Updated: Jan 3
Straight off the bat, I know the title of this blog post is terribly cliché. However, here’s the good news: our title was click bait, serving the sole purpose of bringing you right here and right now. But for good reason. So don’t leave just yet, you might just find information that is surprisingly superior to what you originally thought apt.
It’s most likely that you didn’t simply stumble upon this blog by accident. It’s widely known that Google search works by indexing the most relevant webpage results in response to the corresponding search queries entered. You came here for a reason, and you’re certainly in the right place. Regardless of whether you’re new to writing or a writing professional, this new blog series is for you!
In all honesty, this article was written to teach you the basic ideologies that make an exceptional writer, as opposed to a merely good writer! Our discussion will be based on the concept of “first principles” in respect of thinking and writing. According to Oxford Languages (as per Google), the definition of “first principles” (noun) reads as “the fundamental concepts or assumptions on which a theory, system, or method is based”. Put simply, for you to adopt the practice of first principles in thinking and writing, you would need to break down your idea, vision, theme, story, and other cognitive art into physical manageable parts, so as to observe such abstract thoughts in their foundational states of being. Now, how do you go about ‘breaking down’ such abstract thoughts? Rather easily: before you type or write a single character on a page, be sure first to apply deep thought to your present problem.
Let’s say, for instance, that you want to write an article about good writing practices. The central issue confronting you would be the classic rhetoric of ‘where do I even begin?’. In applying the concept of first principles to your thinking and writing, you would first need to identify your central problem. As a reminder: our ‘example’ problem at present pertains to good writing practices. Second, you would need to break the problem down into manageable parts (its basic form and constituent parts).
An easy way to do this can be illustrated as follows:
Pose your abstract thought as a single question
This first stage involves identifying the core problem, your central subject matter, in the form of a single question. The possible questions at this stage are almost infinite, so aim to significantly simplify your MAIN struggle point (or problem) in as few words as possible. In this context, an example of a single question would be ‘what is the purpose of writing?’.
Answer the posed question – Define the purpose of writing
Conduct extensive authoritative research on your posed question. Conduct research on the purpose of writing. Find as many authoritative sources as is reasonably possible. Sift through the various sources that you have collated and extract (without plagiarising) the most important and relevant source data that directly answer your posed question. In simple terms, the research reveals that the purpose of writing is essentially to convey an abstract thought in comprehensible written form.
Discovery – The qualities of good writing
If done correctly, having only extracted and ordered the most important and relevant source data you need, you will start to observe many dots and begin to recognise a few pre-emptive connections between them. An example of a simple pre-emptive connection is the following: from a decent understanding of the purpose of writing, you will learn the various qualities of good writing. The early connections point you in the general direction of solving your problem in a more precise manner. These early connections indicate that certain qualities (or characteristics) serve to help a person write well. Simply put, these qualities of good writing can be summarised as a single point – to create a clear message that adequately conveys the full depth and breadth of your topic coupled with the methods to achieve such an objective.
Write a LONG–form version of your abstract thought
It’s at this stage that your thought ceases to be abstract and becomes specifiable. As a starting point, you would first need to adequately identify your target audience. Your target audience is the collective of readers to whom your message is directed.
Questions to ask yourself are:
(1) Who makes up my target audience?
(2) What are the interests and shortfalls in the knowledge of my target audience?
(3) Does my target audience consist of industry professionals, sector specialists, students, or members of the general public? And lastly,
(4) Is my message educational, informational, or thought-provoking?
Having discovered what kind of people your audience is comprised of, you would then know what kind of register (formal, semi-formal, or informal) to use when addressing them and conveying your message.
Rewrite your LONG–form specifiable thought continuously until simplified
During this stage, the realisation will occur to you that your writing is (a) unnecessarily too long, (b) poorly structured, and (c) akin to information dumping. On the basis of the aforementioned reasons, you would need to rewrite, restructure, and possibly reformulate your message to make it seamless, and straightforward, and to ensure that it remains relevant to your central topic.
The key takeaway here is to simplify your specifiable thought as much as possible without losing the core substance of your central message. It has been said numerous times by an exceptional writer, David Perell, that your first draft is almost always your worst draft. Therefore, iteration is key!
Produce a SHORT–form version of your simplified specifiable thought
At this point, it is assumed that the long-form version of your specifiable thought (your message) is structured, flows coherently, and includes all the relevant information that your central topic requires. That said, you are NOT done yet! Under certain circumstances, your message will be justifiably lengthy. This will be the case when you are writing a research report, an essay, an article on writing exceptionally, some form of a memorandum, and other such technical documents. However, in most other circumstances, and more often than not, this golden rule should be applied: ‘keep it simple and interesting’. Most people are busy these days, they have a lot on their minds as well as on their plates. To prevent boredom and reading fatigue, it is always best to write simple sentences with bite-sized paragraphs. In this manner, you not only capture your reader’s attention but most importantly, you hold their attention by sustaining their interest! Simply put, extensively summarise your long-form specifiable thought (your message) as far as is reasonably possible without losing the substance of your central topic.
Consolidation of your central topic – In this case: Good writing practices
Having undergone a full-circle experience, you would now know the basics of good writing practices and you would have your first official article draft written in clear and concise words. However, this draft for most people is still arguably not your best work. Accordingly, endeavour to revise the structure, word choice, sentence flow, and other nuanced details if and where necessary. Thereafter, thoroughly scrutinise your spelling and grammar with the eyes of an eagle.
A final word regarding your tirelessly achieved end result can be summarised in the form of a paradox by a truly exceptional writer. David Perell (via Twitter), wrote the following: “The paradox of writing: Great writing looks effortless. But because the ideas are so clear, casual readers don't appreciate how much time it took to refine them.”
On your writing journey, you will find this paradox to be true 10/10 times.
This brings us to the third central point of our MAIN discussion. As a general rule: unstructured thought should almost always precede structured thought. What is meant by this? Well, have you ever been in a situation where you had severe brain fog or as it’s colloquially known, ‘writer’s block’? In such situations, it tends to be tremendously difficult to think up inspiration or to find a solution to your present problem. Well, the purpose of applying first principles to your thinking and writing allows you to dissect your abstract thought in order to remove all of the unnecessary information, the so-called ‘fluff’! The fluff comprises all the unnecessary thoughts, ideas, and abstract themes that detract from your central topic.
By removing the fluff from your abstract thought, you can clearly define the most focused path of least resistance to further the development of your central topic. Now, to achieve this, you would need to first write down all of your unstructured thoughts (message with the fluff) in order to get to the point where you have structured thoughts (message without the fluff). At first glance, this may come across as counterintuitive. But it’s not, in fact, it’s the very opposite. It’s only through writing out your unstructured thoughts (abstract) that you will begin to make sense of them and thus develop structured thoughts (specifiable).
In simple words: write down everything on your mind, even if certain things seem entirely counterproductive to solving your current problem. Throughout balancing unstructured and structured thoughts, be sure to apply the above-illustrated 7-Step approach to first principles thinking and writing.
At Professional Typist Services™, first principles thinking and writing is one of the various writing ideologies that our exceptional writing staff subscribe to. As mentioned in Step 5 (above), we use a term known to coders and programmers the world over: "iterate". According to Oxford Languages (as per Google), "iterate" (verb) means to “perform or utter repeatedly”. We iterate until we get it right, and when we get it right, we iterate some more. The result that our esteemed clients get: polished masterpieces. True works of art that live, breathe and speak through each reader that encounters them.
In summation, to write better and thus become an exceptional writer, you should go back to walking, and then jogging before you even attempt running (as far as first principles thinking and writing is concerned). A brief recap follows. Identify your core problem and formulate a question. Conduct authoritative research on your core problem/question. Evaluate your findings. Apply your newly found insight. Iterate aggressively. Improve, improve, and improve some more! And lastly, consolidate your central topic into a clear and concise message. In following this approach, you’re well on your way to becoming a truly exceptional writer.
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