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LM: #265: Writing is easy once you know what you think

May 27 2024 – 10:00am

I used to think writing was hard.

When I wrote, most my energy was spent trying to come up with something clever, or trying to choose words I thought a writer would choose.

Now, I spend most my writing energy trying to mine my mind for what I’m actually thinking. If I’m spending energy choosing words, it’s to balance simplicity with precision.

Figuring out what I actually think is still not easy, but it’s gotten easier. I consistently find two mental roadblocks standing in my way: One, what I want to be true. Two, what others have told me.

When I want something to be true, it’s usually because believing otherwise would tell me something inconvenient about the world or myself. Or, would portray to others a version of me I don’t want to be. Letting go of the desire for certain things to be true has been a journey towards humility and comfort with uncertainty.

You’d think you’d remember that others have told you what’s true, but usually you don’t. We’re full of assumptions we’ve made based upon observations others have made explicitly, or that we’ve gleaned from the collective assumptions of others. For example, the rise of cryptocurrencies has shed light on collective assumptions we make about the value of numbers on our online banking dashboards.

There are many other ways to get stuck while attempting to write, such as not having sufficient knowledge, not knowing the proper grammar and punctuation rules, or not having the vocabulary to say what you want. But beyond those, the biggest obstacle is simply knowing what you think.

Once you know what you think, writing is easy.

Aphorism: “Readers should always feel that you know more about your subject than you’ve put in writing.” —William Zinsser

Cool: God is American is a fascinating documentary of a cargo cult on a remote island in the South Pacific.

P.S. My blog turns twenty years old on Friday. Much of what I’ve learned and am telling you in this email is said accidentally in my first post.

P.P.S. Buy the Preview Edition of my upcoming book, How to Sell a Book.

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