I’m a pretty good writer by most general standards. Not the best in the world, but significantly better than average- enough for me to have the wonderful privilege of turning down job offers. What role did school have to play in this? Not very much. I got straight A’s for English and GP, but that’s not enough. I didn’t get those grades from my schooling, I got it from reading hundreds, maybe thousands of books. My favourite teaches encouraged me, the syllabus only got in the way.
To this day, I cringe when look at my writing after JC. It’s cumbersome, convoluted. I inherited some of the style of the setting I was in, and it took a couple of years to beat that out of my system. A lot of “everyday” Singaporean writing has that quality. Tedious, longwinded. Many of us spend a lot of time saying very little. (My vomits are longwinded too, but I’m not trying to make any sort of specific point with these vomits- I’m just exploring. When I’m done exploring I will condense the good stuff, best as I can.)
It took several more years of arguing online and over 1,000 blogposts before I think my writing became something that can pay for a HDB flat.
How To Write For A Living
Everybody needs to sell stuff. All marketing is the communication of value. You can try writing and selling your own stuff right from the start- maybe work in an entirely unrelated field, like Einstein did, or Rod Stewart- or you can try to get wok in some sort of writing field (I believe Dickens was a journalist). The challenge is to find an overlap between stuff you want to write and stuff others want to read. (And I guess stuff that people will pay for.) Before the paid stuff, though, I recommend focusing on the overlap of what you want and what others want…
actually this is almost unnecessarily pedantic. What matters is quality writing. Seth Godin is quality writing, and he publishes almost every day. Paul Graham is quality writing, and he publishes a lengthy essay every few months or so. Scott Adams, Marc Andreesen. If any of these guys wrote a book about anything, people will buy it. I think the same applies to many top Quorans, Redditors, Hacker News folk. Write good stuff, and the audience will gather over time.
So how do you write good stuff? The thing about writing, or any other kind of art, I think- is that to get to the good stuff you have to take risks, and when you take risks there’s always the chance that it won’t work out the way you want it to. You have to learn to live with tat. Most successes got there by failing more times than the non-runners even tried. Jordan has a nice quote on this. “I fail… that is why I succeed”. Something like that.
A good way to diminish failure and develop a god-like aura is to have a few trusted folk read our stuff before you release it to the general public. PG does this- it means that you can get very polished stuff. I don’t think Seth Godin does this as much with his daily blog- he just keeps posting, day in, day out. That’s kinda my plan too- I’m playing the quantity game. I’m willing to make more mistakes and fall flat on my face more often, (because the cost of shipping is so unbelievably low- 0) for even a 0.1% chance of doing something that really resonates with people.
Sometimes you know when you’re writing that it’s going to be big. This isn’t one of those times, because lots has been written about this already, and this isn’t particularly punchy, powerful, unique. Don’t care, writing anyway. Sometimes you’ll have no idea. Some people tell me that I lose credibility by sometimes writing nonsense. In the long run of course I want to be progressively less nonsensical, inaccurate, wrong. But I think I’m also not too bothered about being publicly wrong. Correct me.
I rather be wrong publicly and be corrected than be wrong internally… and honestly, I just have an internal predisposition or a preference for this style. This is what works for me. I like it. I’ll change it when I feel like it’s not working- that day may come. In the mean time, I’m trying to make a point about quantity. 1000 x 1000 words, do you know anybody else who’s done this? (Actually, I’m sure there are. I’d like to meet them.)
But basically, write like hell about everything that matters to you, and even things that don’t, and put it out into the world. You’ll get feedback. Just remember not to take it personally- take it as feedback on your work, not on you. And your work is not yours. The worst feedback can be absolute indifference, but I think that’s quite rare if you stick with something long enough, and write about things that you really care about. There are bound to be other people out there who care about what you care about too, and they’ll reach out to you.
That’s the power of the internet, and search- the ability for others to find you. Why bother EVER going out of your way to look for people? I don’t have a resume. I’d love it if I never have to have one, because I have a “long tail resume”- my blog. Want to figure out if you want to hire me? Google my name. This might offend or upset 99,999 out of 100,000 people. I don’t care, I’m only interested in that last person.
Back to school- everything I learnt in school was largely by accident, almost never by design. Mrs Teo showed me what unconditional love and support look like. Mr Koh CH and Mr. J Lai showed me that maths was cool. Ali and Lim showed me that history was interesting. (Low, too.) Wong Pei showed me that chemistry could be EPIC. I love teachers who care. There are few things as beautiful or enriching as a teacher (or a healthcare professional, etc) who truly gives a shit, and essentially takes a pay cut to demonstrate it. Done for now.