Why write?

Writing as crystallized thought, a way of expressing the labyrinth of interconnected, messy, and many time incoherent ideas in my mind. It is a form of knowledge distillation.

The thing I like about writing is that it’s quite literally thinking—a way for me access my own interiority and construct something from it. What I write is all mine, it’s a living thing, it’s an extension of me that wanders out into the world. (Ava in How To Avoid Half-Heartedness)

It is a form of lossiness as mutation, a way to re-interpret and adapt the thoughts into a new form — to breathe it new life. Whether networked or linear, molding it into new forms through language and terminology can give it a new perspective. A mental unflattening.

What I am doing right now, writing this essay, is, technically, a linear walk through the network of my ideas. That is what writing is: turning a net into a line. (Henrik Karlsson, Reader-generated Essays)

It is the form almost universally understood by all, a sort of contact language that enables people from vastly different backgrounds and contexts to build shared fictions.

It is the contribution of the radical intellectual, a sort of gift and offering. From David Graeber, ‘Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology’:

One obvious role for a radical intellectual is to do precisely that: to look at those who are creating viable alternatives, try to figure out what might be the larger implications of what they are (already) doing, and then offer those ideas back, not as prescriptions, but as contributions, possibilities — as gifts […] Such a project would have to have two aspects: one ethnographic, one utopian, suspended in a constant dialogue.

Writing is a form of autonomous knowledge, something that is autopoetic, self-contained, and self-spreading.

See also: writing idea list


Writing as art

I write like the 12 dollar desk salad, the bar that packs 20 grams of protein and plastic into one 200-calorie brick. But good writing, like a good meal, needs fat. It should indulge readers, is meant to be chewed and enjoyed, affording a generous escape from the prosaic and mundane. — Jasmine Sun

How much time should we spend producing great writing, and how much trying to prove it to the world? Can we write as if we were Hanya Yanagihara in “A Little Life”? To please only ourselves?

As Thinking

Ted Chiang on the power of written language in Truth of Fact, Truth of Feeling:

Writing was not just a way to record what someone said; it could help you decide what you would say before you said it. And words were not just the pieces of speaking; they were the pieces of thinking. When you wrote them down, you could grasp your thoughts like bricks in your hands and push them into different arrangements. Writing let you look at your thoughts in a way you couldn’t if you were just talking, and having seen them, you could improve them, make them stronger and more elaborate.

As Claims

We write not only to state what we have think but also to show why others might agree with it and why it matters. We also know that whatever it is we think, it is never the entire truth. Our conclusions are partial, incomplete, and always subject to challenge. So we write in a way that allows others to test our reasoning: we present our best thinking as a series of claims, reasons, and responses to imagined challenges, so that readers can see not only what we think, but whether they ought to agree.

Writing in College, by Joseph M. Williams and Lawrence McEnerney

Thesis can contain 4 main types of claims

  1. Claims of fact or definition: argue about what the definition of something is or whether something is a settled fact
  2. Claims of cause and effect: argue that one person, thing, or event caused another thing or event to occur
  3. Claims about value: what something is worth, whether we value it or not, how we would rate or categorize something
  4. Claims about solutions or policies: argue for or against a certain solution or policy approach to a problem

These aim to get the reader to say “that’s interesting, I’d like to know more”

  1. Logos: logic (See also: list of logical fallacies)
  2. Ethos: reputational appeal of the writer
  3. Pathos: emotional appeal

As query


A blog post is a search query. You write to find your tribe; you write so they will know what kind of fascinating things they should route to your inbox.

See also: niche at scale and the internet

Writing for a general public, you need to be broad and a bit bland. I didn’t want a general public. I wanted a specific set of people, the people who could help me along as a human being obsessed with certain intellectual problems. I didn’t know who these people were. I only knew that they existed. Hence my writing was a search query. It needed to be phrased in such a way that it found these people and, if necessary, filtered others.

Two opposing forces to this:

  1. Having idiosyncratic interests that grow in complexity means that if you pursue them too far you will end up obsessed with things that no one else around you cares about.
  2. Humans tend to mimic the interests of those around them (see: memetic thinking)

We can reach a sort of equilibrium by writing and doing things in public.