By far the question I’m asked more than any other is how I find so much time to read and write. Here’s the short version I posted on the new Animal Spirits Instagram account:
One of the reasons I prioritize writing is because I’ve seen so many benefits from the process, both personally and professionally. Here are some that come to mind:
1. The learning process. There are a dozen iterations of the quote that goes something like this: “I write to learn what it is I think.” I never realized how true this was until I began writing on a consistent basis.
I see myself as more of a learner and explainer than a writer. The process of writing is like pulling on a never-ending thread. It’s a way to organize the thoughts in my head that I never knew were a mess to begin with.
2. The reading. The only way to pull on that thread as a writer is to read more. Writing has forced me to read more about the markets but also a wider variety of subject matter. No one is good enough to consistently come up with unique material or takes on their own all the time.
And reading involves not just the act of taking in the material but further research, analysis, opinion, and contemplation. You also learn what it means to be a better writer when you read the work of great writers.
3. The routine. When I first started writing someone told me the trick was to write a little every day but give yourself permission that what you produce can be terrible. The idea is you’re never going to create a masterpiece straight out of the gate. Not everyone is born to be the next Bill Shakespeare.
At the outset, it’s more about developing the habit of writing than the end product itself. That comes later.
For whatever reason, the endorphins in my brain are triggered when I workout so I get antsy when I go long stretches without exercise. The same is true of writing. It’s a wonderful addition to my routine because it feels like I’m exercising my brain.
Most people picture profession writers as someone who is constantly on a deadline. I’ve never felt that way because I enjoy the writing process.
4. The feedback. There are plenty of endeavors in life where we get little to no feedback. Writing on the internet is not one of them.
People on the internet can be ruthless but it’s also something of a meritocracy. If you have nothing interesting to say, people will quietly ignore you. Steven Pressfield says as much in his book Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit:
What Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit means is that none of us wants to hear your self-centered, ego-driven, unrefined demands for attention. Why should we? It’s boring. There’s nothing in it for us.
People on the internet can also be helpful. I get tons of ideas and different ways of looking at certain topics based on reader feedback.
A blogger is only as good as their audience and I’ve found there is a very intelligent audience for this site. That works in my favor because it means I have to be thoughtful about what I say and make sure I always do my homework. If I don’t someone will call me on it (and deservedly so).
This feedback has been instrumental in my learning process over the years.
5. The communication skills. Two of the most underrated skills they don’t emphasize enough in school are sales and the ability to communicate with others. The ability to organize your thoughts in a way that makes people actually want to pay attention to them is invaluable.
It doesn’t matter how much technology changes the way we communicate in the future — the written word will always play a role.
6. The unintended consequences. I took up writing on a whim. There was no grand plan to parlay a blog into a book or a new job. I still can’t believe all the opportunities and great people I’ve met over the years simply because I randomly decided to start a blog.
Having low expectations going into it helped a lot because there was no undue pressure on myself to succeed. I just did it because I’m interested in this stuff and enjoy doing it.
Pressfield talks about the need for patience as a professional in his book The War of Art:
The professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career, but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work. He knows that any job, whether it’s a novel or a kitchen remodel, takes twice as long as he thinks and costs twice as much. He accepts that. He recognizes it as reality.
It’s counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to be patient is to have low expectations on the outcomes. Process you can control, but not how other people will feel about your work.
7. The voice. When you read other great writers it can be tempting to copycat the way they write. One of the best parts about the writing process is eventually finding your own voice and becoming comfortable enough to use it in your work.
Finding your own voice is also the best way to avoid being a hack. Here Pressfield provides the definition of a hack:
The hack condescends to his audience. He thinks he’s superior to them. The truth is, he’s scared to death of them or, more accurately, scared of being authentic in front of them, scared of writing what he really feels or believes, what he himself thinks is interesting. He’s afraid it won’t sell. So he tries to anticipate what the market (a telling word) wants, then gives it to them.
In other words, the hack writes hierarchically. He writes what he imagines will play well in the eyes of others. He does not ask himself, What do I myself want to write? What do I think is important? Instead he asks, What’s hot, what can I make a deal for?
I suppose there are plenty of successful hacks out there but they have to live with that fact. Finding your own voice is much more fulfilling.
Why I Love Writing About the Markets