The Written Word

A few thoughts I have about writing:

Writing is an art, and art is subjective. Novelist William Maughan said there are three rules to good writing. “Unfortunately no one knows what they are.” I actually think there’s one: write the kind of stuff you like to read. Writing for yourself is fun, and it shows. Writing for others is work, and it shows.

Good writing is a performance. Mark Twain used to read aloud his family and watch their reactions. If he saw them getting bored, he’d cut that part out. If he saw them getting excited, he’d double down on that section. People don’t remember what you wrote as much as they remember how they felt when they read it.

A good story is like leverage for ideas. Stories leverage ideas the same way debt leverages assets. A idea on its own might be boring, but if you tell a good story about someone interacting with that idea, you can get people to nod their heads and pay attention.

People don’t remember books, blogs, or articles. They remember sentences. That should be your goal: a collection of memorable sentences. One good line is infinitely more powerful than a few clumsy paragraphs.

Most good writing is a byproduct of good reading. You’ll never meet a good writer who doesn’t spend most of their time reading. Not some. Most.

Writing is an efficiency game. Whoever says the most stuff in the fewest words wins.

But efficient doesn’t necessarily mean brief. There are 900-page books where every word adds value. Efficient just means every line is a delight to read.

Don’t try to build up to your point. It’s the biggest cause of rambling, and it’s where you’ll lose readers. The beginning of a story should be as pleasurable to read as the big idea that comes later.

The best books I’ve read have short chapters. Even if they are long books, they break things into quick sections that keep you moving. It keeps the author succinct and makes the reader feel like they’re progressing.

Big words mask little thoughts. They’re an attempt to fool the reader into thinking you’re smart when you have nothing smart to say.

Don’t overthink it. Just start writing. Great musicians find their music in jam sessions – unstructured, no planning, just seeing what happens. I think good writing is the same. If you think about it too much, you’ll be stuck. Start with one brave sentence and see where it goes.