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Transcript of Tim Ferriss on How to Use Writing to Sharpen Your Thinking

Last updated Feb 9, 2024

I’m gonna talk a little bit about how to
use writing and why you should use
writing to improve your thinking so I
would credit much of the success I’ve
had to whatever extent I’ve had success
to learning how to write and to
practicing writing and the reason for
that is that without writing it’s very
hard to freeze your thinking on paper so
that you can sharpen it so that you can
see where for instance using words that
aren’t well-defined where you’re saying
things that don’t need to be said all of
this will help everything else I
remember in college for instance when I
took a class with John McPhee an
incredibly gifted writer and teacher all
of my grades and every other class went
up because every extraneous bit of
information that was hurting instead of
helping me was taken out so to sharpen
the salt a couple of different

number one is write anything anything
whatsoever stream-of-consciousness essay
doesn’t really matter let’s just call it
one two three pages something along the
lines of morning pages and Julia camera
and the artists way popularized this and
there are a number of folks like Brian
Koppelman very well-known writer
screenwriter co-creator of the show
billions swears by morning pages so that
is an easy way to ease into the practice
of just moving a pen I recommend
freehand so that you can see your
thinking on paper that accomplishes two
things number one it takes the anxieties
and nebulous worries in your head puts
them down in a freeze frame so that you
can kind of trap them in the printed
form so you can get on with the rest of
your day the second thing it does is it
allows you to see where you are sharp
and where you were dull in your thinking
now if you are drafting as I do for
instance right now once a week writing
if you are looking for a proofreader and
you do need a proofreader if you can’t
find a professional writer because we
can’t all find professional writers talk
to friends who have any type of legal
training or you could even hire a lawyer
to do this or a paralegal someone with a
law degree they are trained to look at
language very very carefully because in
a dispute in a negotiation and a
disagreement arbitration it’s going to
come down to the
wording of contracts and I have found
that when I do not have access to
professional writers it is oftentimes
just as good or even better to get
lawyers or people with legal training to
read my writing so that would be a
workaround that I accidentally
discovered this is very powerful
few things to keep in mind when you are
then doing revisions because writing is
in fact rewriting your gonna vomit out
your first one or two pages and my
mantra of sorts which I borrowed from
someone else who is a career ghost
writer is to crappy pages to crappy
pages per day and very often you’re
going to exceed that and then write more
but so that you set the game up in a way
that is winnable to copy pages is your
minimum and it can be just rain vomit it
can be worthless but got to get two
pages all right once you have those two
pages you can approach revision in a few
different ways and you can revise
yourself say in three rounds like my
friend Neil Strauss who I think has
seven or eight New York Times
bestselling books at this point when he
does his first edit he edits for himself
alright so he’s editing just for his
pleasure for his enjoyment for what he
thinks is good then the second round of
edits he will edit for his fans the
people he thinks will really love this
material the third round is for the
critics the people who try to tear it
apart to find little niggly points that
they could twist and so on and that can
be a helpful framework for revising what
I do with proof readers and you can do
this also with people who are not
trained writers at all and in fact you
should have some lay people so to speak
people who are not writers as a craft
very simply what I will ask people to do
is read and highlight anything this
could be in a Google Doc a word doc on
paper that is confusing people can like
what you write they can dislike it they
can love it they can hate it but it
should not confuse anybody that’s the
first thing I will do is I’ll ask people
just highlight anything that is
confusing or unclear alright that’s that
step one anyone can do that
the next is if you notice your mind
wandering while you’re reading this
please note that alright so if something
is slow
maybe it can be taken out note where
your mind starts wandering alright the
dictum there is when in doubt take it
out just be like I don’t know if I
should take I don’t know if I should
keep this or not take it out at least as
an experiment the other question that I
posed to proofreaders because you can
train people to be very good
proofreaders is the 10% rule and it’s
not really a rule but a guideline that I
like to use so I’ll say please indicate
the 10% I should keep no matter what if
there is 10% that I should keep no
matter well what is the strongest 10%
like there’s 10% I have to keep please
indicate that and if I had to cut 10% or
even 20% in some cases all ask people
please indicate what you would cut if
you had to cut something even if this is
an essay or a blog post that is a page
or two long and what you’ll find if you
approach writing systematically in this
way and revision systematically in this
way is your cognition your analysis your
awareness of how you use words how you
use explanation how you use questions
will become so much sharper that it will
transcend this type of exercise and
begin to positively affect just about
everything in your life so for
fulfillment for excitement for
professional success for personal

I find writing to be arguably the most important practice.
good luck

Created 2022-11-09