Rebecca Solnit (Literary Hub)
The Win Without Pitching Manifesto
Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is And What You Can Do About It

Now here’s the stuff I’ve been reading about lately:


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