Learning by Writing (But There’s More!)

As you might imagine, I’m a big fan of the idea of learning by writing, and preferably, writing for public consumption.

Writing is its own discipline, and it is a wonderful way to make thoughts and concepts clear in your own head. And writing for public consumption forces you to be clearer in terms of how you frame your thoughts, and the internet acts as an extremely alert editor for free. Trust me, writing your thoughts down is great. Try it!

But there’s ways and means to make this process even better, and I chanced upon a nice little essay that gives advice on just this very point:

I usually start by trying to read the most prominent 1-3 pieces that (a) defend the claim or (b) attack the claim or (c) set out to comprehensively review the evidence on both sides. I try to understand the major reasons they’re giving for the side they come down on. I also chat about the topic with people who know more about it than I do, and who aren’t too high-stakes to chat with.

https://www.cold-takes.com/learning-by-writing/

The essay is titled “Learning by Writing“, but I interpret it more as an essay about how to get better at learning by writing. That is, I think the essay is about how to get better at the process of writing – the fact that you will learn by doing so is all but guaranteed.

And to me, the most important part of the process of writing is the quote above, and in particular, the following: “I also chat about the topic with people who know more about it than I do, and who aren’t too high-stakes to chat with”.

Blogging, and writing more generally, is a very solitary endeavour. Reading 1-3 pieces is the easy bit, and is a lot of fun to do. I tend to be a very opinionated reader, so forming an opinion or a hypothesis one way or the other isn’t difficult to do. Taking a contrarian position – a position that is at odds with your take on the issue – is rather more difficult, but I have found it entirely worth my while.

But that last bit – chatting with people who more about it than I do, and who aren’t too high-stakes to chat with, that bit is difficult. Lots of people know much more than I do about lots of things, so there’s no shortage of supply in that regard, but the “aren’t too high stakes to chat with” isn’t easy.

Also, given the fact that I try to post everyday, and my, shall we say, above average procrastination skills make it difficult to meet the deadline of posting on time and having conversations about what I am going to write about.

But in the cases where I manage to do so (chat about what I am going to write about with friends/mentors/experts), I find my own writing to be noticeable better. So not for all posts that will follow, but at least for some of them, I shall try and do exactly this: chat with folks who know a bit about the topic, before writing about it.

The rest of the essay isn’t actually about the point that I have raised over here, but it is still worth a read. Shown below is a table of the author’s outline for writing a piece:

https://www.cold-takes.com/learning-by-writing/

Again, I don’t think something like this can/will work on a daily posting schedule, but at least one post a week?

Onwards!