Writing online can be an arduous process. Anything you publish is public forever and can be read by anyone. Crafting material that stands up to this scrutiny is challenging and it is not always clear that the effort is worthwhile.
After some consideration, I’m convinced that it is a good idea to write publicly. I’m sharing this note to outline my thinking on why.
You should write because:
1) You will clarify your thoughts
Ideas often start taking shape as disordered insights coalesce over time. Since we are used to our internal monologues, it is possible to confuse personal opinions and unvalidated theories with facts at this stage. So it is important to occasionally pause and evaluate our logic from first principles.
Writing is a potent tool for facilitating this self-reflection. Knowing that your thoughts will soon be public on the internet pushes you to distill them into their meaningful core. The accountability forces you to critically evaluate your thought process, structure your arguments, and further research any uncertainties.
In the past, I’ve been guilty of persisting in projects despite having a vague awareness that I was ignoring an underlying issue. I invariably detected these holes in my logic when I attempted to explain the idea to a friend. Writing formalizes this process.
I recently came across Julie Zhuo’s recent post commemorating four years of writing. In there she says: “If I could say it out loud to the world, I could discover where my convictions lie.” Writing forces you to find out what you truly believe in.
2) You will make helpful connections
When you share your writing online, you become discoverable.
We are all connected in the fabric of the internet. We participate in social networks, read forums, and share relevant articles with friends and family. Thanks to these mechanisms, there is a good chance that the right people will come across your writing over time.
This dawned on me recently when I published a blog post about organizing a concert as a programmer. At the time, I was working on a different music project and was exerting significant effort in order to connect with important players in the industry. As a result of this post and it’s circulation, these individuals reached out to me of their own accord.
I learned an important lesson about the social structure of the internet. Instead of trying to reach people, I could create the conditions in which they reached out to me.
I followed this trail of thought and read Austin Kleon’s book “Show Your Work!” which fleshes out the idea. Austin makes the point that even though we can spend our time networking, getting warm introductions, and sending cold emails, it is perhaps more effective to spend the equivalent time honing our work, sharing it online, and then connecting with the right individuals at scale. He quotes Dan Harmon (co-creator of Community and Rick and Morty) in saying: “Find your voice, shout it from the rooftops, and keep doing it until the people that are looking for you find you.”
3) You will evolve your thoughts
The individuals who engage with your writing usually do so because of a shared interest. Thanks to their varying backgrounds, experiences, and specialties, the feedback they provide will be diverse and valuable. They will surface insights which you were not aware of. As Christopher Hitchens once said “[writing] brings you into contact with people whose opinions you should have canvassed before you ever pressed pen to paper.”.
The process of sharing improves the final outcome of your work.
4) You will become a better communicator
By writing regularly, your ability to express yourself will improve. You will appreciate the value of phrasing and well-chosen examples. You will grow to empathize with your audience and anticipate their concerns before making your case. You will learn to tell better stories.
Writing is a proxy for other forms of communication. By becoming a better writer, you become a better communicator. This will positively impact many aspects of your life and career.
5) You will become a better reader
By focusing on your own writing, you notice the writing of others more. You appreciate nuances of the craft that are invisible to the uninitiated but which make a material difference. You notice the author’s use of narrative, suspense, or simply their original phrasing.
Enhancing your ability to write, and therefore read, will grow your respect for the written word. This will pay dividends for the rest of your life as you explore the large canon of human work with deeper appreciation.
6) You will find another channel for creativity
In a way that reminds me of programming, writing is a tool that can be used both practically and artistically. You may start writing because it serves some immediate practical purpose for communication. But there is a chance that over time you will grow to master the craft and appreciate it as a means of self-expression.
With all that in mind, I’m committing to writing more in 2017. I look forward to seeing where this journey takes me.
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