10 Non-Obvious Things I’ve Learned About Writing

I’ve done one on management as well as a software person — here’s a few non-obvious things about writing that I’ve learned over many, many, many years:

  1. Most of your work is done in your head, throughout the day and night. If I were to venture a guess (because that’s what it is)… I’d say that it’s a ratio of 100 to 1 where for every hour of writing that I do, I’ve already spent 100+ hours thinking about that topic. Maybe, even, into the thousands or tens of thousands of hours. Writing, as a wholistic discipline, is one of the most inefficient uses of one’s time, but, when done masterfully, it can start wars (or end them).
  2. The act of writing is still a 1-to-1 relationship with time — either you’ve maximized it or you’re wasting it. You get what you put in, nothing more and nothing less. Every keystroke is a commitment; every pause, deliberate. If you spend 5 minutes penning 500 words then you’ve written 100 words per minute. If you spend 50 minutes with the exact same outcome, then, you’ve wasted time.
  3. Your ROE (Return on Edits) is a lot lower than you could possibly imagine — desperately lower. In other words, spend less time editing and more time just capturing your thoughts. A nice bonus is that when you do this your writing sounds a bit more authentic as well. The “rough edges” and grammatical mistakes give color to an overly doctored and clinical world.
  4. The Muse is real — she just doesn’t give a fuck about your schedule. Show up and she will sometimes reward you with her matchless presence. But, if you don’t, she’ll never appear.
  5. Becoming a writer is easy. Quitting is even easier. Professional (vocational) writers don’t write because they love it — they write because they are called. Sometimes, if they are lucky and super-blessed, they will also love it too. But, that’s apparently rare.
  6. Honest writing is honestly hard, mostly because we’re literally in the process of self-discovery as the words flow out of us. It’s quite natural to write something only to realize that you vehemently disagree with the very thing that’s still (digitally) drying on your notepad. Sometimes, I’m so disgusted with what I just wrote that I literally have to get out of my chair and walk away! Writing forces us to commit to a side; sometimes, it requires us to think deeply and even defend it.
  7. Your writing is shit. It’ll be shit for a long time. Heck, it’ll be shit forever. Everyone’s writing is shit. Mine is the best shit ever. We’re all writing things that, if not today will eventually embarrass us mercilessly tomorrow. Who cares, keep going.
  8. Count how many times you censor yourself while you write. Now, multiply that number by 5 as that’s how many years it’ll take you to work yourself out of that nasty habit. If you’ve done it 3 times, it’ll take you ~15 years to get that out of your system; hopefully faster.
  9. You may discover that your love for writing is less than your love for the discipline of writing. These things are different and it’s important that you understand the difference. And no, I can’t tell you what that difference actually is — that’s a personal story of self-discovery.
  10. Writing will make you a master communicator, full-stop. If you don’t think you have room for improvement in that department then you’re already self-selected yourself out of the running and you should expect mediocre outcomes. I have yet to encounter anyone who communicates professionally who doesn’t also write (and read!) copiously. I’m sure they are out there though.

Bonus: Reading will make you a better writer but only if you actually practice. Reading well is actually quite hard to do.