One of the things I love about Lydia Davis’s advice to writers in her collection Essays One is that she is explicit that the writer’s education should be mostly self-directed.
Here are points 2 and 3 in full:
2. Always work (note, write) from your own interest, never from what you think you should be noting or writing. Trust your own interest. I have a strong interest, at the moment, in Roman building techniques…. My interest may pass. But for the moment I follow it and enjoy it, not knowing where it will go.
Let your interest, and particularly what you want to write about, be tested by time, not by other people—either real other people or imagined other people.
This is why writing workshops can be a little dangerous, it should be said; even the teachers or leaders of such workshops can be a little dangerous; this is why most of your learning should be on your own. Other people are often very sure that their opinions and their judgments are correct.
3. Be mostly self-taught.
There is a great deal to be learned from programs, courses, and teachers. But I suggest working equally hard, throughout your life, at learning new things on your own, from whatever sources seem most useful to you. I have found that pursuing my own interests in various directions and to various sources of information can take me on fantastic adventures: I have stayed up till the early hours of the morning poring over old phone books; or following genealogical lines back hundreds of years; or reading a book about what lies under a certain French city; or comparing early maps of Manhattan as I search for a particular farmhouse. These adventures become as gripping as a good novel.
Many of the good writers you enjoy probably aren’t much smarter than you. They’ve just forced themselves through the process of transferring vague feelings into words and the clarity that generates. The takeaway for voracious readers is that you can discover new perspectives and new context by writing yourself.
A sound advice:
Alan looked at me for what I remember as a very long time. “Just remember,” he said. “Turn every page. Never assume anything. Turn every goddam page.”
Outlines help you write any text
Interview with John Gruber on history of markdown, writing and podcasting.
Origins of markdown start at around min 11:00.
Derek Sievers shares his approach to journaling and recording your thinking
For me regular journaling works better on paper but topic journals are great way to capture thoughts and ideas on topics that may be more random and scattered.
I definitely agree with recording thoughts in .txt to ensure long term accessibility.
One thing I’d add is light formatting using markdown syntax.
such a great observation from Nicholas Bate
It’s tempting not to write the problem down for fear of making it real.
But the process of writing it down starts the process of reducing the problem, taming its power and identifying a solution.
1. Should you write a book? You will always have something better to do, and thus IQ and conscientiousness are not necessarily your friends in this endeavor. And you are used to having them as your friends in so much of what you do.
7 more points are over at Marginal Revolution
Note-taking is not just a method for remembering. It is a way a writer tells himself, or herself, a story – and this becomes a process of life, a mode of being.
A writer’s brain is like a magician’s hat. If you’re going to get anything out of it, you have to put something in first.
This neatly explains why you need to read in order to write.
Writing for friends and yourself can clear your thoughts, help you plan and invite the discovery of new ideas. Writing with the intention to put your thoughts out there leads to real writing. Writing gets real when it is read. Before that, it is a dream in letters. Writing to get read makes you careful, responsible, and considerate. It forces you to think as simply, clearly and understandably as possible. It forces you to think about how what you say may look and feel from the outside.
The above post is one of the best ones I’ve read this year. I made at least a dozen highlights and finished it with a head full of ideas about how to improve my blog.
H/T to Patrick Rhone for sharing it on his feed.
Daniel Boorstein once said ‘I write to figure out what I think’. It’s a surprisingly accurate quote – until you sit down and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) you have nothing. Not until you have a coherent work with a beginning, middle and end, AND a justifiable premise, AND the ability to defend it to other people’s attacks, you don’t really know what you think. Writing it out is a very, very different process than just having a half formed idea kicking around inside your head.
I share below quote only to realise it’s been a month since my last entry.
“Your podcast will reach more people than your book will. A blog post will reach more people than a podcast.”
“Everyone should write a blog, every day, even if no one reads it. There’s countless reasons why it’s a good idea and I can’t think of one reason it’s a bad idea.”
[Productivity] serves the same psychological role that busyness has always served: to keep us sufficiently distracted that we don’t have to ask ourselves potentially terrifying questions about how we are spending our days. – Oliver Burkeman
The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks.*
― Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book