I’ve talked to a few different people in the last week about growing as a writer, and the process of going from “I don’t think I have anything to write about, and it takes so long” to “I’m regularly writing about interesting topics.”
There’s lots to say about this journey, but I discovered one mental model that I really like. I think in that process of growth, there are three steps. In each step, your bottleneck for how much you write, and how efficiently you write, changes.
- In the beginning, your bottleneck is simply finding the right words to write. You’re discovering your voice, finding the right length and cadence of writing in your life, and generally spending a lot of writing time figuring out how to communicate the ideas in your head in a way that’s nice to read, avoids ambiguities or tangents, and is clear to understand.
- At some point, your bottleneck changes. You’re settling into your voice and the speed at which you think of words is no longer your bottleneck. Instead, your bottleneck is finding interesting explanations and telling compelling stories. Rather than operating at the level of words and sentences, you’re operating at the level of ideas. In this phase, your primary challenge as a writer is not how you write or what words you are connecting, but what you’re writing about, and how you get people interested. During this stage, you grow most quickly on becoming a better storyteller with more compelling narratives, and finding metaphors and phrasing that communicate your idea most accurately in an interesting way.
- In the third stage, your main challenge is no longer about writing per se. Although you’re continuing to grow as a writer. Instead, you bottleneck to writing more is your rate of having good ideas and worthwhile insights. Ultimately, no matter how compelling the prose, writing is only as good as the ideas it communicates or the stories it tells. When you can produce writing that faithfully communicates your ideas at their best, your main challenge becomes having better ideas. This could be “better” in the sense that the ideas are more interesting or valuable or surprising, but your ideas can also be better by being more nuanced, more complex, or by referencing and building more thoughtfully on existing literature.
In response to this mental model, a friend asked me where they thought I was today. I think I’m somewhere between stages 2 and 3 – I feel quite comfortable turning my ideas into writing, and with some revision and friends' feedback, I can usually produce writing that accurately communicates my ideas.
Regardless of where you feel you are, there’s only one way to keep improving. Consistency and quality, through time.
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