Discover more from Steady Beats | Matt Tillotson
The Mix Tape, Vol. 70
Welcome to this week’s Mix:
📝 Four realizations about writing
♟ How a chess grandmaster concentrates
🤔How President Obama made space to make decisions
Four realizations about writing
Justin Mikolay is a former speechwriter to generals David Petraeus and Jim Mattis. (No writing pressure in those jobs at all.) He recently shared his favorite writing insights, but notice his ideas aren’t just a list. The ideas build on each other.
Writing is about ideas, not words or sentences. We grow up learning about verb conjugation and sentence construction, but those details work in service of the ideas we want to share.
Writing is about emotions, not merely ideas. “Get the idea right. Personalize it in a way that’s human. Hit the head and the heart at the same time,” says Justin.
Writing is about movement. “… writing … takes the reader from one thought to the next, in sequence and at the right pace”
Writing about stillness and absence. Justin quotes Seth Godin: “All the action in comic books happens in between the panels. In panel A something happens. In panel B something happens. But it’s what happens between A and B that changed your mind about anything; the action is in your head.”
Number four is tricky. If you want readers to accept your ideas, give them space to reach their own insights and conclusions.
How a Chess Grandmaster concentrates
Jonathan Rowson, on our misguided focus on attention over concentration:
I am glad that attention is growing in importance as a political concept to enrich our understanding of freedom, and to describe the interface between self and world.
Our challenge today is not that we all have to pay attention, but that we need to know attention from the inside, which means that we have to learn to concentrate.
Rowson shares many insights on how to concentrate, including his former process to get ready to concentrate before a match.
President Obama made space to make decisions
In 2009, President Obama took office in the midst of an economic meltdown. He had to make difficult choices quickly.
So rather than let myself get paralyzed in the quest for a perfect solution, or succumb to the temptation to just go with my gut every time, I created a sound decision-making process — one where I really listened to the experts, followed the facts, considered my goals and weighed all of that against my principles.
Reasonable, logical, but not particularly profound. This, however, is unique:
You also want to create space to think. Remember that dinner and haircut break I took during that marathon economic session? That mattered, too. That was part of making the decision. Even in situations where you have to act relatively quickly, as was frequently the case during the financial crisis, it helps to build in time to let your thoughts marinate.
Like Justin’s insight on writing with stillness and absence above, we need to give our brains space to work in the background. Even—especially—when decision-making is stressful and urgent.
Thank you for reading and sharing.
Please hit reply if you have questions, comments, or open rebuttals. (Or just want to say hi.)