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The power of writing

April 3, 2020

The 1% rule says that within an Internet community, such as a wiki, 90% of participants only consume content, 9% edit or modify content and only 1% of participants create content.

This is applicable, as a rule of thumb, to publishing essays on the Internet; most of the participants only read them, while only a small minority writes them.

However, there are certain benefits to being in that minority; it encourages improving writing skills. This is a good idea, since writing is needed in any kind of knowledge work today. The most usual first encounter with the next employer is the cover letter, which requires a good level of writing skill.

When in doubt, people from Basecamp recommend hiring a better writer.

If you are trying to decide between a few people to fill a position, always hire the better writer. It doesn’t matter if that person is a designer, programmer, marketer, salesperson, or whatever, the writing skills will pay off. Effective, concise writing and editing leads to effective, concise code, design, emails, instant messages, and more.

That’s because being a good writer is about more than words. Good writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They know what to omit. They think clearly. And those are the qualities you need.

Basecamp — Getting Real

The power of a well-written cover letter

I’ve only sent a single cover letter the last time I was looking for a new client, and he is one of the best clients I’ve ever worked with. Since this means the response rate was 100%, I consider it a great success. The usual response rate for previous cover letters I’ve sent was around 50%.

In total, I’ve probably sent over 50 cover letters. Most of them simply listed my years of experience, top open source contributions and some generic statement about why I would be a great fit for the team. I’ve never spent more than 15 minutes on writing each.

In contrast, this time I’ve spent 3 hours! I skipped all the usual bullshit and decided to write a long email explaining why I loved their job description. Putting in the extra effort really paid off.

Writing to learn

The generation effect explains that we learn better when we write about the topic we want to learn about. No one knows exactly why, but we better remember information when it’s actively created from our own minds.

The usual practice of the education system, however, is giving the students tests to write after they have learned the material. They are rarely encouraged to “think on paper”.

The brain is no place for serious thinking. If you're thinking about something important and complicated, write it down.

Jack Altman

Writing while reading is a good way to improve the understanding of the information consumed. You can’t write about something in your own words, unless you understand it.

Richard Feynman once had a visitor in his office, a historian who wanted to interview him. When he spotted Feynman’s notebooks, he said how delighted he was to see such “wonderful records of Feynman’s thinking.” "No, no!” Feynman protested. “They aren’t a record of my thinking process. They are my thinking process. I actually did the work on the paper.

Sönke Ahrens — How to Take Smart Notes

Writing to generate new ideas

Writing about a topic will give you more ideas for writing. The ball gets rolling, and the ideas start to reproduce. As you write, you’ll explore what you think and make new realizations. It’s hard to do that without writing. Writing is not simply putting ideas from your head on paper, it’s about thinking on paper and getting new ideas.

I think it's far more important to write well than most people realize. Writing doesn't just communicate ideas; it generates them. If you're bad at writing and don't like to do it, you'll miss out on most of the ideas writing would have generated.

Paul Graham — Writing, briefly

Writing to generate opportunity

The last article I’ve published generated opportunity I didn’t know existed. It opened some interesting doors for my current client. It connected people around me in a way that benefits everyone. It happened just because I’ve written something interesting, which made the article popular and reached more people.

Writing is the most scalable professional networking activity. Stay home, don't go to events/conferences, and just put ideas down.

Andrew Chen

David Perell writes about this regularly and encourages people to build their own “serendipity vehicles”. Blog is nothing more than a tool for attracting interesting people and with them, the opportunity you didn’t know existed.

Writing is the best kind of networking.

By making it easy for people to find you online, you’ll create a vehicle for serendipity. Call on your vehicle when you want to manufacture serendipity, and you need some activation energy.

David Perell — How to maximize serendipity


From a cover letter that lands you a job of your dreams, to writing an article that creates opportunity you didn’t even know existed, writing well is a super skill, so write more.

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