About one year back, I remember telling Vishal that we should create a course on “How to become a better writer.”
Go ahead and create it, he said, “What’s stopping you?”
With a lot of excitement, I immediately started working on it. Now, we haven’t published any such course yet and that tells you something about the eventual state of my initial excitement. It barely lasted a few days.
“You know Vishal,” I messaged him a few days back, “the reason I haven’t been able to make much progress on the writing course is that I keep getting bogged down by the enormity of the task. The thought of creating an online course on writing is so overwhelming that I find it hard to resume the work on this project.”
“Remember Robert Maurer’s book — The Kaizen Way?” he replied.
“Yes. I remember reading it a few years back.”
“Then, it’s time to re-read it and apply its lessons. Don’t think about creating a comprehensive online course. Focus on writing one lesson, one chapter, or maybe one writing tip.”
That’s the advantage of having an intelligent friend. He doesn’t just recommend you good books but he also tells you which book you need to re-read today.
For all those who are starting out, starting over, feeling burned out, or wildly successful, the question is always the same — How to keep going? And the answer is Kaizen.
It’s a Japanese term which means taking small steps to continual improvement. In other words, the idea is to make such small changes in your life that your brain doesn’t even know you’re changing, and therefore, doesn’t get in the way.
Famous ancient philosopher Lao Tzu captured the essence of Kaizen when he said —
The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.
In 2016, I published the Mental Models e-book — a collection of 50 mental models. Writing that book would have been an enormous task had I started out with a goal to write a 100,000-word volume. However, the way it became possible was that I wrote one mental-model article every week for 50 weeks consistently. And then compiling all that into a book didn’t look so enormous.
So this post is my first step towards piecing together a few learnings and thoughts about writing. My focus in this series will be to share with you a few insights that I have picked up from Vishal and many other sources in my four years of active blogging.
Lesson 1: Imitate
Imitation is perhaps one trick that has helped me the most.
Imitate people who are good writers. And the imitation could start from borrowing their words verbatim. I am not asking you to plagiarise other people’s work. Just do it in private, when you’re practicing.
The great American inventor and statesman, Benjamin Franklin devised a system based on imitation to improve his writing skills. Franklin wrote –
I took some of the papers, and, making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and then, without looking at the book, tried to complete the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should come to hand.
Then I compared my Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them. By comparing my work afterwards with the original, I discovered many faults and amended them; but I sometimes had the pleasure of fancying that, in certain particulars of small import, I had been lucky enough to improve the method or the language, and this encouraged me to think I might possibly in time come to be a tolerable English writer.
Benjamin Franklin’s method is an excellent example of how Deliberate Practice can be used to master any skill.
Here’s an interesting experiment. Read the following paragraph from Gary Provost and then write it (or type it on a keyboard) as it is with your own hand.
Notice how it feels to have those words flow through your hands. It’s not just our eyes and ears that help you in learning a language. Even your fingers have their own intelligence. It’s called kinesthetic intelligence. When you learn a skill, a lot more parts in the body get involved in the learning than you can imagine.
Now, how do you find stuff worth reusing and imitating?
By reading. A lot.
It’s a cliche but let me repeat it anyway because it’s so true — All good writers are voracious readers.
So that’s the first tip for becoming a good writer.
Now, the best thing you could do today is to take action on this advice.
Pick up your favourite book and pull out a paragraph from it and copy it the way I have described above. Even better, type it out as a comment for this post. Plus, I would love to know if you have any writing tips for me.
Charlie Munger said, “Go to bed a little bit smarter than you woke up.” In other words, learn something new every day. Today, I hope I have helped you in your quest to become a life long learner.