School trains people to write slowly.
Students who receive a syllabus at the beginning of the semester know exactly what they need to accomplish by the end of it. Teachers allocate time during the semester for outlines, first drafts, and final ones too. Students only begin writing at the end of the semester, after they’ve listened to the teacher and observed other people’s thinking via the books, articles and scientific journals they read throughout the semester. I call this SLOW Writing, which is an acronym for syllabus, listen, observe, and write.
SLOW Writing only works if you can devote your entire life to the craft of writing. As a working adult, you can’t do that. Outside of work, you have limited time. You have chores to finish, kids to raise, and responsibilities to take care of. It’s not romantic, but it’s the truth: You only write if you can learn to write FAST.
FAST Writing is an acronym for find, assemble, speak, and teach. I’ll describe each step in turn.
Find: Your process should begin before you know what you’re going to create. To do that, you need a note-taking system where you can save your best ideas. Without one, your research is a stressful process that only begins when you’re crushed by the weight of a deadline and know exactly what you’re going to write about. But armed with a note-taking system, you can passively research. Researching and living become one-in-the-same because you can collect ideas whenever you read, send an insightful email, or visit a museum with a friend. Finding ideas transforms research from an expensive exercise that you only do under the stress of a deadline to a passive activity in your normal life.
Assemble: Don’t start writing from a blank page. Start by compiling a long list of scattered ideas that relate to your topic. With that long list in hand, you’ll be able to instantly ignite your creativity. If you have to start the learning process when you start writing, you’ve already lost the battle. FAST Writing doesn’t have a dedicated section for research because the vast majority of your learning should be complete before you start writing. Writing without notes is like trying to build a campfire without a pile of wood. Every time you run out of fuel, you need to run to the forest to gather more wood. But assembling your notes gives you a stock of firewood you can use to write your essay. You can distill them into a summary or use them to inspire an intellectual phase transition where you generate your own ideas.
Speak: Writing is a high opportunity cost activity. It demands 100% of your attention and you’re exhausted when you finish because it makes you think so intensely. Speaking is easy though because you already do it every day. But most people don’t think of it as a way to develop their ideas before they start typing. Talking with others forces you to structure your ideas in ways that thinking alone never can because whenever you’re persuading or storytelling, you’re developing ideas you can eventually write about. The clarifying questions that arise reveal the holes in your argument that you can remove the next time you explain an idea. The more you can think in conversations you’re already having, the more refined your ideas will be when you start typing.
Teach: One reason that students don’t like writing in school is because they don’t receive most of the benefits of writing online. For their entire childhood, they write for one person: the teacher. Good grades, an ultimately meaningless goal, are their biggest motivation to write. No wonder they don’t like writing. But online writing is a social and collaborative act. Sharing ideas with others turns teaching into a double entendre. First, you teach others about a topic when you share your ideas. Then, they reciprocate and teach you in return. The act of sharing ideas initiates a virtuous feedback loop where the better you write about a topic, the better the quality of feedback you receive, which in turn, helps you write better about a topic.
If you want to write regularly, you don’t have time for the SLOW Writing methodology you learned in school. Your writing process has to fuse with your normal life, so you can write more while spending less time at your computer.
Find, assemble, speak, teach.
Sign up for my free writing course if you want to learn more.
You’ll learn about Personal Monopolies, the Netflix Principle, and how to build your email list.