The Kaizen Newsletter #26 (12/10/2019)

My writing process

Last week, I talked about how to improve as a manager, and I personally felt like this was the best story I've written to date. Maybe not the most interesting topic, but it was one of the first times in a while where I was really proud of my main story when I pressed the send button.

And I guess some of you agreed with me based on some feedback I received. And when I say "some of you", it's really just my brother telling that it was a good newsletter 🤷‍♂️. Trust me, he's a pretty harsh critic, so when he says that something I did is good, I usually take it as a good sign. For the non-French speaking people he basically said: "Not sure what you did differently, but the fact that you released it pretty early, I think you just prepared it in advanced or something". And he was right. The fact that I took a few more days to actually write and re-write my story made it THAT MUCH better.

And I wanted to make sure that I capture the process I used to write this story and make sure that I will be able to reproduce better quality stories again and again and again and also to improve on it eventually!

What this means for you is that you get an insight into how I produce these stories and my hope is that it helps one of you out. Trust me, if I'm able to write, then you are definitely able to write as well.

Step 0: The Mind Dump

The hardest step for me, and I'm sure for some of you as well, is to actually start. We all know the feeling where you're like "Ok! I finally finished all my chores, let me open my laptop and start writing!" And then 2 minutes later you're on Twitter/FB/Instagram and your page is left blank because you have no idea what to write about.

That's why the trick is to never start from a blank page. The easiest way for me to start writing about a topic is to take something I've already started writing about and either expanding on it or just re-writing it completely. I honestly try to write down stuff any time that I have an idea. Here are a few situations where I would actually make time to write notes down and hopefully this would help you as well.

  • I still don't do this consistently enough, but whenever I catch myself thinking about something for longer than a minute, there's usually a reason why. So in that case, I just take out my phone and start writing whatever is in my head on my notes app.

  • Similarly, at least once a day (usually after work), I would think about everything that happened during the day and if there were any interesting interactions that I had or lessons learned, I would then open my laptop and just writing as much as possible on it.

  • I previously talked about the importance of being bored, so whenever I do the dishes, take my shower or go for a walk, I make sure to not have any distractions and just let my mind flow. And after that particular activity, if I thought of anything interesting, I would take out my notes app or computer and once again just write.

The important part here is that you shouldn't care about the format or what you're actually saying. Try and dump whatever is on your mind. Your goal is just to have something you can start with and re-reading whatever you wrote will hopefully re-spark your memory so that you elaborate even more once you're ready to actually start writing.

Step 1: Choosing what to write about

This is probably the hackiest of the steps since it really depends on my mood and whatever sparks my creativity.

For the most part, I would just go in my notes and read whatever I wrote down recently until something catches my attention.

Once something seems interesting to me, I would write away try and think about how I can elaborate on this subject. Sometimes, I feel that I wouldn't be able to write more than a paragraph for this, so I can maybe save it for my "thoughts" section of the newsletter and if it's smaller, then maybe it becomes a tweet.

When I catch myself basically writing the whole story in my head, that's when I know I'm onto something and that's most likely what I'll be going to write about.

Step 2: The Word Vomit

Once I know what to write about, I do something very similar to what I do in Step 0, but just for a longer time. When I decided on my topic, I would usually sit-down for at least twenty-five minutes and write down as much as possible.

The difference between step 2 and step 0 is length, but also structure. Even though I don't really care about what I'm writing, I still try and see how I'll be structuring the story. For my intros, I love starting with a personal story, since I feel it makes it more relatable and then goes deeper into the subject.

Again, I want to highlight the importance of not really caring about what you're writing. Just let your hands do the typing for you and just make sure that more words and paragraphs are appearing on the screen.

After twenty-five minutes, if I don't feel that I have enough, I would usually loop this step until I'm pretty happy with the length.

Step 3: The Re-Write

Once you're done with Step 2, I would ideally only back to it the next day. Usually, after a bunch of writing, I usually have no more brain juices to actually go through it all over again, so it helps me a lot. Another plus is that when you come back to it the next day, it feels like you're reading someone else's work (in this case your past self) so you won't hesitate to say it just sucks. And trust me, it usually SUCKS.

I'm not sure if I'm the only one who does this, but whenever I can never just go back in and change a few words here and there and that's it. I usually read a whole paragraph, then think about what I really wanted to say and then re-write it completely. And trust me, 99% of the time, my new paragraph is better and clearer as well.

In this step, I also try to think about how can this help you, the reader. If read the story and don't see any value provided, I try to think of why I wanted to write this in the first place, and then re-write it to make sure it does, or sometimes even scrap since I can't see any value added to the reader.

This third step is KEY to making really good stories or articles and something that I sometimes avoid when I am pressed for time. I mean if both James Clear and David Perell say it as well, it must be true.

Step 4: Conclude your story

In theory, this is where you would just summarize all of your points above (or just take your main thesis from your intro and re-word it differently). But in all honesty, I actually have no idea how to aesthetically and to actually conclude stories. I usually have headers for my main paragraphs, so then am I just supposed to put a "conclusion" paragraph at the end? That feels way too high schoolish to me. But if I don't, then it just seems like another paragraph that's part of the above section.

So for this step, I'm actually asking YOU to provide any pointers if you have any. Would love to have some input on that.

So there it is (see now I'm trying to conclude and it looks awkward af) folks! My writing process. Step 0 and Step 3 are definitely the most important steps to follow, and I feel that if you do them both really well, then you're almost guaranteed to have a really good story by the end of it. Let me know what you think and I hope some of you got some value out of my writing process.

Now, on to the newsletter.


Weekly Favourites

🧠 Articles

  • on learning by Ryan Kulp - Really interesting article on learning. Ryan is currently learning how to speak and write Korean and gives a few tips on how he’s speeding up this process. My biggest takeaway from this article was how he increased his local learning maxima. An example he provided was that instead of doing 40 min of memorizing vocabulary and then getting your brain fried, you should try 30 min of memorization and then 30 min of grammar. Which then gives you a total of 60 min of learning instead of 40 -> a 150% increase.

  • The lesson to unlearn by Paul Graham - Probably one of the most insightful articles I’ve read in the whole year and might even write a whole story about this. Paul argues that the way school teaches us is bad since they incentivize us to not actually learn, but to focus on getting good grades. The consequence of doing this is that instead of concentrating on learning, we’ll try to find ways to get good grades. Which then develops a habit of trying to “hack” good grades. Even when you’re studying, you’re just making sure you learn exactly what you need to for the test itself and then the next day forget it. In University, you often have past exams from the same prof, so you put a lot of emphasis on just doing those exams so that you can hack your way into an “A”. But then this translates really badly in the real world. Paul gives an example that fresh graduates would ask “how can you raise a lot of money from VCs” and the simple answer is well “get a lot of users by building a really good product”, but these kids really want to find a way to hack their way through raising money from VCs. And I say kids, but this applies to everyone. That’s why in big companies, it’s not really based on how good you are at a company, but more so who you talk to, and who likes you, which then brings us back to this “hacking” mode to get what you want. To unlearn this mentality, we should ask ourselves, what doesn’t require us to have this mentality to succeed? A great example is building a startup since really the only way of succeeding is by building a really good product and there’s no hacking your way into that.

📺 Funny Media/Ad

  • Peloton - This ad had a HUGE backlash on Twitter for the past weeks. The gist of it was the husband gave his wife a Peloton for Xmas and every day of the year, she films herself riding the bike. At the end of the ad, we see that she made a mini-film for her husband showing him that she’s been using it every day (I guess as a thank you for him buying her the bike). The issue (or at least what people are complaining about) was that the woman was already pretty thin and it’s interpreted that the husband gifts his wife a Peloton to make sure she doesn’t gain weight? Honestly, I didn’t see it that way, but what do you think?

  • Aviation Gin by Ryan Reynolds - That PCU (Peloton Cinematic Universe) 🔥🔥🔥. He re-used the SAME actress that did the Peloton ad and she’s now drinking gin after presumably a divorce with her ex-husband (she doesn’t have her wedding ring anymore) because he gave her the Peloton bike. It’s crazy how fast Ryan Reynolds’ team was able to pull this ad off. Hats off to him and his team.

🐦 Tweets

🎧 Music

Albums

  • Romance - Camila Cabello - No lie, I was really looking forward to her album being released. I love her voice, but I also dislike most of her singles that she releases on the radio. I was pleasantly surprised that around half her album were ballads, and I feel that’s where her voice truly shines. My top 3 right now are Living Proof, First Man and Dream of You.

Songs

🙏 Shoutouts

  • Shoutout to Sophia, an SAQ employee who recommended a really good Italian red wine🍷👌


👋 End Note

If you want to know what I'm up to now, you can check it on my website here.

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Feedback is always appreciated, so let me know what you liked and what I can improve on by replying to this email.

If you see any cool articles, links, tweets, stories or podcasts that you think are interesting, feel free to share as well at alex@alexhughsam.com