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Julian Shapiro on Writing well

written by JIBRAN EL BAZI |

What does Julian use in his own writing?

  • Emphasis on single words by making it italic
  • Short sentences mostly
  • Lots of space between separate ideas/sentences
  • Use hooks: Julian says, "You see, this guide is a ruse: one of its goals is to teach you critical thinking." Here he is using a hook at the start to keep you interested. Then follows up on it later to build goodwill.

Why write?

  • Leverage, change the world
  • Clarity (of mind)
  • Social connections

Topic choice

  • First, only write an introduction to a topic. See if it resonates.
  • What can't I NOT write about?

Some objectives:

  • Open people's eyes by proving the status quo wrong.
  • Articulate something everyone's thinking about, but no one is saying. Cut through the noise.
  • Identify key trends on a topic. Use them to predict the future.
  • Contribute original insights through research and experimentation.
  • Distill an overwhelming topic into something approachable.
  • Share a solution to a tough problem.
  • Tell a suspenseful and emotional story that imparts a lesson.

Motivation for writing:

  • Does writing this article get something off your chest?
  • Does it help reason through a nagging, unsolved problem you have?
  • Does it persuade others to do something you believe is essential?
  • Do you obsess over the topic and want others to geek out over it too?

Intro & Hooks

Julian says to think about intro's like this: "A great intro is an insurance policy for your mistakes."

A hook is a half-told story:

  • Questions — Pose an intriguing question, but don't give the answer.
  • Narratives — Share the beginning of a narrative, but withhold the conclusion.
  • Discoveries — Highlight new findings, but only a portion.
  • Arguments — Present your case, but not how you arrived at it.

Hooks are talking points. You have to address them in the text.

Hooks save time. Showing the hook and watching the reaction tells loads about people's interests.

Skepticism on hooks

  • Superficial: This is the skepticism of readers not believing you'll share things they don't already know.
  • Solution: Tease your original insights in your introduction.‍
  • Irrelevant: Readers don't believe you'll cover key points they care about.
  • Solution: List the points you'll cover.‍
  • Sloppy: Readers don't want to sit through more bad writing.
  • Solution: Rewrite your intro to be clear, succinct, and intriguing.‍
  • Implausible: Readers don't believe you'll answer your hooks well.
  • Solution: Make your hooks realistic. Don't over-sell.‍
  • Untrustworthy: Readers don't believe you're qualified to write about your topic.
  • Solution: If you have relevant credentials, share them. If not, make your hooks so captivating that they can't help but continue reading. Make the rest of your post so insightful, logical, and well-researched that they don't question you further.

Ask for feedback

After writing an intro ask for feedback

  • Ask what questions people want answered.
  • Ask how interested they'd be in reading further on a scale from 1 to 10.
  • Tell friends/family that low scores are not a problem at all. It helps create a better piece.
  • Keep asking for feedback until the average is 8/10.

The Goal

A first draft is for generating ideas. (Brainstorm talking points)

Connect dots between these points to learn what I'm really trying to say.

Start with the objective

Choose a writing objective

Work backwards from what your article needs to accomplish (the objective).

To reach an objective, you need to support this with one or more arguments. These arguments have two types of points underneath them:

  • Supporting points (which points are needed to make the argument?)
  • Resulting points (what are the implications of the argument being true?)

(A draft generates many of these points.)

First draft process:

  • Choose an objective for your post.
  • Write a messy braindump of your ideas.
  • Transfer your best talking points to an outline.
  • Write your first draft using that outline.

Step 1 — Write down your initial thoughts

Focus on surprising or interesting ideas FOR ME. I'm a proxy for what my readers like.

When ideas stop flowing, ask more questions: how can I make this more convincing or "what are the implications of these points?"

Surprise people with my writing. First, learn the basics about a topic, then find new information that surprises me. It'll likely surprise my readers too.

If I focus on what surprises me, my voice starts to become louder. Readers will notice. It makes my writing personal.

Step 2 — Outline talking points

Creating an outline

  • Extract talking points from the brainstorm
  • Order them into an outline.
  • The simple way is to first do supporting points, then resulting points.
  • See the article for an example of doing that in 'challenging the status quo'.
  • Supporting points set the stage.
  • Resulting points explore what happens when the argument is correct.

Fill in the gaps

  • Check what is missing and create new supporting points (based on research, for example) or tie points together with a transitionary talking point.

Objective outline types

  • Challenge the status quo.
  • Articulate something everyone's thinking about but no one is saying.
  • Identify key trends on a topic. Use them to predict the future.
  • Contribute original insights to a field through research and experimentation.
  • Distill an overwhelmingly complex topic into something digestible.
  • Share a clever solution to a tough problem.
  • Tell a suspenseful and emotional story that imparts a lesson.
  • Use a spreadsheet to help to brainstorm outlines.

Step 3 — Write a draft using your outline

  • Each outline item is a section
  • Write one at a time
  • Don't worry about writing well, 1st draft is for generating surprising and interesting ideas.
  • If points need changing or adding/removing, that's no problem.

Writing an outro

  • These are optional
  • Share a takeaway
  • Provide next steps
  • The draft is for generating ideas, but it needs to be rewritten to form the end result.

Side note: avoiding procrastination

  • Caused by avoiding tedium or indulging in distractions
  • Make writing easy to avoid tedium. Start with only an intro.
  • Set habits or personal challenges that help avoid distractions.


I'll update my notes here when I continue with the 'rewriting' section.

Extra writing tip

Check out "How to punctuate"

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