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What's the point of writing...
...if AI is already so good?
Today’s note is another post on writing and a little follow-on from one I wrote a few week’s ago (“Write simply”). What’s the point of writing if AI is already so good? I explore just a few of the benefits of (human) writing today.
I’ll be in Wales next weekend for the Man versus Horse Marathon and will be taking a little vacation from the newsletter. See you on June 18th!
“Writing is, for most, laborious and slow. The mind travels faster than the pen; consequently, writing becomes a question of learning to make occasional wing shots, bringing down the bird of thought as it flashes by.”
—Willian Strunk Jr. & E.B. White, (The Elements of Style)
People are increasingly using generative AI tools such as ChatGPT to write essays, emails or even wedding speeches. While these tools spare them time and frustration, they also spare them the benefits of sitting down to write.
This is easier to understand when we admit the word writing is a bit misleading. When you write, what you’re really doing is capturing the fleeting thoughts in your head and translating them into coherent thoughts on paper, a tedious, frustrating process that explains why so many writers are a bit neurotic. The physical action of typing or scrawling is the easy part. The hard part is staring that judgmental blank page square in the face and filling it with coherent ideas that people want to read. I’m still figuring out that last part.
There are a several benefits to “writing”, aka the sitting-down-and-wrestling-with-your-mind process. First, it’s the process by which you most effectively refine and sharpen ideas. Shane Parrish put this well in a recent tweet:
“Writing is the process by which you realize that you do not understand what you are talking about. Importantly, writing is also the process by which you figure it out. Writing about something teaches you about what you know, what you don’t know, and how to think. Writing about something is one of the best ways to learn about it.”
Second, writing is an effective way to frame and solve complicated problems. Paul Graham argues this in one of his essays:
“[I]f you need to solve a complicated, ill-defined problem, it will almost always help to write about it. Which in turn means that someone who's not good at writing will almost always be at a disadvantage in solving such problems.”
Finally, writing is a way to train your unique voice. If you have something important to say, being a good writer will help you share your idea more quickly and effectively. All important new ideas are first written down, even if they are later spoken, televised or podcasted. I really like what Ben Hunt, investor and author of Epsilon Theory, has to say about this:
“Again, it’s one of the most disappointing outcomes in life—to know that you’re a creative person, to have something important that’s going to burn you up inside if you don’t share it with the world … but to lack the words or the music or the art to do so. […] Every creative person should start a blog to express and develop their art. […] Erase it all every six months if that’s what you need to do, because odds are you have nothing interesting to say! But start training your voice NOW, because one day you will.”
Even if you have little interest in writing itself—maybe you’ve decided your focus is on sales or engineering or something else—you can still benefit from good writing. You can consider how you may effectively hire or work with good writers so that their abilities also benefit your own objectives. You can encourage people to pursue their own writing pursuits. Good writers are good thinkers, and good thinkers are good for both society as a whole and (hopefully) your organization or project or cause. And with the rise of AI, Shane Parrish makes the argument that good writing will become even more valuable:
“Many things can be done by tools that write for you, but they won’t help you learn to think or understand a problem with deep fluency. And you need deep fluency to solve hard problems. A world of common thinking available on demand will tempt people to outsource their thinking and disproportionately reward people who don’t. In the future, clear thinking will become more valuable, not less.”
Clear thinking is the result of good writing… so write on!
Thanks for reading! I love when these thoughts lead to conversations with readers. Did you find anything interesting or surprising? Reply to me and let me know.