@andrewchen

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How to write more

Dear readers,

As we enter a new year, many of us are setting goals to write more and create more content. As someone who has been writing consistently for the past decade, I wanted to share some strategies that have helped me in my writing journey, particularly in a professional context.

Collecting ideas
First and foremost, I emphasize the importance of collecting ideas. These ideas can come from anywhere – opinions, statements of fact, interesting factoids, statistics, or even visual content such as charts and graphs. These are things from X or books or Reddit or whatever.

I use an app called “Email Me” to quickly email myself these ideas and then compile them into a single note with a headline that inspires me to explore the topic further. So then my workflow is to open up this note with a bunch of bullets, each one a headline for a post, and then decide what to pick from

Let yourself write small
You should allow yourself to write things that are both big and small. But particularly, it’s great to give yourself permission to do much shorter pieces – tweets or LinkedIn posts – and they can even be a few lines. The frequency of creating helps you build the muscle for more later. Short helps you get over perfectionism, or a feeling of imposter syndrome, etc

The idea of “templates” is useful too – these are commonly repeating versions of posts that you can repeat, over and over, that always generate interesting content. Here’s some examples:

  • reviews of books
  • quotes from podcasts/articles
  • lessons learned from past projects
  • Q&A with a colleague/friend
  • top links about a particular topic
  • your answer about a particular topic
  • reflections on the past year/quarter
  • a factoid/statistic you found surprising

If you can collect these templates together, you’ll never feel writer’s block!

Setting aside time to brainstorm, and to write
Another strategy that has been effective for me is to have regular brainstorming sessions with a writing partner. This not only provides accountability but also helps in generating new and fresh ideas. At a16z we actually have a weekly content where people talk about what they’re working on each week, and riff on different concepts. It helps a lot.

Setting aside dedicated time for writing is also crucial. I find that scheduling 60 to 90 minutes, particularly in the morning when I’m fresh, helps me focus and eliminates distractions. I often do my writing Sunday afternoons as well, in prep for the week ahead, and try to crack out something that takes a few hours. These are my routines, and maybe you’ll find yours!

Distraction-free devices
I own a whole series of distraction free devices – I wrote my book on a dedicated laptop for writing that has nothing installed on it besides Ulysses, a writing app, and a browser. There’s some really cool Android tablets called BOOX that can pair with bluetooth keyboards – or you can use the Remarkable tablet that’s recently been out, with has a keyboard attachment. I also lock my phone into a plexiglass container with a timer to force myself to stay off my entertainment apps

In addition to these strategies, I’ve found that leveraging technology, such as using AI for brainstorming and voice-to-text apps, has been incredibly helpful in enhancing my writing process. I found chatGPT to be a strong brainstorming tool – just say something like, “I have X opinion, make a list of ideas that align, starting with Y and Z.” Then if you want more ideas, ask it for more. The hit rate sometimes isn’t great but you curate things down and then use that for your topic sentences for what you’re going to write. Voice-to-text is useful as well since it’s often easier to talk than it is to write. So if you ramble for 5-10 minutes there’s tools like Oasis AI that will clean it up into acceptable prose, which you can edit more later

Why “quality” is the enemy to writing
The top top obstacle to people writing/creating/building more (and this includes me!) is a misguided focus on “quality” as an excuse to procrastinate and to enable many other bad behaviors

Some thoughts:

1. quality focus hinders more writing and content creation
2. leads to procrastination and restricts experimenting with styles
3. taste develops faster than skills, causing disappointment
4. it’s important to accept failure as part of learning
5. start small, expand based on audience feedback
6. regular writing, experimenting with styles keeps process enjoyable

People often use quality as an excuse, thinking they need to craft a masterpiece to stand out online. They aim to produce only their finest work, expecting it to be widely recognized.

They say, look, there’s so much writing on the internet, and so much content. In order for my work to break out, what I need to do is I need to sit down and put down a masterpiece, something that will be recognized by people and I’m going to come up with the best ideas in the world.

I’m going to polish, polish, and polish. I’m going to put out only the best work. And then once that masterpiece is out there, then people are going to recognize it. Now, I would argue that that does not work at all. And the reason why that doesn’t work are really rooted in some really practical things.

Here’s why this approach is flawed
Firstly, focusing too much on quality is a great way to procrastinate. It leads to endless editing, turning what could be a quick tweet storm into a months-long essay project.

Secondly, it hampers your ability to experiment. When starting out, finding your voice is crucial, and it often takes time and trial and error. For instance, my own blogging and writing journey took about two years to find its stride. Experimentation is key, and a high-quality standard can stifle creativity and output. Initially, you might dislike your work as your taste develops faster than your skills, creating a frustrating gap between your taste and abilities.

It’s essential to embrace failure and learning. An over-focus on quality can prevent you from trying new things and accepting that some attempts might fail, setting unrealistic standards.

Increase the writing feedback loop
Instead, you should aim to increase your feedback loop. This means experimenting, seeing how your audience reacts, and evolving your content based on their responses. For example, start with a tweet, expand it into a thread if it’s well-received, and then develop it into an essay. This approach helps align your work with what your audience wants.

Good writing habits include writing regularly and giving yourself the freedom to experiment with different topics and styles. Discover what resonates with your audience and yourself. This way, you can build a diverse portfolio and find your unique voice or niche. It took years to figure out that people like when I write about charts and graphs

Remember, writing should be fun and conversational. Treat it as if you’re talking to friends. Don’t fret over a piece that doesn’t hit the mark; you can always try again. This philosophy of frequent, enjoyable content creation is what I’ve adopted in my creative process.

Remember you can always delete a stupid tweet!

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