Siddhartha Gunti

How I like to write

If I am going to write often, might as well figure out how I want to write. Like a runner figuring out what running tracks they like. Here’s my recipe so far:

  • Write like I talk

  • Write like I read

  • Write like a screenplay

  • Paint a picture without getting boring

  • Pinch of comedy to ease the emotions

  • Easy read but has a bit of twirl and spring in it

  • There is no perfect writing. Publish and tweak

  • Write to preserve memories

  • Write to build my mental toolkit

  • Write when the inspiration strikes

  • Write to teach and, therefore learn

  • Publishing and broadcasting are different

  • I like it if someone finds my writing useful

Write like I talk vs Write like I read. 

At the sentence level, I like to write like I talk. Simple and easy to understand. My vocabulary is simple, and my grammar knowledge is terrible. So, sticking to simple words is pretty easy. The problem comes when I get a fun idea to tweak a sentence and end up creating complex sentences. 

For example, here’s a long sentence I wrote for my ‘About’ page

You can think of me as book-geek meets stout-beer lover meets your run-of-the-mill tech introverted entrepreneur (Someone decided enough things are met already for one single entity. So they just sprinkled an always-yes guy on the top)

.It is clearly hard to understand. Grammatically, logically and aesthetically, it’s not clean. So why this fascination with complex sentences? Because I want to write what I would like to read.

When I read, I find interestingly strung-together words fun. I save such lines whenever I come across them. Here’s one such sentence I recently saved:

I can show you many who have lacked, not a friend, but a friendship

So that sums up the trouble: Stringing simple words into an interesting sentence makes me happy. But I am not good at it (yet?). Until then, I battle this fascination in re-edits. I either simplify those sentences or remove them altogether. (Like how the ‘About me’ sentence is no longer on my about page).

Write like a screenplay

I find linear structure gets boring pretty quickly. Business writing is painfully dull to me for the same reason. It is not surprising that I read non-fiction more. 

Secondly, I aim to write and direct movies one day. One of my goals is to become a better storyteller. So, I like playing around with the “screenplay” aspect of the essay. I like jumping in and out of timelines to narrate my stories. It is not a skill I am great at, but I actively try to include this in my writing.

Paint a picture

My goal with every note is to paint a picture without getting on the reader's nerves.

I find straightforward notes work well for todos. But for storytelling, I want to paint as vivid a picture as possible in the reader's mind. There are, of course, narrative limitations. I can't explain every single detail. That gets boring.

There is good humour in writing, just enough detail to paint a base canvas. But holding back enough to let the reader finish the painting on their own. That ideal mean is what gets the reader (me) to associate with the narrative.

Pinch of comedy

Most of my writing is deeply personal. I find carefully placed comedy makes heavy notes lighter. But also enough to keep the momentum going.

I want my notes to feel like how I talk to my friends. When I meet a friend, I like to jibe, joke and laugh with them, even while discussing tough topics. So, I try to mimic this in my writing. Side note: I want to get better at comedy writing.

Twirl and spring

I don't have completely original ideas. You won't pick up any new axioms from my essays. But I like to write known axioms with a fun spring. Springs makes me stop and rethink the axiom and how I see it. Often, these springs help me in building my mental axioms. 

When I lost my hair to Alopecia, drawing a parallel between my wigs and my spectacles was that twirl. When I wrote about my alopecia journey, I started and ended my note with that twirl.

Publishing over perfecting

I write for myself. I am my biggest reader. This dictates my publishing process: I prefer publishing over perfecting. 

Why? First, this forces me to make sure my biggest reader has more content to read. Second, there is no perfect writing. Aiming for perfection stops me from publishing. Publishing less stops me from writing. It's a vicious cycle I observed in myself over the years.

So, my writing process is simple. Anything that hinders me from publishing goes out. What I ended up with is - I write the first draft. I tweak it once or twice, maximum. I get feedback from 1-2 people once. I hit publish.

This is where I disagree with Paul Graham's writing suggestions (whose essays I read often and strongly recommend). He suggests writing and perfecting before publishing. For me, publishing is the fuel to write more.

This brings me to the problem with my approach. Re-edits make the note perfect. But I am publishing with a maximum of two re-edits. Then how do I write perfect notes? My solution: I am the most traffic my website gets. I repeatedly read what I publish to refine and tweak them. And because I am in that continuous zone of writing, reading, thinking and editing- it helps me write more. This is also why I prefer writing notes over tweets. Once upon a time, in the birdland, you couldn't edit what you wrote. 

Write to preserve memories

One of the beautiful things about human minds is that we forget. It is a part of natural evolution. It is also one of the most horrific things. Talking, writing and reflecting on core memories sustains them longer in our minds. So I write about my life.

Write to build mental toolkit

"Mental models" have become pretty fancy. They are everywhere. But just reading didn't help me apply them in action. But writing about them helped.

First, I write to shortlist and cherry-pick the models I want to experiment with. Second, I write to create a plan of how I can use my shortlisted model. Third, I write to commit to what I wrote. It's a promise and challenge I make to myself.

For example, I am writing this note you are reading to make me write more. It will help me decide what and how to write. It will also challenge me to write more.

Write when the inspiration strikes

Keeping time aside rarely works for me. Most of my writing happens during off times. In flights. At 2 AM just before I sleep. Often unplanned. And when my mind just has to write that idea down.

I write what started the inspiration. Some notes start with 2-3 paragraphs. Some start with a narrative structure. Some start with a few bullet points. Sometimes I just write in my head. I keep writing in my head until they are so juicy that I have to paint them.

Write to teach

This is particularly true about the coding part of my life. Most of my logic designs are done in my head, then scribbled on a whiteboard and converted to code. Until now, I could only transfer this knowledge through extensive in-person meetings.

Everyone I put through this struggle got wow-ed with the design. But they almost always found it very inception-y. Converting my designs to writing is an interesting challenge. It also helps me practice to scale my teaching (I like to teach). So, I write to hone this skill.

Publishing and broadcasting are different concepts

I write and publish notes because I want them to be part of my little place on the internet. This is my guiding principle. 

On the other hand, I broadcast to create an audience. The act, in turn, will push me to write more. This is my second and lesser priority goal. It is a conscious choice not to make this my first goal.

Why? There isn't enough sizeable audience in my social circles that will enjoy reading everything I write. So, I don't broadcast everything I write.

Here's how publishing vs broadcasting looks in action:

I recently wrote about my alopecia journey. Published it for a couple of days on my site. A couple of days later, I posted on Twitter 5 times before deleting it in a minute. It's a very personal topic that is meant for my home on the internet. But not something I wanted to broadcast actively. But after some mulling, I shared with the world. Because I found some rationale to share and hopefully help others in a similar journey.

I like it if someone finds my writing useful

Paul Graham's notes on writing were helpful. They made me want to write more. So, to some extent, I publish to pay it forward. Currently, once a month, someone in my circle asks me to write more. They reference what they read and what they liked. It makes me blush. Thanks, guys :)

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