“Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.” - Rainer Maria Rilke
“Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.”
- Neil Gaiman
3:00 AM, Mexico City, 12 June 2013
Seven years ago I made a promise I didn't keep. I was 17 at the time, and mildly unaware of how complex and large the World is. The conversation went something like this:
Me: I could write a bestseller, come on, it is not that complicated. Just read a random bestseller, they are not even that smart anyway!
Mentor: Yeah, right, I dare you to go back home right now and write a bestseller, go!
Me: I'm busy with all this school stuff right now, so I have to do my homework and....
Mentor: Ok, ok, I'll concede we are very busy right now, how about in five years?
Me: Five years seems more than enough. Take a note, in five years time I'll have written a bestseller. I promise.
Somehow later on I got busy with cooking pasta I needn't eat and listening to gossip about people I didn't care. Not a good start.
It's never too late to start over though, and now is as good a time as any.
But wait! Humans are not automatically strategic right?
True. Also humans are not as good at detecting their own strategic failures and dead-ends as other humans. If we can't even face more than three minutes of work, how could we ever intuitively look at our work and see where it is bad?
Which is why it seems that the rational way to do it is to find a place where people trained at being strategic can pinpoint your failures and accomplishments as you go along, rewarding you for winning and twisting your mental knobs when you fail, so that over time, either you learn how to do it right, or you learn the right thing to do was something else altogether. This is the project. I'm hoping as an exercise in self-experimentation with Lesswrong rationality techniques that it both helps others who may be undertaking writing or related projects, and inspires others into remaining as strategic as they learned to be over time, or even more.
I won't write the book here, but I'll keep track of the writing process and everything involved around it here (killing plausible deniability of my goals), and encourage anyone who perchance might be doing something similar to keep track in the same way through commentaries or taking private notes. Starting by the checklist in Humans are not automatically strategic:
We do not automatically:
- (a) Ask ourselves what we’re trying to achieve;
Descriptive definition: The goal is to have written a book that, despite having interesting complex content, and being within my interest scope, sells enough to get me a free and clear profit of 1700 Big Mac Indexes per month. 54 Big Macs a day. Current US $7140,00 per month, for three consecutive months.
Ostensive Definition: Being the author of something that enters my cognitive intensional cluster containing Drop Dead Healthy, The Four Hour Workweek, Outliers, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Stumbling on Happiness, The Game, A Short History of Nearly Everything, The Mistery Method, Freakonomics, Flourish, The Guinea Pig Diaries,
- (b) Ask ourselves how we could tell if we achieved it (“what does it look like to be a good comedian?”) and how we can track progress;
Achieve: The income part is easy to detect. If it has interesting content will have to depend on a fallible 'at the time judgment' and a quick consultation with a friend who knew me before the process. (Miss T, she is great)
Track: Writing here about the process. Checking for the twelfth virtue frequently. Track a long to do list with specific and impossible deadlines as soon as it makes sense to fully write one.
- (c) Find ourselves strongly, intrinsically curious about information that would help us achieve our goal;
Possible danger: It is easy to be curious about the info for the book, and much harder to be curious about how to write much better, even harder how to write aiming at selling - or whichever reflective shield needs to be looked at to stare into the eyes of the selling Medusa.
- (d) Gather that information (e.g., by asking as how folks commonly achieve our goal, or similar goals, or by tallying which strategies have and haven’t worked for us in the past);
This will be next post's topic. Here only what didn't work: (1)Writing purely for fun made me write a book but not create a product. (2)Waiting for creativity made no difference in writing quality, actually writing did. (3) Writing a book in Spanish was a terrible idea. (4)Choosing writer peers according to mild proximity helped with writing fiction movie scripts, but not non-fiction books.
- (e) Systematically test many different conjectures for how to achieve the goals, including methods that aren’t habitual for us, while tracking which ones do and don’t work;
Conjectures: (1)Trying to sell before writing may shorten the process manyfold. (2)Riding someone else's fame and marketing eases the process. (3)Writing with the purpose of causing the reader to show a friend what he has - who am I kidding, it's a guy, look at the ostensive examples - just read is the best meta-goal to keep in mind. (4) It is not that hard to get my goal, it isn't that far from a sarcastic quote: "One person in every town in Britain likes your dumb online comic. That's enough to keep you in beers (or T-shirt sales) all year." (4)There is always a third alternative, and many times I'm not the one who will see it first. Keep an attentive ear.
- (f) Focus most of the energy that *isn’t* going into systematic exploration, on the methods that work best;
I don't have a clear idea of what Salamon meant by "isn't going into systematic exploration" and I can't constrain my experience based on this line alone, if anyone feels qualified to clarify, please do. I'll deal with this on later posts.
- (g) Make sure that our "goal" is really our goal, that we coherently want it and are not constrained by fears or by uncertainty as to whether it is worth the effort, and that we have thought through any questions and decisions in advance so they won't continually sap our energies;
Fears: Having learned in Lesswrong to do things I had never considered myself able to, I don't feel any fear of trying it wrong. I do however feel anxiety and fear that peeking into my reasoning process and strategic attempt at this goal won't be motivating enough for others to want to translate by analogy my experience into theirs, which wouldn't give me the critical minimal threshold of upvotes and comments necessary to keep me motivated to write about writing. That could stymie my exposition of the shortcuts that help me, and the biases that hinder me, in hope of improving my winning ability. Because I'm opening up the goal and process before it takes place, it could also forestall a case study of an attempt at strategic goal-pursuit free of survivorship bias.
Energy Vortexes: No Vortex is like the web for me. More on that later.
- (h) Use environmental cues and social contexts to bolster our motivation, so we can keep working effectively in the face of intermittent frustrations, or temptations based in hyperbolic discounting;
My workspace is pretty optimized at this point. Nowhere under these freakishly bright lights I can look around and see anything but things that make me want to write more, make me happy, or avoid distractions, like anti-mosquitoes or earplugs.
I've just found out that writing about you goals feels like getting naked in public. The idea is for the next posts to be very similar to this one: find a set of strategic advices in Lesswrong, find out how to use them, and write about how am I implementing, or intending to implement them as much as possible in a way people can relate their own goal agenda, providing a case study of what happens as we go along. My favorite writer, AJ Jacobs, once set out to follow all 613 rules written anywhere in the Bible, literally. The idea here is to do something similar, but connotative. I will try to openly implement all of Lesswrong strategic offerings, and see how that goes. I don't know which posts contain the most compact, memorable or effective techniques for winning at being strategic, but I'm hoping by the end of this process the territory is better mapped for those who'd like to follow suit. Or point and laugh.