The Best of Me: Big Ideas From Everything I've Written About Writing and Creativity

Dear Everybody,

This week I attempted a crazy experiment: I took everything I’ve written about writing and creativity, threw it into a doc, and summarized my own stuff (a self-summary!).

I used the same process I use for other big idea summaries, and it was eye-opening. Behold: a big idea summary for readers and thinkers, creators and artists, looking to get above the noise and live in a magical way.

It’s not about you…

  • It’s about ideas

  • It’s about the message

  • It’s about how you send it

Creating is like…

  • Having your ego surgically removed one day

  • Replaced the next

  • And then removed the day after, in a continuous cycle

Don’t waste your audience’s time…

  • Create a worthy product before you show it

  • Ask yourself whether you can make it any better

  • Enjoy what the work itself is teaching you

Don’t write words, play with ideas…

  • Concentrate on themes

  • Consider how they’re organized

  • Recognize images people use to express them

We don’t will ourselves to like a subject, we’re simply aware of it at first…

  • The closer we observe the more we learn

  • The more we learn the more interested we become

  • The more interested we become the closer we observe, in a virtuous circle

Don’t write about new interests; write about new forms of old interests

The only way to create something new is to go through a painful, deliberate creative process…

  1. Organize your thoughts

  2. Reflect them back to yourself in written form

  3. Resolve and structure ideas in a logical order

Repeat stages 1-3

Note: the strategy that works in one stage of the creative process causes failure in the next

  1. Make new parts (create)

  2. Remove favorite parts (delete)

  3. Publish and get feedback (stop deleting and share)

Repeat stages 1-3

Keep your creative process simple:

  1. Build on the ideas of others

  2. Put something new into the world

Repeat stages 1-2

Need creative assistance?

  • Print Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language”

  • Cut out one sentence and tape it to your desk

  • “Let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around”

  • Look at it every time you’re stuck and need to find the right thought

Creating is a process of “discovery by deletion”

Figure out what you want to say by deleting what you don’t

To create something compelling…

Put bigger ideas in a smaller package

To create something attractive…

Make the ideas simple and universal at the same time

Be systematic about creating…

  • Clarify and order ideas

  • Accumulate intellectual confidence

  • Put something new in the world!

Focus on process more than output…

  • Refine what you create to the asymptote

  • Throw the output back into the process

  • Create things. Create more things from those things (the more products you refine, the more products you combine, in a cycle).

No one cares about the last thing or the thing before that…

  • The main thing is the next thing

  • Simply make outputs faster than you deplete inputs

A product is not refined from crude oil to super premium in one step…

  • Your first draft is the product of extraction (i.e. drawn from rich sources).

  • Your published draft is the products of editing (i.e. refined products).

  • Your masterpiece is the products of refined products (i.e. premium products).

Convert content into a format you love

  • Force choices

  • Structure ideas

  • Reward quality

  • Constrain yourself

  • Mandate discovery

  • Strip away distractions

Don’t think about what you’re creating…

  • Think about leaving a message

  • And then *discover* what you’re creating

  • By resolving underlying ideas into a self-evident structure

Amateurs think about entertaining an audience…

Professionals think about moving an audience from one point of view to another

Remember, reading, thinking, and writing are three *processes* within a larger creative process…

  • Reading is the process of filling yourself with ideas

  • Thinking is the process of clarifying and ordering ideas

  • Writing is the process of reflecting ideas back to yourself in written form

  • Let one process be in haste and it will stifle the others

Write what you mean…

  • Don’t overreach

  • Don’t make a grab for insight

  • Don’t write something memorable

  • Don’t write because you like the way it sounds

  • Don’t search for a phrase at the expense of an idea

Apply these principles of communication…

  • Convey your intended ideas, and none more

  • Speak only when you have something to say

  • Speak such that you cannot be misunderstood

  • Resolve underlying ideas so your structure is self-evident

  • Leave your audience with an unmistakable single headline

  • The only way to do all of these is to use plain English

If the quality of the things you write is compelling, the value of the things you write is compounding…

  • Share ideas in the spirit of helping others

  • Apply them in a continuous cycle of learning

Thank you for reading!    

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