Straight from the gut – Rule Jordania! – Two hearts believing in just one blog – Doubling down – Soft in the middle
Straight from the gut
I started publishing some writing last year, during the pandemic. For many years I had only written for internal communication within small organizations. But during the pandemic a couple of things happened that sparked something inside which I could only get rid of by writing and sharing them publicly.
As a novel writer I needed some guidance. Some simple and easy to implement tips, because I only needed some help to spit out a couple of thoughts that were consuming me at the time, and was not planning to write anything else.
I first turned to Nassim Taleb. I am a fan of maestro Taleb; if I ever long being back in my twenties one of the main reasons would be to be able to have Nassim as a role model: I am already too old for that now. In the prologue of his book “Antifragile”, Nassim describes his process for writing, claiming that he only writes about things that he’s seen or done or ideas that have been sitting around him for a long time. In his own words, he uses his gut as a filter for topics and ideas.
I remember when I first read those words in “Antifragile”, years before the pandemic, they shocked me because I realized why most of my writing was so dull and grey. I tended to do some research first and by the time I started to write, the only words that came to my mind were actually a remake of what I had just read before.
Writing out of necessity or sickness, writing from what comes to mind is a good filter of the topics you should write about. But sometimes even if you are not fond of the topic you have chosen, your gut can help you approach it from a more vivid perspective. For example, when I first drafted this piece, my approach was to curate a list of articles which I’ve read on the topic of writing. But then I realized that I can’t write to begin with, because I have not put into practice most of what I have read. So the piece started to look like a boring and incomplete report of other people’s thinking.
But I do have a first hand experience on what has helped me so far, on the small pieces of their thinking that I managed to put into practice. Starting to write is an eating that I have cooked even if it is only a small appetizer from the recipe book of those greatest chefs.
Another author that has been helpful to me so far is Jordan Peterson´s “Essay Writing Guide” or, more precisely, “Jordan Peterson´s 10 step process for stronger writing”. As one would expect being a follower of both, Peterson and Taleb, they also contradict each other when it comes to writing. As a novice, I have found his simple “100 words per paragraph” rule (even if I skip it at times) very useful.
He emphasizes separating production and editing which he considers different functions requiring different mindsets and his insight on keeping an outline of the essay by your side.
Two hearts believing in just one blog
I also had to face the issue of writing in my native Spanish and English. I decided that I should write in both languages, except for a handful of topics which could be too related to the culture of Spain to be worth delivering to a global audience – or even to be feasible to translate. There is untranslatable stuff in every language.
Translating my Spanish writing to English was more than twice the effort, it was energy draining. I find myself, obviously, more constrained when writing in English, so mapping my words and phrase structure from one language to another was really cumbersome.
However, even with comparatively smaller vocabulary and rhetorical resources to my Spanish (which is not great anyway), I am able to think and write directly in English, so I write my pieces in English first. This removes some of the constraints, since I do not need to map my previous Spanish writing. And when I later write the piece in Spanish I find no constraints at all.
As a matter of fact I don’t try to make the two pieces literal copies of one another. They are read by different audiences and sometimes I can add some Spanish context and color to my Spanish piece.
There is another, deeper reason, to do it this way: I am a somewhat funnier person when expressing myself in English. Why is that?. Well as I said I am able to think in English so I guess my English speaking brain is wired differently. I believe this has to do with studying my junior year of High School in Scranton, PA (a popular city for filmmakers and Democrats).
As a foreing exchange student I had wished that my latin accent sounded sexy but I had to settle for funny. So I became a naturally funny guy. This probably fueled a feedback loop that made my English speaking personality diverge a bit from my Spanish one, and it makes my writing more playful.
With the help of Peterson and Taleb I published some pieces last year and almost nobody noticed. That was not important at all, since I had only written for therapeutic reasons. Nevertheless some people reached out to me and gave me positive feedback. A few of them even invited me to write in their blogs. I guess this unexpected outcome set an inception in my mind and a few months later I realized that writing could actually improve my performance as a business owner, If I was able to sharpen my skills.
By serendipity or because of Google’s greed (these days, you can never tell) I then stumbled into “Write of Passage”. Write of Passage (WoP) is an online course by David Perell which helps you write, publish and distribute your ideas. So I decided to enroll and give it a shot, especially after watching this video.
At the time of this writing I am in the middle of the course and there are already a few takeaways that I am putting into practice that go beyond the act of drafting a piece of text. WoP provides a systematic and holistic approach to writing.
The importance of “writing from my gut”, or as Perell would say, writing from abundance, from experience, from conversations. Using ambient research, instead of recooking the words you have just read in your visit to the online or offline library. The process of diverging and converging, and it’s relationship with producing vs editing.
Soft in the middle
Following this course has reinforced some of the tips I had already taken from Taleb and Peterson, and added some fancy tools to my toolbox. Although my goal is only to improve my writing skills and not to become an amateur writer, the road ahead looks so hard.
But now I have a framework to validate and integrate my old and new learning about writing. I now understand why I used some of Peterson’s rules while I had to put others away, such as researching a reading list before writing an essay. I can solve the contradictions between Peterson and Taleb (spoiler: Peterson looks more rational in the first instance but Taleb always wins).
It has also thrown some light into my understanding of why I enjoy Taleb´s writing so much and how he masters observation, personal, playfulness and storytelling.