Venkatesh Rao on Tips for Advanced Writers
A common piece of writing advice is show, don’t tell. As a writer looking to take the next step, I’ll often read pieces that show me that next level. But when it comes to improving, I almost rather be told how to get there.
A user on Quora asked about advice for advanced writers and Venkatesh Rao wrote a sharp answer brimming with gems. The answer in its entirety is worth reading. Here are a few notes:
- Do you want to be a writer or a thinker? This reminds me of a concept David Perell wrote about comparing the New York vs San Francisco style. New York writers create prose, they write beautifully, think New Yorker style pieces. San Francisco writers on the other hand focus on insightful, contrarian ideas, simply explained. Think Paul Graham. My strength as a writer is definitely the latter.
- I’m a thinking-first, non-fiction writer. Many writers I admire such as Derek Sivers and Seth Godin fall under the thinking-first, non-fiction category.
- What matters is not how much you write, but how much you rewrite. The difference between the amateur writer and a serious writer is the amount of time spent rewriting.
- Shakespeare is a rare example of a strong writer and a strong thinker. If you don’t understand how incredible he is at both, then you’re a beginner writer. One of VGR’s litmus tests for whether one has advanced writing skills is, “write an interesting and original and personal essay discussing why you like 4-5 of your favorite Shakespeare verses.”
- There are two types of rewrites. Rewriting about the idea (including/excluding, clarifying, compressing) and then some about language (word choices, sentence structure). The first kind is thinker-rewrites and the second kind is writer-rewrites.
- To become a better writer you need to know what type of writer you are. Not just write a lot, but rewrite a lot. And sensitize yourself to good writing by reading the great works.