David Perell is a writer, podcaster and founder of the course Write of Passage. He has a highly successful newsletter as well as a blog where he writes essays covering topics from travel and culture to media, marketing, and technology. He also teaches thousands of people how to improve their writing online, share their ideas, and build an online audience through his popular course, Write of Passage. In our conversation, we dive deeper into the writing process, how to write good content for the internet and how to build an audience successfully.
Here are some of the highlights from our brilliant discussion:
"If there is any lesson of the internet, it is that you are not the only person interested in what you are interested in".
Humans are horrible at long term goals and when someone does something for the long term, they’ve taken a long-term goal and found a way to make it amazing in the short term. The key to achieving long-term goals is to match your desires in the short term with your desires in the long term – that is the recipe to success, not long-term thinking.
New creators worry about two things – every single person is going to make fun of them and no-one will read or watch their content. Both those things can’t be true. It’s a ridiculous concern but that’s how the brain thinks. Fear always exists in paradoxes.
“Trying to come up with original ideas can be a fools errand. Many of the best teachers have no original ideas and can still be amazing. How many of your teachers from school had written books? Probably none and yet they communicated and taught ideas that changed lives”
When you start writing, don’t even think about what the world is going to be interested in – write about what interests you. Obscure topics are exactly what you should be writing. The benefit of writing online is to meet people who have similar ideas as you, to create serendipity and to have an email list of people who share your intellectual obsessions.
Building an audience requires us to think of the internet as a series of open and owned platforms. An open platform is something that is open to everybody. An owned platform is something that you are in control of. An open platform, such as Twitter, is where you’re going to end up finding people and, in order to build an audience, you want to convert people from your open platforms into owned platforms through email and articles.
“To spend your life as a passive consumer and never step into the arena as an active creator is setting yourself up for a life of regret”
People shouldn’t worry about wasting time by writing online. Worst comes to worst – you’ve spent hours thinking and writing about something that you are interested in and writing IS thinking and so when you put words on a page you raise the quality of your thoughts.
The etymology of the word amateur is love. To be an amateur is to love what you do without an end goal. We should be very critical of this modern notion that you can only create videos, you can only write, you can only do podcasts if there is a guaranteed outcome for your career.
Imposter syndrome will always exist, we have to learn to manage and deal with it appropriately. If we feel like we aren’t qualified enough to write about something, we need to just write more about it. These uncomfortable emotions won’t just disappear but we can use them to spur our drive and our ambitions.
"You want to take fear which is usually a headwind and flip it into a tailwind”
Writing adds necessary modularity and precision value to our thinking. What writing enables is not simply allowing us to critique ideas but critique specific elements of ideas. Only writing can really enable that degree of precision as a medium.
The CRIBS feedback system allows anyone to give useful and productive feedback. It stands for Confusing, Repeated, Insightful, Boring, Surprising and takes the reader out of the thought process of 'I can't edit because I don't know anything about writing mechanics' and into the same state that any consumer is in which is about their emotions. There is an obvious answer to every observation – when something is confusing, you rewrite it, when something is repeated, you delete it, when something is insightful, you talk more about it, when something is boring, you delete it and when something is surprising you create tension up to that moment because we learn best when we are surprised.
Books about writing are really unhelpful. The main issue is that they don't actually speak to the experience of being a writer. They are very focussed on the mechanics of writing but, in doing so, they lose sight of the hand behind the pen and fail to talk about the life and emotions of a writer.
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