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Start your writing with mind mapping

Don’t start writing until you gain clarity on what you’re trying to write about. My favorite tool for gaining clarity is mind mapping.

Writing involves making sentences, so creating a certain kind of structure. This process slows you down. Mind mapping frees you from the grammatical structure and allows you to play with concepts only.

So, start your writing with mind mapping – to take it to the next level, you can do it while walking. Play with ideas until the pieces fall into place, and only then proceed to sentence crafting.


Delayed Posting

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I keep posting my daily writing, only to delete it later.”

“When do you post it?”

“Immediately after I finish it.”

“That’s your problem right there.

Delay posting it. You’ll be able to see it later with fresh eyes.

Even better, delay it until the next day.

“I like the idea of posting today’s writing tomorrow, of always writing for the next day. It takes the pressure off of today.”

“Ironically, you could have waited to post this tomorrow.”

“This is the last time.”

The Writing Habit

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

What is the writing habit?

The habit of writing every single day. 

It doesn’t matter what you write about, it doesn’t matter how much you write, it doesn’t matter how well you write; it matters only that you do.

What if life gets in the way?

Design the habit (and any habit) with the worst days in mind. Make the floor too small to fail. By floor, I mean the minimum daily target for the habit to be considered complete.

What is the measure of success?

When you can no longer conceive of a day without writing. When writing becomes identity.

Writing Cycles

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

I see writing as an oscillation. 

On/Off. Engagement/Disengagement.

Does it not take you out of Flow to interrupt your writing?

Think of it. When do you usually have most insights?

When I’m taking a shower, and when I’m walking.

So when you’re not focused on writing – during the Off. 

Based on this insight, I’ve integrated the Off into the writing process. (Integral Thinking)

I see writing as both the On and the Off. 

The On and the Off form an integral unit – like Yin/Yang. 

The On without the Off is fruitless.
The Off without the On is aimless.

I call the sequence of On followed by Off, writing cycle.

Writing Cycle = On + Off

Compressing Wisdom

Since writing is very hard and rewriting is comparatively easy and rather fun, I always write my scripts all the way through as fast as I can, the first day, if possible, putting in crap jokes and pattern dialogue—“Homer, I don’t want you to do that.” “Then I won’t do it.” Then the next day, when I get up, the script’s been written. It’s lousy, but it’s a script. The hard part is done. It’s like a crappy little elf has snuck into my office and badly done all my work for me, and then left with a tip of his crappy hat. All I have to do from that point on is fix it. So I’ve taken a very hard job, writing, and turned it into an easy one, rewriting, overnight. I advise all writers to do their scripts and other writing this way. (John Swartzwelder [<link; Wikipedia])

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“The idea in this quote has a beautiful actionable kernel.

What is your process for extracting it?”

“I follow a two-stage process.

The first stage is Paraphrasing/Editing. I seek to express the idea as a directive [<link; article by Derek Sivers] in as few words as possible.

Writing is hard; rewriting comparatively easy and fun.

Finish writing as fast as you can. It will be lousy, but the hard part is done. All you have to do from that point on is fix it.

You thus take a hard job, writing, and turn it into an easy one, rewriting.

The second stage is Tweet Writing. I seek to capture the essence of the idea as a tweet/aphorism.

Write fast.
Rewrite slowly.

On Writing and Editing

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I recently started studying editing and proofreading. Currently, this is my main area of focus.”

“Besides writing you mean?”

“I got started with editing because I want to get into freelancing. But I discovered that writing and editing go beautifully together, they’re complementary skills.

Editing helps me become a better writer.


“Editing involves delving into the principles and mechanics of good writing. 

In acquiring the skill of editing, you’re developing what I call the editing eye. This is essentially pattern-recognition. You’re internalizing perceptual lenses [<link; short read] that allow you to see any piece of writing with new eyes.”

“Can you give an example?”

“One such lens is wordiness – using more words than necessary or unnecessarily complex or abstract words. 

Internalizing the lens means actually seeing the instances of wordiness in a text, in all its forms: 

Filler Words / Stretchers: Words that add quantity not quality.

William persuades by means of logic.
William persuades by logic.

Redundancies: Words that say the same thing more than once.

We share in common a love for reading.
We share a love for reading.

Phony Intensifiers: Words that attempt to exaggerate what you’re saying. Such words strain to appear confident but actually signal the opposite.

I am absolutely confident in my abilities.
I am confident in my abilities.

Thickeners: Words that few people use in everyday speech.

Sarah found the means whereby she could cheat on tomorrow’s test.
Sarah found a way to cheat on tomorrow’s test.


On Writing and Systems

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How do you decide what to write about each day?”

“I have a system for it.

I start every day by being creative before reactive. I start every day with writing.

The first phase is playing with ideas. This is essentially free association, mind-mapping style.

I start with something that’s on top of my mind [<link; short read], and/or with some random stimulation, and expand in all directions.”

“What sort of random stimulation?”

“Random quotes. 

As you know, I use quotes as a resource [<link; short read]. In my CommonBook [<link] I have a selection of quotes tagged ‘reflectional‘. These are quotes that stimulate my mind – I call this type of quotes, puzzle quotes. I generate two random reflectional quotes, and use them as a starting point in my exploration.

If I can’t discover my piece for the day this way, I proceed to the second phase: developing ideas.

I have all my writing ideas – ideas about things I want to write about – saved in the CommonBook. I shuffle them (display them in random order), and casually go through them, fleshing them out a little bit more.”

“So instead of going deep on a saved idea, you go wide, developing multiple ideas a little bit.”


We can metaphorically think of ideas in terms of stages of development, like a plant.

Ideas start as seeds.

As you develop them, they turn into seedlings. The bigger the seedling, the more enticing it becomes to write about.

Writing is the process of turning seedling ideas into evergreen ideas.”

Modular Writing

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

What is modular writing?

Let’s take this article on modular writing as an example.

When I start writing, I have a vague idea of where I want to get to. As I’m writing, I’m clarifying it to myself.

So you’re discovering what you want to write about as you’re writing.


I develop the idea through exploration. I don’t try to force the process. I let ideas emerge organically.

For instance, the idea about writing about the piece I’m writing was unplanned, it emerged spontaneously.

What if no ideas emerge?

Then I take a break. Breaks are an essential aspect of the creative process. Expressed as a principle, I call it creative oscillation. I call the off part of the oscillation, the creative pause.

Structurally, I use short sentences, like this one.

A bit like tweet writing?


The goal is to create more or less self-contained units – modules – which, through an iterative process, I develop and eventually assemble into the final piece.

On note-taking and note-making

A cugeta inseamna a cugeta mai departe. (Nicolae Iorga)

Translation (from Romanian): To think means to think further.

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is the difference between note-taking and note-making?”

Note-taking means capturing ideas.

There are two types of note-taking: passive note-taking and active note-taking.

Passive note-taking means saving information as-is.

This can mean capturing ideas for later referencing.
Or it can mean capturing not only the ideas, but also their form, the way they are expressed, for later use as resources.

Active note-taking means transforming information as you’re saving it, ideally immediately. (Immediate Processing)

This means extracting the ideas and expressing them in your own words. (Paraphrasing)
It means engaging with the ideas, challenging them, and connecting them with other ideas.

Note-making means developing ideas.

It means thinking further.

As you’re integrating the ideas, you’re transforming them, bringing your own unique perspective, creating new ideas in the process.

The ultimate goal of note-making is creating evergreen notes – notes expressing timeless ides.”

On Writing: Posting daily 3

The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars. (David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art and Fear)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

The 80% drown the 20%.

“What do you mean?”

“The Pareto Principle applies to writing as well.

When people read what you write, wouldn’t you want them to focus only on your best work – the 20%?

The problem is, by publishing the 80% you make it harder for them to discover your 20%.

Write every day, but only publish the 20%.

“Does this mean also removing 80% of my past writings?”


Think long term. Now it may seem like a lot of work. But you don’t have to do it all at once. And in time, the 20% will add up.

Save the 80% somewhere. They’re more valuable to you, as a piece of your history. In removing them, you’re making room for the 20% shine.”