304: What You Should Write About

This is the Monday Medley, a newsletter that goes out, you guessed it, every Monday. I republish it here for sharing and referencing, but if you'd like to sign up you can do so right here:

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Happy Monday!

In the last week, I was featured on the "Decrypting Crypto" podcast to talk about getting into Web3 and working on Crypto Raiders.

I also published Tokenomics 102, all about understanding the token supply, emissions, market cap, fully diluted value, and more, for a project.

And with that, on to the Medley.

What You Should Write About

The most useful work I do each week is writing.

If you're someone who subscribes to a newsletter like this, then you've heard the "you should write!" advice. And it is good advice. But as anyone who tries to write anything knows: it's easy to get stuck on the question of what to write about.

While you're first adjusting to potentially millions of people getting a peek at your inner lunatic, it's best to play it safe. Write about things you understand, share your knowledge, be helpful. If your goal is to build a personal brand, score some LinkedIn followers, and get invited to webinars this will be very helpful. The billions of pages on the Internet contain remarkably little high-quality information. If you can be a source of good information, people will pay attention to you.

At some point, you'll reach the edge of your knowledge. What then? You have two choices: keep rehashing the same knowledge into articles and threads of various lengths and superlatives, or start pushing the horizon by writing about things you don't understand.

It's scary to write about topics you don't understand. When I start reading an article on a topic, I expect the author to have some understanding of what they're talking about. So when I start writing a new piece with only a rough idea of what I'm going to discuss, it's hard not to feel like a fraud. Thankfully if you've created high expectations for yourself after a few hundred pieces on things you do understand, those expectations will force you to figure out what the hell you're talking about before you hit publish.

I know almost nothing about the various topics I write about in my crypto newsletter before I write about them. I have a list of ideas and projects to cover, then I pick one each week that sounds interesting to explore. And since you all expect me to not sound like a complete idiot when I write about things, I end up doing a decently good job of figuring out what's going on by the time I finish the piece.

It's a fantastic way to learn. The pressure of trying to be useful to others forces you to explore and distill your knowledge in a highly efficient way. Without that pressure, it would be easy to spend days or weeks researching a topic without doing any synthesis on what you're exploring. And without synthesis, it's hard to say you really learned anything.

After doing particularly poorly on one exam, my high school math teacher told me "You're someone who reads an explanation of a math problem, recognizes that you understand it, then assumes that means you can do it. It doesn't. Recognition is only the first step. You have to make sure you can do it on your own, too."

I've thought about that advice a lot. When we read, watch, listen, we might hear an idea or concept and go "yeah that makes sense" and assume that means we've learned it. But we haven't. We've only recognized it. And recognition is a far cry from knowledge. It's not until we've broken it down, reconstructed it, and put our own bow on it that we truly know it.

That's what writing does for us. You might build the LEGO set once with the instructions (reading), but it's not until you rebuild it on your own that you really get it (writing). And the more you pull in LEGO pieces from other sets and try making new things from scratch without any instructions at all, the more you learn and the more new ideas you can stumble upon.

Great writing comes from those explorations, from building new castles with your set of bricks, and from making an honest effort to figure things out. The trap writers can fall into is from being afraid to push those boundaries, and building the same structures over and over because mom and dad keep telling them how smart and talented they are.

The best writing is when we can tell the writer is truly lost in the fog with us, but their lantern is bright, and they're leading us in an interesting direction. Your goal as a writer isn't to be a lighthouse. It's to have a lot of kerosene.

Selling out is abandoning the exploration in favor of building a lighthouse. You find your thing that works, and you keep milking it for money, attention, whatever activates those dopamine receptors. We don't care if a writer gets money and fame without abandoning the quest. It's when they're no longer exploring with us that their work starts to fall flat.

I've thought a lot about why Infinite Jest feels so compelling, despite being the most incredibly aggravating book to read. It's this aspect of exploration. DFW spent 1000 pages of story and 300 pages of footnotes trying to grapple with addiction, happiness, love, drugs, obsession, meaning, and by the end you're surrounded by more fog than when you started. It's a raw, unfiltered, look into the psyche of an incredibly intelligent person on the verge of killing themselves. The book wasn't for us, it was for him. An honest attempt to Figure Things Out. And the tragedy of the book is that someone that smart can spend that long trying to answer these questions and still end up hanging themselves.

The best writing isn't for anyone else. It's for you. It's to try to clear the fog on the questions wracking your brain, regardless of who wants to join for the ride. For writing to resonate with others, it needs to resonate with you first. And the scarier the fog you're willing to share your journey through, the more people it will resonate with.

So get some reps in writing about what you know, then start exploring what you don't. People will read to learn, but we want to be seen more than anything. To know we're not the only ones with these frightening questions fogging up our brains. To know we're not crazy, not alone, and we have at least one friend in the fog with a lantern.

Writing isn't for anyone else. It's for you. And the more you make it for you, the more it will help everyone else.

Have a great week,

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