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Legendary Technologist And Essayist Paul Graham On Walking Into Ideas, The Test Of Good Writing, And Becoming A Connoisseur Of Bad Writing - Writing Routines

Common traits

Great entrepreneurs and great writers have this in common: They notice anomalies that other people skip over.

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Legendary Technologist And Essayist Paul Graham On Walking Into Ideas, The Test Of Good Writing, And Becoming A Connoisseur Of Bad Writing - Writing Routines

Legendary Technologist And Essayist Paul Graham On Walking Into Ideas, The Test Of Good Writing, And Becoming A Connoisseur Of Bad Writing - Writing Routines

https://www.writingroutines.com/paul-graham-interview/

writingroutines.com

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Key Ideas

Writer's block

Not knowing what to write about is more a problem when writing stories, but essay writing is basically thinking out loud.

When writers' block does strike, pacing around or going out for a walk helps.

Evaluating criteria

The goal of an essay is to surprise the reader. If you write about a topic you understand reasonably well, and you're able to discover things you didn't consciously realize when you started writing, you have something worth saying.

Let your friends read your work. They'll sometimes find significant problems.

Common traits

Great entrepreneurs and great writers have this in common: They notice anomalies that other people skip over.

Advice to aspiring writers

Write. You have to practice to get better. If nothing else, write a journal.

Become a connoisseur of bad writing. When you spot something that seems bad, try to figure out why. Once you become good at finding mistakes, you'll be less likely to make them.

SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

Identities and core beliefs

We build our lives around certain core beliefs. And discussing them will most likely yield anger and indignation (i.e discussing religion or politics).

We usually fail to adjust to the...

Do the work required

Rather than be opinionated, we should strive to be informed.

We should know the other side’s argument better than they know theirs. Instead of attacking a straw man, aim to knock down the strongest version of an argument you disagree with.

Charlie Munger
Charlie Munger

“I never allow myself to have an opinion on anything that I don’t know the other side’s argument better than they do.”

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Montaigne on happiness
Montaigne on happiness

From the essay 'Of Solitude', Montaigne says: these are the things we normally think will bring happiness; they're wrong.
'We should have wife, children, goods, and above all health, if we ca...

The 'back shop'

The 'back shop' doesn't mean a room behind your workplace to take refuge. It is not a type of selfish, introverted withdrawal from family life, but the need to protect yourself from the pain that would come if you lost that family. It is a place to mend a broken heart, not by avoiding future pain, but by coming into a different relationship with it.

To be with yourself

The promise of getting away from it all is a fool's errand since, wherever you go, you take yourself with you.

To be with yourself is a chance for a great companionship. Your soul has the means to attack and to defend, the means to receive and to give. The quality of your inner conversation will determine the quality of life.

Writing in 2020

Due to a large number of distractions and obligations nowadays, it is increasingly hard to focus on creative writing.
Modern-day writers have the problem of procrastination and may be sufferi...

The Five Minute Writing Session

Just find five minutes and start doing your work, with complete concentration. Write for five minutes with seriousness and focus. You would need to tell yourself that if you don't write for five minutes and wait for the ideal three hours of free time, along with coffee, you may never get any writing done.

It may be painful to come out of these creative five minutes and get back to regular work, so set your expectations right from the beginning: Five minutes is all you have got.

Starting To Write

Writing can be a lonely, thankless job, filled with rejection. But it can also be very rewarding when your text resonates with people.

Ask yourself why you want to write and what do you wa...

Choosing a Time And Place To Write
  • Results come when you work at your craft consistently every day.
  • It’s good to write first thing in the morning, as you are more creative upon waking.
  • If you have a job, your writing should take place outside your work time. 
  • Choose a “writing spot” and keep it consistent.
Set Small Goals

Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to follow advanced techniques early on. There is endless advice on writing, but in the beginning, all that matters is getting words onto the page every day.

Set small, easy to accomplish goals and build upon it. Focus not on the end result, but on the process. 

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Components of a good essay

Many people think a good essay is persuasive. But more importantly, an essay should be useful.
There are four parts to a good essay:

  • correctness
  • s...
Correctness

An essay should be correct. However, to be correct is not enough if it is vague. 

Don't publish anything unless you're sure it's worth hearing. Write the first draft of an essay quickly, trying out all sorts of ideas. Then rewrite it very carefully, being sure to sift out anything that you're not sure of, or that is not true. Useful writing makes claims that are as strong as they can be without overstating it.

Strength

Strength comes from two things: thinking well, and the skillful use of qualification.

Qualifications can express many things: how broadly something applies, how you know it, how happy you are it's so, even how it could be falsified. As you try to refine the expression of an idea, adjust the qualification accordingly. The more you refine an idea, the less you'll need to qualify it. However, don't underestimate qualification. Learn to use its full range.

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Read widely, with maximum curiosity

The clearest thinkers tend to be those that draw from multiple disciplines.

Develop the habit of reading and eliminate/reduce the things that might stop you from doing that (e.g. mindl...

Put reality first and theory last

Confusing models with reality is a cardinal sin of clear thinking. 

If you believe too strongly in your models of the world, you can start to ignore evidence that your model is wrong.

Campbell’s law

The basic idea is that when you reward people for a particular measure — clicks, dollars, likes, etc. — people will find a way to “game” the system.

For example: If journalism is fueled by clicks, journalists are going to write sensationalist clickbait.

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Organize Your Thoughts Before Writing
Organize Your Thoughts Before Writing

While there's something to be said for spontaneous writing, it really helps if you sit down and organize your thoughts beforehand. 

No matter your favorite method of organizing yo...

Set a Regular Schedule

Setting up and sticking to it is one of the best ways to perfect your writing. 

Do it in the morning for best results, and break it up into small increments to avoid anxiety. Don't write during unscheduled times, either (though jotting down notes is okay—inspiration can strike at the strangest of times). 

Keep Up with Good Grammar

Proofreading is an important part of writing, and despite some folks having a knack for good grammar, none of us is perfect. 

Be sure to take advantage of some of the great word tools out there. Not only will they keep you writing correctly, but they're likely to keep you learning new words and idioms to freshen up your writing.

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