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Writing Is Thinking: Learning to Write with Confidence (stephsmith.io)
529 points by stephsmithio 17 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 83 comments



I write in Portuguese with confidence. Then I started to get confidence writing in English. Then I got confident enough to start writing a newsletter with writing advice in English [0]

Then someone in HN commented in one of my posts "I don't trust any writing advice from someone who thinks "certificated" is a word" lol

That killed most of my confidence of writing in English and I gave up the idea of having a newsletter.

[0] https://writingfordevelopers.substack.com


Comments like that are such bullshit. Nobody is perfect. Surely that person has made plenty of mistakes in writing (so why should we take any stock in their dissenting comment?). One small mistake doesn't make you any less qualified. The fact that you're actually doing it makes you 100x more qualified than someone who doesn't have any experience doing it.

English is my native language and I write a popular blog. My blog won a web award and a W3 writing award, so you could say that a number of industry professionals believe that I'm a decent writer. That said, I fucked up once and swapped lightning/lightening in one of my posts and I got a very similar comment to yours.

Those comments may have a tiny bit of truth - that you got something wrong - but the rest of them is bullshit; because, if we didn't trust experts who make small mistakes, we couldn't trust anyone at all.


I really like this sentiment, because it's absolutely true.

As I wrote elsewhere: If someone isn't willing to write constructive feedback/criticism and they're reaching for the low-hanging fruit of insults and disparaging remarks, nothing they've written is worth reading. Ignore it and move on. Learn from it if you have to, but it isn't worth any further mental effort--much less going so far as to let it knock the wind out of your sails and stop posting!


The FAA deliberately uses "certificated" as opposed to "certified" when referring to pilots and flight instructors.

It insists that conveys a distinct and useful meaning because they don't certify pilot quality. Instead, the pilot has been issued a certificate confirming that they passed a test to a particular minimum standard. The reason for the difference is to convey that there is no assurance or guarantee that the pilot consistently and continuously meets this standard. Unlike with a "certified used car", the FAA is not going to be held responsible if your pilot crashes your plane.

Reference: I am an FAA-certificated Flight Instructor and Commercial Pilot.

[Edit: typo, thank you lkschubert8]


I prefer this particular word sense.

Personally, it would inspire more humility about what a certificate means and my ability to consistently apply the knowledge behind it. It gives pause immediately as I consider things I could apply it to.


The two quoted words "x as opposed to y" are the same word. I assume that the latter should be "certified".


The best thing you can do for yourself is ignore comments like that on the internet, or simply treat them as constructive feedback. Meaning, ignore the "I don't trust any writing advice" and just note the typo, fix it, and move on.


That's what I did. But even if consider my advice to be mostly "language agnostic", i.e. not about grammar and orthography, I am pretty sure the recurrent small errors and weird phrasings undermine my reputation as someone that could teach the reader something


If you're upfront about it, it's fine.

If I'm reading a piece by an author whose 1st language is not English, I'll make adjustments in what I think mistakes say about them. Most readers will. And I'll be focusing on content and ideas and glossing over sentence details.

It can be even be a positive, "This is impressive writing for a non-native speaker..."

If, on the other hand, you are trying to pass yourself off as someone with the same command as a native speaker, I'll be turned off.


Maybe, but even native speakers have small errors and weird phrasings.

Whoever thinks you can’t teach them because of a small typo probably wasn’t going to learn anything anyway.


> I am pretty sure the recurrent small errors and weird phrasings undermine my reputation as someone that could teach the reader something

I'm living and working in London and English is not my native language. I'm doing lots of grammar and orthography mistakes every day. They really don't matter as long as I'm able to get my point across. That's all it matters. Even if someone was in the position to tell me that they don't trust me, I would leave BUT I would go somewhere else, I wouldn't go back to my home country.

Well maybe the above doesn't completely fit your case, I just wanted to share my 2 cents.

OS: I have been writing in my tech blog in English the past 5 years. Often times I'm catching my self reading my older posts and just can't stand them. They are awful. :D


On the other hand, you can be almost completely incoherent and still become president. It's all about what you offer your audience.


That's probably sort of true, but that would only undermine your reputation with a minority of your readership. And over time your grammar/phrasings etc would improve.

You could speed it up by having an editor review your work and that way you can also have confidence your reputation isn't going to be undermined.


I think a very small minority would call me out on that small mistake, but a significant number of people would kind of feel the same way.

Having an editor would definitely help! Good idea to think about. Just not sure if a free blog is worth investing that money.


It doesn't necessarily have to cost money to get someone to offer a second pair of eyes. Could be a friend or interested party. You could add an attribution "Edited by <name>" so they get something out of it perhaps.

It's pretty common amongst webnovels, translations, and fanfiction for an editor to help out and get attributed.


I think tools like Grammarly can help solve your problem with grammatical/spelling errors. Why not give writing another try?


People who make those comments are rarely fluent in more than one language. I'm a native speaker myself but the grammarly extension catches me slipping every now and then.

https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/grammarly-for-chro...


Yeah not native and Grammarly is god sent. The only big minus is that it will send all my writing to the cloud. Is there similar but less intrusive addons?



Whether something is a word or not is not binary. "Kdqroeisjxjdoeo" is most definitely not a word. "Dog" most definitely is. "Adorbs" is probably considered not a word by many. I say it is one.

Language changes constantly. It is created by speakers, not by some external authority. Anyone giving the correction "that's not a word" likely has a misguided understanding of the nature of language. A word is something speakers say and hearers understand. New words are made every day and old words fall out of use every day. That's just how language works.

See also complaints about using "literally" to mean "figuratively". The sense of the word is changing to include what was previously its opposite. This is neither the first nor last time that will happen.

Advice on language usage should always be contextual. "Adorbs" is fine on Twitter, probably not a good idea in a contract. As others have pointed out, "certificated" has use in many contexts. Even if it wasn't in known use, the meaning is clear and this kind of pieced together with prefixes and suffixes jargon is quite common these days in technical or semiformal writing.


For what it's worth, I just subscribed to your newsletter. I read your last couple of posts and I think they're great.

Native speakers don't have exclusive rights to give advice on how to communicate. I really hope you'll keep writing.


Thanks, that was nice. I will think about it


"certificated" follows the rules of English phonology [0] and we all understand what it means. To have been certified with a certificate.

Congratz, it's a word.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_phonology


I think this is a story that's supposed to make the reader feel bad for you, and it does, but not because someone was mean to you.

I feel bad for you because you couldn't handle the inanity of the Internet. You're going to need thicker skin if you want to find success, because people will always cut you down, doubly so if you're on the right track.


This is golden advice, especially the last bit.

It sounds mean, and maybe it could be phrased nicer (minus the "I feel bad for you" part), but it's not wrong. All socially interactive sites online will eventually attract people who attack someone doing a service, as in the case of the OP, and they will do everything they can to insult you, make you feel bad, or generally fling all manner of dirt in your direction. Worse, if you stop doing what you're doing you're essentially giving them exactly what they want: Stop posting.

The best solution is to continue. Double down if need be. Learn something from it and move on. In fact, if the OP really wants to get back at them, continuing to write is probably the best way forward. Hell, find someone who would be willing to edit your work. Also, recognize that mistakes will be made. Multi-million dollar publications with dozens of editors on staff sometimes have glaring mistakes slip through the process. There isn't much more you can do as a solo writer without hitting diminishing returns in the pursuit of perfection. Judging by the comments, it looks like the "mistake" wasn't, which makes this situation even more absurd, and the willingness to give in even more so!

Ultimately, just recognize some people are toxic. And like diminoten said: They will always cut you down. If someone isn't willing to offer constructive criticism, or take the time to write it, nothing they've written is worth reading. Treat it that way.

Amusingly, I had something similar happen to me on social media recently over my use of the colloquialism "performant" that's often used here on HN (and plenty of places elsewhere--just search Wikipedia for some examples). Except in this case, it's not a word. Rather than do what they want (I'm not sure what that would be), I doubled down. They weren't adding anything to a technical discussion (and admitted they knew nothing about the subject matter), so I politely told them that if they wanted to interject with anything, to keep it on topic. They didn't. I persisted. They blocked me. Sometimes the problems solve themselves, but it's important not to let them dissuade you from enjoying what you're doing.

You HAVE to be a bit more aggressive. It's not easy (I know, trust me), but in this case, the OP is doing something that sounds like it's beneficial to a lot of people. Don't stop doing it because of one jerk. If you do, we're all worse off.


Thanks for your view. Since you wrote it in a nicer and more elaborate way, let me properly reply.

I think you (and the GP) got it wrong that what made me stop was having someone being rude to me on the internet. The lack of confidence is because I know that there were and there would be for a long time a lot of mistakes in my writing. And my blog is about writing of all things, which makes those mistakes worse. What affected my confidence was not that the commenter was rude, was that he/she was right

The comment about the word "certificated" was correct in its spirit. Even if there are arguments to say that it might a word and could be technically correct in some form, I did want to write "certified". I even edited my post.

I have noticed published mistakes myself and had private and much nicer feedback about other mistakes before. That was the confirmation that I actually do a larger number of mistakes than a native speaker.

The free blog is one of the things that I do and lacking the confidence that I could do it well enough, I decided to stop doing it and go for other things. I had several nice comments here that can make me reconsider my decision, including yours. As for GP, it was not helpful or correct, it was just arrogant and presumptuous.


I understand, and it's difficult to deal with criticism when it's both rude and correct. However, it's important to consider how something is said is just as important as what is said. Take my OP for instance: I still think they're correct, at least partially, but how they wrote the first half was perhaps too brash. (I don't know if that's how diminoten intended the statement to be interpreted.)

The reason I say this is because, quite frankly, if you hadn't taken what was said personally, internalizing it as thus, you would still be writing and none of this conversation would have taken place. You disagree, and I understand; however, recognize that as an outsider looking in, I think you're too dismissive of the impact this interaction had on your work (you stopped writing). It doesn't matter whether the person was right or wrong: The fact they said they didn't trust you because of a single mistake was demeaning.

For what it's worth, I still stand by what I said earlier: If someone isn't willing to write constructive criticism, preferring to resort to negative language or insults, then nothing they say matters. If they're right, they're right, but the best you can do is just ignore the negative sentiments and move on. It's not easy. You'll second guess yourself (as you're doing). And you know what? That's fine! You'll be more cautious next time, and you'll have the added confidence that you can deal with similar responses in the future (I'm serious).

To put it another way: It's not so much that the individual in question was correct that dinged your confidence--it's how they said it. I'm almost certain had it been written differently you'd have thought nothing more of it; e.g. "Hey, I think you meant to write 'certified' rather than 'certificated.' Just thought I'd let you know."

Think for a moment on that. If this were written instead, would you still feel your confidence had taken a hit? I'd wager not!

Chin up, my friend. If an asshole is right about something, it doesn't make them less of an asshole--they're just an asshole who happens to be right.


I think you are still interpreting this from the wrong angle.

> "If this were written instead, would you still feel your confidence had taken a hit? I'd wager not!"

I certainly would. Actually, I did. My confidence had already taken hits before from nicer private feedback I got before.

I also disagree that I should dismiss everything that an asshole is saying just because they're an asshole, even if they are right. I take what is right, improve my text and forget about them being an asshole.


I once got the advice that my target group should be the ones deciding if the quality level of my work is good enough, not myself. If they see value in what I do, I'm good. I still will strive to improve further, but there is no reason to stop, as long as people like my work.

Therefore, focus on checking that your regular readers are enjoying what you write, instead of focusing too much on actual or perceived weaknesses.


I want to reply as one of the people pushing the "actually, certificated is a word" line.

I think perspective here is important. While anything that a speaker and hearer agree has meaning can be considered a word, there is definitely a separate matter of blending in to a particular linguistic context. I wouldn't deny that.

But I do think it's important to remember that what you're doing is trying to blend in to a particular linguistic context... not trying to be right instead of wrong. In some English contexts, "kindly do the needful" is a normal, unremarkable phrase. In others, it barely registers as English at all. In some, you can rent a flat when you go on holiday. In others, it's an apartment and a vacation.

Regardless of context (to my knowledge), we talk about a "building site" not a "building place", for no apparent reason.

There are no reasonable criteria by which any of those phrasings can be considered "wrong". They just don't sound natural in some (or all) contexts. But when you consider this perspective, things get muddy quickly because language usage varies so much. Like... I would say your sentence "I have noticed published mistakes myself and had private and much nicer feedback about other mistakes before." would sound more natural with "have" added... "I have noticed published mistakes myself and have had private and much nicer feedback about other mistakes before." But I can't say a native speaker would never say it the way you did, so what do we take from that? Probably any piece of writing can be improved, whether by a native or non-native speaker. At what level do we say the speaker sounds native? It's just all very muddy.

It's not even clear who gets to count as a native speaker. Is someone who grew up speaking Indian English in school but a different language at a home a native English speaker? Their accent and word choices will make very clear they aren't a native speaker from an "English speaking country" (US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand), but... English is an official language of India and spoken every day by millions of people there. Is someone who grew up in Amsterdam and learned English in school from childhood and has used it extensively as an international / business / default fallback language for their entire adult life a native English speaker?

Nothing with language is black and white. If your goal is to be understood and to have the fluency to express interesting ideas with nuance and clarity, then you're already there. Are there tells that you aren't as high up on the "native" spectrum as others? Yes. But if I applied the same critical eye to my own writing after 5 years when I've forgotten it was me who wrote it, I could probably find things I would perceive as non-native there too.

So basically I'm just trying to say... your skill in English does not in any way appear to be an impediment to using the language effectively. While there are things which could make you sound more native, those aren't a matter of right or wrong English... they're a matter of word choice / phrasing that sounds more familiar to the context you are speaking into.


Don't feel bad for me and your supposition is wrong. Your assumptions for my reaction are also wrong.


Methinks I'm less wrong than you realize, if this is your reaction.


Well you are correct as per oxford dictionary[0] . I got a similar from someone for the word "architected". In my opinion its best to ignore and carry on.

[0]https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/englis...


To my ear, certificated sounds like a technical term describing a web server after you configure it to support https.


Really? To mine it sounds like a compound describing how someone with a Java EE certification just defecated all over our code base. ;)


To me, it sounds like a direct transliteration from the native language to English. In Lithuanian, "certified" is "sertifikuotas" which is way closer to "certificated" than "certified."


Certificate is commonly used as a verb in the United States in education. I've personally heard and seen the phrase "certificated teachers" in California, Washington, and Texas. I've never seen the phrase "certified teachers" anywhere.

I think the usage may stem from the legal requirement for teachers to hold an actual certificate prior to being employed. I think it is different from "certified" in that no organization is attesting to anticipated performance, instead merely indicating that some past effort happened.

For example, a law school graduate is certificated, but not certified or licensed. They could go around claiming they are "certificated in law" without breaking the law.


I don't know if lying to the commenter is in his best interest.

One who has obtained a certificate is "certified", not "certificated" in layperson English. It's stilted English to say "certificated", even if technically correct.

Obviously it's not reasonable to trust/mistrust someone who makes this mistake, but the nugget to pull from this is that "certified" has a meaning and use in English.


Certificated is definitely a valid word, though perhaps not in "layperson English". In (Commonwealth) legalese, share holdings are referred to as either uncertificated or certificated.


> "I don't trust any writing advice from someone who thinks "certificated" is a word"

Viewing the world that way is its own punishment - if they're too lazy to evaluate advice on its qualitative merits and feel the need to latch on to petty ad-hominem criticism of spelling and grammar then they don't deserve the potentially valuable information that they've left on the table.

Conflation of personal judgement for critical evaluation is probably a theme in their life.


It appears that certificated is a word at least according to 1913 Webster

http://www.dict.org/bin/Dict?Form=Dict2&Database=*&Query=cer...


I found the same on googling it. But to be honest it was just the Portuguese version of the word misleading to this form, rather than a profound knowledge about its accepted variations in the last century.


Maybe. But something to keep in mind is that the person who called you out has issues and most likely should be ignored. Who talks that way to others in an honest discussion?


> misleading to this form, rather than a profound knowledge

This doesn't sound native either.


"that person has been certificated"... I mean english is funny, and that could have been right anyways.

You could have said certified. For what it is worth.


People are weird... don't take it personally and focus on the crowd that appreciates your writing!


I'm a native English speaker, and published author, and I f* up English all the damn time. Keep writing!


Oh dear. Confidence is such a fragile thing is it? Whish I had confidence as a muscle to train it every day.


Confidence can be trained as a muscle every day: https://www.audible.com/pd/The-Six-Pillars-of-Self-Esteem-Au...


Certificated is a word but it’s a British word and what would they know about English?


Thinking is thinking and writing is writing. We regret the confusion.

Writing is work. You start with words on paper (or on a laptop) and you keep on working until it isn't crap. You start with something. You end with something better.

What your college writing instructors were teaching you was your mistakes. Think about them and remember them. When they pointed out a mistake, keep on a lookout because you'll make that mistake again. People don't make random mistakes. They are very systematic in their mistakes. I still remember my corrections.

When I was in college my trick was to get a draft done a week before the deadline. It wasn't perfect. It was anything but perfect. But it was something. It said roughly, not perfectly by any stretch, what I wanted to say. Then I wrote, rewrote, edited, deleted, added, corrected, reworded, reordered, cited, formatted, spell checked, grammar checked, perfected, critiqued, tweaked, read aloud, questioned, ... on up to the deadline.

I worked. I didn't think. I worked. I didn't wait for some great thought to descend upon me from the clouds at the deadline (that works for Maureen Dowd but I'm not Maureen Dowd; she has talent and I don't). I worked. Fact is, I enjoyed my work. Pretty much a day before the deadline, I was damned cocky about my writing (lowest essay grade, A-) and then I really started having fun. At that point, I was relaxed and I really knew what I wanted. Like a cook who enjoys their own cooking, when I go back to re-read it, I thoroughly enjoy my own writing. The work and the craft show, to me at least. And if it doesn't show to me then it can't show to someone else.

Writing is work. It is closer to restaurant prep than it is to confiserie.


I had a similar experience in university, and your post makes me feel nostalgic for the times of having nothing to do but work on an essay and think about my language and the craft. :)

> Thinking is thinking and writing is writing. We regret the confusion.

You're right that the headline is oversimplified; and saying this might even obfuscate the point it's trying to make, which is that writing can be a tool to clarify thinking. This I sympathize with. Thoughts can be slippery and emotional and fallacious, but writing them down helps build compound thoughts and gives you leverage to organize them into a more coherent/rational narrative. So I think it's worth spreading the notion that writing is not just for communication, but can be a tool for thinking.


Thank you for writing this; felt like a breath of fresh air.


A technique I often use when I ended up in a confused spot or feel unhappy is to write letters to a person without sending them.

Somehow having a person in mind that you have to explain the whole mess to, really fucuses your thoughts and helps you in some way to figure out where you stand faster and more easily.


One of my professors used to say -- Writing is to thinking as alum is to murky water. Indeed, writing makes you crystallise your thoughts.


I know I struggled with writing when I was in junior high and high school. Now as an adult I find it relatively easy I think. My advice to my junior high school teacher would be to talk to the student (me) about something they enjoy. Whatever that is today I have no idea. Fortnite? Boys? Girls? whatever, ask what the kid is into. Then ask questions about it. Why do they like it? What's so cool about it. What's it like to do. Etc.. After they've talked your ear off for 10 minutes tell them to just write everything they just told you.

No idea if that would work but I feel like most people have no trouble talking about things they enjoy. Could be a movie, a TV show, a sport, science, twitter, instagram, no idea. If my 8th grade teacher had not asked me to write but instead just talked with me about say D&D, something I was into, I'm sure I could have spoken 1000-5000 words on it. The same words I'd have said to another kid I wanted to introduce D&D to them. I believe that would have helped me write sooner.

I also wonder if the internet is a net plus here. People write short tweets but lots of people write long comments. This comment itself is more than I think I ever wrote on a teacher chosen topic in 8th grade.


I think this is a great point. When I was growing up, I really struggled with writing and in hindsight, it was because I had no freedom with it. I was writing about topics that I didn't care about and trying to write in a way that I thought would be graded well. For years after, I thought the struggle I faced just meant that I "wasn't a writer" and avoided it at all costs. Only recently have I started to explore it more due to a strange string of career events, but I hypothesize that many others will never revisit it once they've classified it as something they're not good at.


It’s exceedingly difficult to write clearly and get your point across, and this is especially true for technical subject matter. Steven Pinker calls this the “blindness of expertise” which prohibits us from explaining concepts we’re familiar with in a clear way because we assume the reader to have more knowledge than they actually do. Reading his book, “A Sense of Style” made a lot of things clearer to me in terms of writing. I recommend the book highly, even though it gets _super_ deep on grammatical structure and, from my perspective, that tended to be a little dry (and over my head).


Sounds like the author was blind to his expertise.


Ha! Good point. Although, I don’t think I was the targeted audience. It seemed to be more geared towards individuals that label themselves as “writers”. I remember practically nothing from my grammar education. Terminology like “definite article” might as well be Mandarin.


:) I also loved that book. I developed, what I like to think of as a sense of style, while getting an English degree, and the main tools/advice I developed totally line up with what he shared in the book.


I write in English. Not a lot but I do. It’s not my native language though. My mother language is greek. I grew up in Greece, then in age of around 23 went to study piano in Germany for 5 years and instead of going back to Greece I landed in Croatia. Here I had to learn a complete new (Slavic?) language. It took me 3 years. In the meantime I was consuming English content in the “usually suspicious” ways, internet, software, books, movies, tv etc. The way I communicated with my wife was in german first(where we met), then a little greek and after we got back to Zagreb / Croatia, we crossfaded to croatian the more I learned it. My point is: I can read and write a specific language (croatian or english better the other two less) the same goes for talking. But there’s absolute no distinction whatsoever in my head about what is the way I think in : croatian or greek? I really don’t know. It’s like a fog or cloud. What do you guys think ?


My own personal theory of mind is heavily inspired by David Eagleman's Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. There he describes a model of mind in which a multitude of independent "agents" propose "ideas", which bubble up to our consciousness (the top-level agents), which pick some of these ideas according to some (to us) opaque key.

In this model, I imagine that many of these low-level ideas start in a non-language form, and as they bubble up to the higher levels of the mind, they get wrapped in language, as they are processed by consciousness. But since things are not simple, the higher-level agents can modulate the lower-level ones, and that's how the language parts of our minds can influence the non-language (emotional?) parts. I have experienced several instances of purely rational cognition imprinting into my emotional perception of reality.


Most of the time I think in a cloud of English and images and... Well, ideas.

But, if I spend more time around Spanish speakers, which was my birth language, I find I do switch out the English for Spanish.

I'd expect most people with a multilingual background are similar. Your thoughts express with whatever language your brain is most comfortable with at the moment.


It depends on the context. A simple example is that I count small numbers in German since I've been here so long, but larger numbers I still count in English. Perhaps you can identify a specific choice of language for specific use cases or topics.


I speak 4 languages fluently. I'd say you think in the same language that you dream of.

So which language do you speak in your dreams?


I've really enjoyed weekly writer's meetups. They come in different flavors, but essentially, writers get together in a coffee shop, chat for 5 minutes, and then write for an hour or two in silence. Helps make writing a little more fun than sitting in a cave by yourself, and it's nice to connect with fellow writers.


Does it not feel awkward in that one or two hours of silence though?


Not when you realize that everyone else is too busy doing their own thing to pay any attention to you.


I think that I would really enjoy attending one of these.

How have you gone about finding them? Is there a good online directory of them in different locations?


Growing up, writing was often my least favourite thing to do. It still doesn't come "naturally" to me, but this year I starting using a process that makes it easier for me to "show up". I've basically tried to lower the barrier to entry.

Curious to know what writing tips or processes others are using to strengthen their "writing muscle".


It may sound silly, but learn to maintain a fountain pen.

If you stop writing, the ink dries out. So write a page every day. Yes, you'll be writing about the pen and paper a bit. But your brain will be rewired to move your hand.

You'll need to learn the ritual of cleaning the pen with cool water (preferably distilled). You'll love the ritual of carefully opening the bottle of ink, and filling the converter (I recommend a blunt syringe). The bottle is very often beautiful in and of itself. Once you have refilled the pen (and cleaned it off), it begs to be used again.

Get good paper, or at least paper able to stand up to proper liquid ink.

Eventually, you will find that you're not writing about how well the ink is flowing, or whether the nib is scratchy. You'll be writing out your thoughts on the use of narrative for propaganda, or the challenges of raising children, or the sadness you feel at the change of season. Or you'll write about the pen.

You'll get in the habit, though. It will clarify your thoughts. One last recommendation: put the date on each entry. You'll find it interesting later.

Fountain pens 101 [1] is a good set of videos for learning about fountain pens.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL1AEFDC6AC935BAFC


> Yes, you'll be writing about the pen and paper a bit.

My diary is full of entries about how I need to cut my fingernails because they're making it hard to type a diary entry.


For me, this is one of the most valuable posts I have seen on hacker news. Thanks for sharing.

I strengthen my writing muscle by writing down a foundational "anchor" concept at the top of the page and then writing about it in isolated chunks or paragraphs that use orthogonal approaches (i.e. changing the tone, verbosity, directness, amount of supplemental information). Then I consolidate and prune ideas until I have coherent content. This helps me form my writing style and keep it fresh and dynamic over time.

I find that giving yourself the space to express things in new ways helps your audience see how you change as a person over time, which is cool because I feel like I can understand and connect with the author or artist better because I see changes in growth and trajectory.


I’d love to hear more about this approach. Could you expand on the process in your second paragraph?

Also would love to hear how that process informs the experiences mentioned in your third paragraph.


Sure. I came up with this method on my own but I'm sure someone else has already tried something similar and documented it.

Take a piece of paper (or google doc) and put a theme or idea in a single sentence or line of text at the top. Then write a chunk (I'd say 5-10 sentences, but it's arbitrary) below in whatever style naturally comes to you first. Re-read it and note any obvious characteristics about it that jump out at you (e.g. it reads like a research paper, it uses colloquial language, sentences pack a lot of information, my diction is terse, etc - whatever). Then you write a new white space-separated chunk below it where you play with a completely new style, or maybe go in the the opposite direction of something you noticed in the last chunk (be more blunt and terse when your last chunk was long and dense, or maybe introduce fun abstractions and colorful analogy when the last chunk reads like an arXiv paper).

Once you feel ready to consolidate it, re-read them and cherry-pick things from each chunk that feel right to you as the writer and synthesize the text into a final piece you are happy with. I'd say you should also timebox consolidation so you actually have something workable in a timely manner. Often times I find that this method creates a balanced style for me, because it is my best effort at emulating my favorite style to read - a style where I never feel like I have the writer "figured out".

Bear in mind that this is a completely arbitrary approach and is just how I like to do things. I came up with it from musicianship where you develop your own style by emulating one person, then another, then you have a bag of tricks to pull from when it comes time to decide who you want to be as a creator. Your style may change over time, and I think this method allows it to evolve based on what feels right to you vs. just following what has always worked or what others seem to be happy with.


For me, the activation energy for writing used to be high because I found I couldn't muster up inspiration when I needed it. Then I realized something about myself: for me, inspiration is episodic. It comes in chunks, rarely all at once. So my solution was:

1) Observe the world, pay attention to things.

2) Jot down snippets of observations/ideas in a single Google Docs document (available on almost any platform). Don't try to organize it. Keep it really simple. The key is to keep it low effort and frictionless.

3) Look over the Google Docs document from time to time. When you have enough ideas coalescing in a cluster/theme, feel them out. When the cluster feels like it's ready i.e. you feel an emotional connection to it, start writing. Important tip: don't feel you have to finish writing in one sitting -- you can stop, let your writing sit, and keep re-clustering until you have something that is worth putting out there.

Gerald Weinberg calls this the Fieldstone method [1] -- the basic idea is to continuously collect, and only write about what you care about. I think it's a useful approach. I personally don't find the streams-of-consciousness approach very compelling (didn't like Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway). Streams-of-consciousness is good for very artsy-fartsy, avant-garde type works, but to me good writing comes from a lifetime of collecting experiences, observations and ideas and coalescing them.

On mistakes: I used to have a lot of anxiety about my grammar/mechanics because I'm sloppy, but I learned from an editing coach that "everybody could use a good editor". Focus on getting your ideas right -- if it's worth putting out there, you can always hire an editor to help tighten your copy. Development editors will help you build your piece, line/copy editors can fix your style and mechanics, fact-checkers can help with research on veracity. There are at least 9 types of editors, each for different stages of writing [2]. But you have to first have an idea that is worth communicating.

[1] https://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/hunt-gather-...

[2] https://blog.reedsy.com/types-of-editing/


Thank you for sharing this. I've also been using a similar frictionless observation and clustering method, but I never had a term to label it with. I'll be reading up more on the Fieldstone method.


Journaling can help. At the end of the day, you can write about what was interesting or new about your day.

It also can help to visualize the reader's response. The reader could be anyone, it could be you in the future long after you've forgotten that specific day. It could be a romantic partner. It could be a friend.

Once you have a specific reader visualized, then journaling feels more like having a conversation.


I think THE most important tool useful towards better writing is better reading. Read the good stuff and avoid the crap. More Orwell and less Kerouac. Just read a lot of the good stuff. I'd say that a cook needs great taste first well before great culinary technique. If you can't taste the difference between crap and haute cuisine then mastering reduction will not help.


What's your schooling background? I also grew up with language being very unnatural to me. For me my biggest strides as a writer came from the grind of working hard on long-form essays (or short stories) that I cared about doing well. For me I was driven by producing something I was proud of or communicating arguments well. Sometimes these were research for university classes, sometimes they where theological/political essays for friends/facebook-arguments.

There's nothing like spending time on a single piece to develop skills. If you start slow asking yourself questions like "How can I make this sentence/point more straightforward?" and mulling on it and revising, then your brain will start to develop those patterns quicker and you'll get better at putting thoughts directly to the page with less revision needed and you'll build confidence as you get a sense of your own style.


I always stop myself writing longer professional articles as what I'd like to write doesnt fit my own bar of quality requirements.

I have some experience in a couple of fields and deeper experience in a few, but I can't really point to any studies that would underpin any learnings or points I'd like to make and without those I feel what ever I write becomes just the ramblings of someone vaguely qualified.

I have a much easier time giving advice in person, sometimes having a couple of people invite me to observe & coach, but somehow writing feels like it requires so much more care and study that it frightens me to start.


I hear all that, but you know how it is about writing - you can help dozen / hundreds / thousands of people at once. It’s probably worth it to write something and show it to some people.




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