“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it.
That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.”
Octavia E. Butler
Writing has many benefits. And it doesn’t have to be 30-page essays with perfect grammar. It could be taking notes. Just the act of writing thoughts into words gives the best benefits for me.
There are many aspects that I’ll delve into below. The statistics of writing for life, idea clarification, improving ideas, positive feelings involved, and improving storytelling.
Writing for life
I aim for this to be a lifelong endeavour. To improve myself and give me something to look back on. Like family photos giving a glimpse into a past life. I want my past writing to give a picture of who I was at that time.
How much could you write in a lifetime? Well, I’m going to use myself as an example. Started writing at 23. I was born in 1996 when the expected male lifespan was 73 years old. So for the sake of the argument (and hopefully), I’ve got at least 50 years left.
At the moment I can comfortably write about 1,000 words a week at a standard I’m happy with. 52,000 words per year. An average book is about 100,000 words. 50 years of writing left times by 52,000 words a year gives me about 2,600,000 words total! Or about 26 books worth. That’s pretty comfortably though remember.
1,500 words a week? 39 books worth.
But this year I’ve averaged 2,376 words per post, per week. Giving me 123,552 words per year. And 6,177,600 words potentially over my life. Just over 60 books. Will that happen? Honestly, who knows. I’m just starting out writing so I may ramp up over time. Or I could get bored and fizzle out. But I find it interesting to think about extrapolating those numbers out.
In my head, I have so many ideas. I feel like they’re fully formed and understandable.
Then I start writing. And I realised just how half baked and incoherent the thought is. Writing them down gives me the chance to refine and research these ideas.
A lot of my writing itself is half baked. But I chose to put average writing out rather than nothing. And I do come back to update posts. My writing is never truly set and forget. I think you sort of have a duty to try and update it at least. Similar to programming.
So while I may pump out shit now. I hope one day it’ll turn into manure. Useful.
Adding on from clarifying ideas, writing more and improving gives me better ideas.
How? Well, let’s say I write some quality banging ideas. That brings in engaged readers. Engaged readers comment and message, giving more ideas and feedback. More ideas and feedback give me more quality content to write about! It’s the best example of feedback loops.
Also, the act of writing alone will improve my writing. Doing = improving.
Comes from a story in Art and Fear.
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.
His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.
Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
Showing up is half the battle. Just getting it done is where the progress happens.
Now I’m all for optimising learning, don’t get me wrong. But I feel it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to over optimise at the expense of actually doing and learning.
Like for me learning to program. I spent more time than I’d like to admit trying to find the very best and efficient resource when in reality I should have just accepted a decent resource and got on with it.
Quality work doesn’t just appear out of sheer will. It’s a slow grind, learning from mistakes. You sometimes have to know what not to do, in order to know what to do.
Improve Language Ability and Storytelling
If can’t tell from my posts, my grasp of the English language is fairly meh. I don’t have a wide range of vocabulary like others may do my age or in other English dominant countries. So writing is a way for me to bridge that gap.
I’m constantly googling the meanings of words to make sure I’m not butchering them. Especially on Twitter, some people (I suspect purposely) use really obscure and verbose words. It feels like it’s for the sake of sounding smart.
All I know is I have to waste my time googling the meaning so I can understand what they’re trying to get across.
I don’t think I ever want to get to the twitter stage of obscure word choice. But I do want to improve my vocabulary, and especially my storytelling.
Storytelling I feel is huuugely underrated today. It can captivate friends, strangers and internet users across the globe. A good story can do anything. And that’s what I love the most. But conversely, I think that’s what I’m the worst at!
Work in progress though.
Learning in Public
This blog and my writing is my attempt to learn in public. It’s a place where I can experiment with my writing, highlight what I’m reading and summarize what I’m learning.
But why learn in a public space like this?
Reading up about learning in public and I love the quote “Try your best to be right, but don’t worry when you’re wrong.”. Obviously, you’d love to post only correct, good writing. But mistakes are where you learn. “Go fast and break things” might be a little applicable too.
But what if you do receive some negative feedback or someone says your work stinks? Take it on board. Ask them a simple why? How can I be better? Often people are kind enough to give feedback on areas for improvement. And if they don’t? Well maybe try self analyse where you think you went wrong, or their opinion may not be valid in the first place.
Learn, Build, Share, Repeat
Similar to learning in public, but I feel deserves its own section. Found this from Patrick O’Shaughnessy, it’s been pretty influential in my process.
Learn. Strive to understand what you might not already know. “There are those who don’t know, and those know they don’t know”. The arrogance that you know all will eventually come back and bite you in the arse.
Build. Putting what you learn into action. You can read and learn from all the best gardening books in the world, but if you don’t put it into practice, are you really a gardener? It could be writing, streaming, creating videos, teaching. Turn what you’ve learned into something that is your own, and give something back that others can, in turn, learn from too.
Share. Put your work out there. Like mentioned above, it creates its own loop of getting engaged readers, who provide ideas and feedback, which lends itself to quality content, bringing in engaged readers again. Plus also through sharing your work, you’ll connect and meet with plenty of interesting people. Since sharing my work three months ago, with piss all readers and ~50 odd followers on Twitter, even I’ve had 5 or so people message through. It’s incredibly empowering and already has made this worth it.
Repeat. Continue ad infinitum. You got to learn to not only trust the process but enjoy it too. The grind is where the fun is.
It’s Damn Therapeutic
When I’m deep in a writing binge, it’s almost meditation. I feel as if the words are just flowing into the page. There’s almost no effort involved.
Is it quality publishable work? Definitely not. But that’s what editing is for. But I guarantee it’s a bloody good feeling. The more I write the more I want to write. It’s like the compounding effect, but for writing. Instead of compounding my money, I’m compounding my willingness and excitement around writing.
Also again, the more I write, the better I get.
To Expand My Network
“Writing is the most scalable professional networking activity – stay home, don’t go to events/conferences, and just put ideas down. Building your network, your audience, and your ideas will be something you’ll want to do over your entire career. Think of your writing like a multi-decade project.”Andrew Chen
Selfishly, I also write to grow my own personal network of who I know and interact with. Hopefully by writing it attracts those types of people who I’d want to work with.
Writing is a tuning fork for finding those who resonate.
The beauty of blogs, writing and the internet is just that you never know where it might end up. Someone from literally the other side of the world might just stumble into your work, love it so much, get in contact and have a friend for life! Optimistic I know. But I prefer that option to the pessimistic one.
So Why Write?
To clarify those ideas floating around in your head. To give you better ideas that build on the ones you already have. Build an audience which gives the benefits of random encounters that can lead anywhere.
I think you should write. And I should write. As much as possible. For as long as possible.