WWN10: Write Thinking

The last few days I’ve been struggling to write.

Either it takes far too long…

…or it comes out convoluted and confusing…

…or it lacks the zing of great writing.

And I can guarantee everybody goes through those phases. But I can also guarantee…

you’re looking in the wrong place to fix it.

Because you don’t know what your problem is.

The problem is not your writing.

The problem is your thinking.

Most boring writers are boring because they think boring thoughts, most confusing writers are confusing because they confuse their thoughts, most unclear writers are unclear because they don't think clearly etc.

Becoming a great writer starts with becoming a great thinker.

And it works the other way too.

The better your writing, the better your thinking. The better your thinking, the better your writing. It's a virtuous cycle of one sharpening the other.

Think better and you’ll write better.

Write better and you’ll think better.

Think better and you’ll write better.

Write better and you’ll think better.


But while many people understand that writing leads to better thinking, and maybe we’ll discuss that another time, they forget that good writing flows out of good and careful thinking.

After all, writing is the communication of thoughts. Before you put a word on the page you have to know what you want to say. And to put it in a grammatically incoherent way:

No thoughts, not write!

I mean, it sounds obvious right? And yet it's amazing how many people forget it.

Over the years I’ve been running my Twitter account and my email list I get the same question over and over and over again.

"What do I write about, James?"

“I don’t have any ideas for what to write.”

“Tell me what I should be writing…”

Look, I don’t want to be a jerk about it.

But if you’re asking that question the answer is simple:

Don’t write at all!

The truth is that people with nothing to say should stay silent until they do.

Writing is a rifle that fires the bullets of thoughts out into the world. I don’t care how often you squeeze the trigger, no ammunition means no impact.

And badly made ammunition? Well that can explode in your face.

Too many people are worried about targets, aiming, which brand of rifle they should be using, what kind did Hemingway use? Oh, this thread has fifteen tips the author learned from reading James Patterson’s thoughts on the metaphorical writing rifle…

…And meanwhile their ammo box is plain empty.

Which they’d figure out pretty quick if they squeezed the trigger but when they eventually do they figure it must be the rifle that’s broken and I’m carrying this metaphor to its breaking point but you get the idea.

And now you’re convinced by my masterful metaphor and you want to think better so you can write better. But this isn't a vague mindset email list so it’s time to give you some practical advice on how to do it better.

These thoughts are, uh, scattergun (geddit?).

I crack myself up.

But the first of my tips is this: Read a lot, write a lot. And yeah, if you read this newsletter regularly, you might start to think it's almost like this is the answer to everything.

Well, it is. The more you read, the more material you have to work with. The more you write, the more clearly you can put down your thoughts. Writing more will help you think better. See the end of this email for a limited time offer to help you do that better at a steep discount. Sorry not sorry for the blatant self-promotion, my kids gotta eat buddy.

But why? Why is writing a lot gonna help you think better? Because you can kid yourself in your head. You can persuade yourself that your argument is solid and there are no gaps. So write it down, print it out, and now look at it.

Still solid? Or can you see where the logical holes are?

The next tip is this. Read writing from absolute morons. And I don’t mean literally, but I mean the kind of people who you see five lines of argument from and think “oh FFS, what a tool, are you kidding me?! You could not be more wrong!”

Yes, it’s bad for your blood pressure….

But it’s good for your thinking.

Reading people you agree with already doesn't sharpen your thinking. It can strengthen your arguments for your position, but it cannot make you better at cutting through ideas.

Read people you disagree with because it's a workout for your brain. Read it humbly, and you might learn somewhere you're wrong. Read it aggressively, and you'll sharpen your thinking by tearing it apart as you go.

Either way, treat it as a conversation with the author and grow. But speaking of conversation, takes us to our next tip: discussion with friends.

I know that’s hard because a lot of you came here from the halls of Money X-Twitter and you don’t have friends. But roll with me here…

Read the same books as your mates and talk about it. What did they see that you missed? What did you see that they missed? Do you agree with each other?

Extend the conversation with the author to bring in other people. Now, take your own ideas and bounce them off your mates. What do they think about X? About Y?

That great idea for a novel you had, does Jim the electrician think it sounds entertaining? Get new perspectives on your ideas and your writing.

Flowing on from that, don't go all guru "haters are just insecure!" bs. Be humble, sometimes the haters are right.

So seek them out! Post your writing to an unfriendly audience every now and then.

Post your religious article to an atheist website one day. Post about building an online business in a normie facebook group. Post about the advantages of marriage or not murdering and mutilating children on leftist X-Twitter (I guess that’s Threads now, but whatever).

The point is to send it right where your haters will see it. And then pay attention.

Watch the reactions. Read the tear-downs. Where is your writing weak? Where is your thinking weak? Do they have a point? Is there something you can improve?

Even if you’re right, you might be able to write it better.

We’re nearly done, but the last tip is the most important one, and the hardest in our modern world of insanity:

Make some space to think.

This is what I got wrong!

…I’ve been working on a dozen things lately. Creating Audio content for the Dwell Bible App, readers guides for Crossway’s newest study Bible, working on my Editing Effectively course (not currently available for you to buy), drafting my newest children’s book, plotting two different series of seven novels…

…the list goes on.

And then I went away to a conference and got ill.

And when I get ill, I get tired.

And when I get tired, I get sloppy. My impulse control goes out the window and suddenly it looks like a great idea to binge-watch Uncle Roger Youtube videos.

But fun though it is to watch Uncle Roger make fun of Jamie Olive Oil, and even though my egg fried rice game has benefited hugely, it’s devastating to creative ability.

Because the space you need to think comes in two forms:

Mental, and temporal.

(Temporal means relating to time, if you don’t have your dictionary handy.)

Mental space just means clearing your head. Brain dumping works well for this. Just sit down with a blank page and write out everything that's on your mind. Do this regularly, at least once a week, and you'll find your head a lot clearer. And avoid filling it with crap instead (problem one with my Uncle Roger binge).

But problem two with binging any kind of social media content like that is that it cuts into temporal space. You need to give your brain space to work. Long stretches of time when you are not distracted by dopamine dealers (like me) online.

Everyone has their own way of doing this but I have three that work particularly well for me.

Long walks, hot showers, and a pipe.

What do all three have in common? Time.

When Sherlock Holmes talked about a "three pipe problem" he didn't mean that he needed extra nicotine (which, as an aside, is why the writers of the BBC Sherlock were idiots to switch it to a "three patch problem"). He meant that he needed more time.

It is quite a three pipe problem, and I beg that you won't speak to me for fifty minutes. 

Sherlock Holmes, The Red-Headed League

Apparently, he was a quick smoker because fifty minutes is a single pipe in my book...

But whatever your mode, walks, showers, pipes whatever, what you need is uninterrupted time. Boring time. You need to let your brain stop still and rest. Let it wander. Don't have an agenda, just think.

Make more time in your life.

One thing you don’t have much time for though is to pick up my course Speed Daemon Secrets at the current woefully low price. Part of me doesn’t want to mention it because I’m looking forward to selling it to you for 30% more in a few days.

But that wouldn’t be fair.

So here’s your warning: at midnight EDT on Sunday, June 30th Speed Daemon Secrets goes up in price by around 30%.


And until next time, may all your problems be single-pipe problems.

James Carran, Craftsman Writer


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