There is a beauty and ground-shaking power to re-imagining the way you think of writing. In this article, I want to share with you where I stumbled most on this, how I can to a more logical way of thinking about tackling writing, and then some maths for you figure-weirdos to see how powerful this can be.
Firstly, let me share one of the greatest mistakes of my career: I wish I had started publishing my ideas and thoughts earlier and remained more consistent, even if the subjects were unrelated to my design work.
I'm sure I could make arguments for rationalising why I didn't do it sooner, namely around Imposter Syndrome, inferiority complexes and such, but I wish I had started sooner. I feel this way with many things — reading, consistent exercise, and financial literacy to name a few — but I understand maybe it wasn't the right time. But that doesn't stop you from wondering where you might be today if you had started way back when, does it?
I believe the reason for my inconsistency, besides the lack of confidence, was my outlook on what I had to write about and how it was written, instead of what I could write about. I had to write things that gave people "value", it had to be a lead magnet, a tentacle in the marketing machine. It had to inform, influence, evoke, shock, instruct — action, value, business, money! Anything else was a frivolous use of time, a luxurious and egotistical rambling. After all, who am I and why would anyone care what I have to say?
There were multiple issues here: (1) It was all about giving value — This dried up my inspiration for writing; (2) It was about an action — writing always had to have a purpose; (3) It had to be perfect — multiple explanations, pin-point accuracy, and god forbid if I used a semi-colon incorrectly; (4) It had to be relevant to my work or subject — I must stick to my lane and keep everything else to myself; (5) It could not be for enjoyment — It was for others and not myself, it could not be a simple tangent of thoughts.
And this is how I viewed all out-facing writing. Instead of consistently writing potentially interesting or helpful content, finishing 'The Survival Guide' (a book for graphic design in uni), or continuing with my monthly newsletter, I shut up. It was never good / relevant / helpful / interesting / well-written / actionable enough. In seeking to write something helpful, in the end, all I achieved was silence.
I focused on what I could write, and more specifically, what was more natural and interesting to me.
While I had stopped publishing my writings, and for the most part anything that could appear formulated, I continued journaling my observations and thoughts as they happened, most often on walks, after conversations or while reading a book. Perhaps an idea had caught my attention, a question had presented itself, or my imagination took me elsewhere. How can one judge if they've lived a good life? How does love manifest itself depending on the type? How do I want to be remembered when I no longer live? What behaviours are holding me back? Should I write for myself or for others? And so it goes on.
As I continued my reading, I found that the books that felt more like conversations stayed in my mind more than rigid facts and statements. The fictional stories I read held a grip on me, almost as if were genuine memories or experiences. Think about it: some of the most prominent works on earth were not written with marketing, fame or money as their primary influence. Aurelius' Meditations was written for himself. Epictetus' Writings and Selected Discourses was written by his assistant when talking with him. Sun Tzu's Art of War was likely written for himself, to keep a document of rules he must follow to achieve martial success, and later was published. And what of The Witcher, A Gentleman in Moscow, Norwegian Woods, The Castle — do you think these were written for you and I simply for money, or do you think these were written for the author's enjoyment or satisfaction? I'd like to think the latter.
Writing can be for your own enjoyment. It is a tool for sharing ideas or exploring ideas for your own benefit. It does not need an aim. It does not require perfection — there are plenty of books with incorrect grammar, spelling or awkward styling. It can be for self-expression. It can be a conversation between you and the reader, here or in the distant future. And this is the key point: conversation. Writing becomes so much more beautiful when you think of it in this frame of mind.
Unless I talk with someone, my ideas stay locked in my head, and boy do I have a lot going on in there — surprising, I know. When left, these ideas fester and ferment, for better or for worse, but rarely ever see the light of day. I'm sure most never will. Some of these ideas will haunt me, bubbling to the surface, demanding I pay them attention and care.
By writing, I give my thoughts freedom and release that pressure in my mind. I find benefit or satisfaction in the action, and get to have a conversation with you in the process. And thanks to the digital world, I get to have this conversation a thousand times over with people I'd ordinarily never have the opportunity of talking with. All by committing an hour or a few to writing them — perhaps longer if it's complex or I'm suffering from perfectionism.
Perceiving writing as a conversation is incredibly liberating and beneficial: (1) It directs your writing to the reader, talking to them directly; (2) Seeking inspiration for your writing becomes easier when thought of as a conversation. A little imagination, a walk and the normal daily interactions and observations will lead you to interesting subjects; (3) It feels more natural, both for yourself and your reader and relieves pressure from your shoulders to write beautifully, eloquently and powerfully. It no longers needs to be perfect if its intention is for your own benefit, or is framed as a down-to-earth conversation
Funnily enough, this liberation of writing via literary conversation is beneficial to those who read your work. You make yourself human, and that's a pleasant thing. It's natural and easier to follow a conversation. You are opening up your mind to those who enjoy your work or who work with you. People can actually connect with you. And not in that stuffy, strategic marketing way — but genuinely connect. Naturally, this will put some people off, but it will open new doors to more genuine relationships, commercial or otherwise. Which ironically is what good marketing does.
Here's a very numbers and business-like way to look at it. An hour-long conversation can be reduced to 10 – 15 mins of reading time, generally speaking. So if you could get straight to the point, you could talk to 4-6 people in the same plot of time. Now let's say you spend 8 hours a day doing nothing but back-to-back conversations. You could talk to a max of 17,520 people (8 hours x 6 conversations x 365 days = 17,520) if you were insanely, almost robotically, efficient with your conversations and took no days off. Not bad, but insanely exhausting and almost impossible.
Instead, you could commit 8 hours to 1 article focused on a single conversation. You'd only need 48 people (8 hours x 6 conversations = 48 people) to read your article to break even on your time.
To emphasise the power of this, an article I wrote back in May 2020 'My 28 Day Music Detox' has been viewed by 4.3k times and I committed only 8 hours to its writing, the writing itself isn't great, and I did absolutely no marketing besides publishing it on Medium, yet 98% of all views came from external views and not internal views. If we say only 25% of people read that article, that still means I've passively conversed with 1,075 people. That's over a 22x ROI on my time (1,075 reads [4,300 views / 25%] / 48 people [8 hours x 6 conversations] = 22.395). If only 10% read my article, it's still an 8.95x ROI on my time. Imagine you're driving lots of traffic to your articles, publishing consistently and fairly often, and to a decent enough quality — just think of how many conversations you could have with people, and how quickly the world opens up to you.
I'm sure Chinese philosophers of days long past would nod happily at such a grandiose title, but it is not an undeserved one. Nor does the conversation have to end here, I'm only an email away and would love nothing more than to receive a message from you.
We all know time is an asset, and if you're like me and always have some thought, question or idea nagging at the back of your head, maybe it's time to give it form. Open up your mind, and in so doing so, the world.