Why Write

#learning · April 2020 · 4 minute read

Blogs have seen a renaissance in the last few years.

They went from online public journals, to near-extinction by the hand of social networks, up to where they are now: well-written essays covering a wide variety of complex topics.

They enhance mental clarity, enable a structured way to share ideas, and allow for like-minded people to connect.

Technologists and coders have been blogging like this since ages. But today it’s getting serious traction. In some circles, it’s like you’re actually supposed to have a blog.

Now, enter the Villain: The Imposter Syndrome.

As blogs are becoming so well-written, and so many smart people are having one, it’s quite easy to see our motivations change.

We start focusing on being popular than on getting better. We start caring more about how the world will judge us than about what we’re gaining from the experience.

The natural conclusion of this transition from intrinsic motivations to extrinsic ones is that we just give up:

Am I actually allowed to write about this topic? There are already 1000 other writers out there more skilled, knowledgeable, connected, experienced than I can ever become. What’s the point of writing, then? Will people make fun of me?

The sad thing is that this train of thought is so frequent, and yet so paradoxically counterproductive.

See, we dread exposing ourselves — to tell the world our opinion on a topic we care about deeply — because we fear we don’t know enough about it.

On the contrary, though, writing is actually an extraordinary tool to learn. And quite a lot of science backs this up.

Write about what you don’t know

A few days ago, I came across an elegant framework on how to face your Inner Critic. Anne-Laure Le Cunff, from NessLabs suggested it during a virtual meet-up I attended, and it perfectly encapsulates my thinking on the topic.

It’s very simple. When you have something you’d like to write about but the courage to do so is nowhere to be seen, ask yourself:

What do I want to learn today?

Basic logic (with a grain of tautology) says that the teacher is the one who knows, while the student is the one learning. Science respectfully disagrees.

A core principle of learning is Interaction over Consumption.

What it means is that it’s much better to interact with what you want to learn rather than just passively consuming it.

That’s why YouTube videos won’t teach you a thing that will seriously last, why highlighting text during classes works so well, and why online learning has so little graduation rates.

Knowledge retention is unlocked when we take a “constructivist approach to learning”, as Tiago Forte puts it. And one great way to construct knowledge, to be proactive with it, is to write about what you’re learning.

It’s not something the world never saw before. The Feynman Technique — which states that the quickest way to learn a subject is teach it to a 6th grade student — is actually pretty popular. No invention of the wheel, here.

But the novelty of the approach is its application to blogging and public branding. It elegantly turns the tables on the writer’s Inner Critic.

All of a sudden, procrastination tools we deploy to avoid facing our insecurities fade away, and become irrelevant. Do you really care if your website is powered by Wordpress or Hugo when what you’re really after are knowledge and learning?

Public doesn’t imply Judging

Sure, there’s a social layer attached to online blogging that we can’t ignore: people will read what we’re learning.

But the remarkable thing is that making learning public is another element that actually improves its efficacy.

People are not there to make fun of us. For sure not to judge: they also have their Inner Critic speaking, you know.

Readers are there to keep us accountable. It’s another powerful element of social learning in physical classes that MOOC never got quite right.

Writing publicly not only forces us to take a proactive approach to learning, but a social one too. We implicitly have a sort of public pact with our audience that can keep the chance of dropping lower.

Another elegant way to turn the tables on what was preventing us from writing.

So, why write?

All of this should make abundantly clear why having a blog in 2020 makes perfect sense, even if less than 10 people will read it.

I didn’t even discuss the startling impact that writing online has on career development and networking. These are extrinsic motives, that should come later.

Write to learn.

Write about what you don’t know.

I surely will.

// Thanks to Marco and Stefano for helping me review the post.

I'm on Twitter at @giansegato. Comments and feedback are more than welcome.

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