🎉I am writing these notes in my new project — Brick, a magical mystery no-bullshit thingy. Writing goes much faster when I don't have to hit “Publish” or do
git commit. Live editing feels effortless.
Try it out at Brick.do.
Aimless perfectionism makes writing very painful. I muck around, not knowing how to write an awesome post and what the criteria for awesome posts are, feeling like I'm in a swamp.
The solution is to publish everything. Clean up your Twitter threads, chat convos, etc, publish them, and post the links on Twitter or send to friends. Writing — any writing — will get easier.
This post, itself, is a chat convo I have turned into a post — to hammer down my own suggestion into myself.
Let's compare normal and aimless perfectionism. For me, "playing piano" is normal, "writing posts" is aimless.
Piano: did you hit any wrong notes? Did you stutter? Is the tempo mechanical, the intonation — absent? You play, you notice mistakes, you try to fix them. With every performance you're aware what kind of person you will and will not impress, and you track your progress.
Writing posts: ...I don't have any criteria for a good post. But I know that some posts are awesome, "golden". Without other goals in mind, this becomes the goal. "If anyone compiles required reading on topic X, my post must always end up on the list." This makes writing painful, and publishing — devastating. I wrote a supposedly canon-worthy post, and got only two likes.
Except that aimless perfectionism has a very good defense: it's 100% reasonable. Writing something that is [universally acknowledged to be awesome] is cooler than writing something that only a few people like. Saying a new insighful thing every time is cooler than hammering a few points down. Etc.
I haven't convinced myself that writing something that is [universally acknowledged to be awesome] is not cool, or maybe impossible. It is cool and possible. What I did is — I started to like the other bits about writing, too.
As I'm writing this post, I'm not thinking about how cool it is going to be. I know it will be only as cool as I already am, and not more than that. I am impatient and want to finish it already — so that I can go to a cafe and work. I will finish it and I will be satisfied knowing that I have written something.
By publishing everything, you will learn how to make reasonably good writing effortless. You have to actually try to learn it, though. "Publish everything" doesn't mean "don't edit anything".
Your writing should be captivating and lucid, regardless of the ideas behind it. Add microhumor, make your writing sound natural, make your writing sound weird, add examples, admit when you're bullshitting. (This last bit is bullshit. I don't know if admitting when you're bullshitting is actually any good.)
Scott Alexander is very good at this. Here's a book review by Scott, vs by someone else:
Someone else: UtEB’s first detailed example of an emotional schema comes from the case study of a man in his thirties they call Richard. He had been consistently successful and admired at work, but still suffered from serious self-doubt and low confidence at his job.
Scott: So in one of the book’s example cases, a man named Richard sought help for trouble speaking up at work. He would have good ideas during meetings, but felt inexplicably afraid to voice them.
Someone else: Richard had experienced his father as being assertive as well as obnoxious and hated. His emotional brain had identified this as a failure mode to be avoided: if you are assertive, then you are obnoxious and will be hated.
Scott: During therapy, he described his narcissistic father, who was always mouthing off about everything. Everyone hated his father for being a fool who wouldn’t shut up. The therapist conjectured that young Richard observed this and formed a predictive model, something like “talking makes people hate you”.
When cleaning up Twitter threads and other existing writing, practice this.
Yep! You will enjoy this skill in itself, and won't feel like "either I have to write an awesome post, or I might not even bother". Writing will get fun.
Oh, and this also happens to be a skill that is necessary for writing awesome posts. Win-win.
I went to a vertical wind tunnel recently. There were ten people per session, and everyone booked 2 or 4 minutes. But the vertical wind tunnel people didn't do it like "two minutes and you're out". They made it so that everybody had a go, and then everybody had another go. One minute, then you're watching everyone else try, then you get another minute. It's more overhead for them, but they did it anyway. They know how shit works.
Practice, and learning, and getting better, all require stepping back. Do something. Step back and observe. Try again. Step back, observe.
If you aim to only ever have one post per topic, you will fuck up this principle royally.