Remember, this site is reader supported. To keep the content coming you can become a member or take a course. Members get all my book notes included.

What Is Good Writing

In many ways good writing has the same feeling as pornography does, you know it when you see it. This often leaves writers wondering, how do I achieve the nebulously unachievable? Then they purchase many workshops from people that help writers, they read books about what makes good writing and force their style into whatever the suggestions were in the book.

Outside of some very basic grammar and spelling rules so that you conform to something that is readable in your chosen language, I’m not sure that the specific technique you use matters. Some of the most famous writers around became famous in part because they eschewed the norms of writing for their day and did whatever the hell they wanted. Then they stood out from the crowd, because they were themselves.

If I can’t name a specific style that makes good writing, I do have some ideas about what can help you get closer to your best writing.

First, write about what makes you excited. I regularly have someone ask me a question for them to go a bit wide-eyed in my long answer that refers to lots of different things1. I have no trouble stringing together a 5 – 10 minute tirade about the things I’m interested in, but then sit down and struggle to get that same content out of my brain by tapping on the keys of a keyboard.

Recognizing this disconnect in things I’m passionate about but struggle to get down on paper I started to carry a Field Notes pocket notebook so that after that breathless conversation I can jot down points to help get me back in the state of mind I was in during the conversation. This piece specifically is getting pulled out of my notebook based on a question I was asked and a podcast I was listening to a few days ago.

Without the notebook I wouldn’t have been able to get into the ideas as rapidly, and speaking from personal experience, I would have continued to feel that there was some part of the idea that I didn’t capture because I could no longer remember what it was.

The second thing I think goes into good writing is that it repels some people. Good writing has an opinion and someone isn’t going to agree with your opinion, or they’re not going to like your style. It’s a trap, yes I imagine Admiral Akbar saying that, to think that your writing or ideas must attract everyone.

When writers fall into this trap they end up with work that so bland that it doesn’t appeal to anyone. I’ve watched some of my favourite writers fall into this as they became popular, moved to full-time writing, and then couldn’t take the risks they did early in their career because they worry about putting food on the table. I think that I’ve fallen into this trap over the years and I’m trying to get myself out of it.

Increased Choice = Loss of Tradition?

In Mans Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl posits that the loss of tradition to fall back on is the cost of our freedom of choice2. Because we have so much freedom to do what we want, and no longer need each other to survive, we have fewer connections and fewer traditions.

We’re more likely to move away from our parents. It’s unlikely that one bad winter storm will kill us, so we don’t rely on our neighbours like many people once did. We don’t follow the family trade, so the wealth of choices can paralyse us, especially if we’re tend towards maximizing instead of satisficing.

It’s easy to always think that there is another better choice, this is why we scroll Netflix or YouTube. There are so many choices of what to watch and we want to make sure that we have the best possible choice.

While the reliance on tradition also limited so many people from being who they are, we have lost something at the same time.

We Need Basic Blog Posts

I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that much of my writing should be high-concept instead of covering the basics. But how well we understand the basics influences how well we will understand every step after the basics3.

I notice this trend towards high-level concepts in technical content all the time. I read something about NixOS and it assumes you understand 10 concepts and still the title contains some wording that lets you believe the content is how you get started with NixOS.

When you make your notes and learn, don’t be too quick to rush to the hard stuff. Make sure you can teach the basics to someone just starting, then write that down and if any questions come up, make sure you can answer those questions.

  1. Recently it was the question “What do you think of Elon Musk” to which I said he’s mostly a good marketer and an idiot then backed it up with a bunch of specific notes from Musk’s life. Yes I should write that at some point. ↩︎
  2. Man’s Search For Meaning Pg 99 ↩︎
  3. The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking LOC 342 ↩︎

Related Content