Morgan Housel’s writing processNovember 11, 2023 2023-11-12 20:35
Morgan Housel’s writing process
Morgan Housel’s writing process
A newsletter recommending good examples of storytelling across:
- 3 tweets
- 2 articles, and
- 1 long-form content piece
Let’s dive in.
🐦 3 Tweets of the week
We strive hard so that our kids can have
it easy the option of taking it easy. Not easy to make them go through that same struggle though.
I might have shared this earlier, but what a stunning map! That freak of geography called the Indo-Gangetic plain. I have called it the world’s most populous piece of real estate! Here’s a striking (bonus) visual to prove that:
What a brilliant idea – unfortunately it was not taken up.
PS: Accountants gave us writing, and could have potentially given us a smarter way to keep track of days and months… but we blew it.
📄 2 Articles of the week
Audacious title right? But, having read it, I learned a bunch of new aspects about the world’s most knotty political problem and also agreed with Tomas’ diagnosis and suggested cure (however wishful it may seem).
(This article of his is the ninth in an illuminating series on the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict).
Tomas’ key insight is that the answer is not through violent action (which is futile and never-ending) or political pacts (which are fragile and lacking popular support). The long-term answer is through changing ordinary people’s minds:
In other words, the sides are too far apart to reach an agreement. No side can negotiate a peace agreement because what they want is mutually exclusive. They both want the same land, they both hate each other, and they would both “get rid of the problem” if they could. There is no amount of negotiation and creative redrawing of maps that will outweigh this reality.
One requirement must be met before peace is signed:
We need to change people’s minds.
Tomas shares two examples of where this actually happened (emphasis mine):
The starkest examples of entire nations changing their opinion on a previous enemy are Germany and Japan.
In December 1970, West Germany and Poland signed the Treaty of Warsaw, which meant that Germany accepted that Poland would keep a region that had been Germanic for centuries and had belonged to Germany before the war.
When the Allies occupied Germany and Japan, they didn’t simply address the military. They methodically uprooted their deeply-ingrained ideologies, along with all the people, institutions, networks, and symbols that supported them. They had to replace the existing narrative with another one that favored the West.
Something even more incredible happened with Japan. Until 1945, Americans and Japanese hated each other: It was like with Germany, but with a racial component. For example, by the end of the war, Japanese women were being trained to fight Americans to death with bamboo spears.
The US occupied Japan for seven years after 1945 and transformed it from a radical enemy to one of its staunchest allies. The cornerstone of this turnaround was the Japanese constitution, written by the US, based on Western constitutions, and approved by Japanese lawmakers.
The US also decentralized the police, and more importantly, heavily restructured education: It decentralized it, changed textbooks, extracted the military, allowed parent-led school boards, and mixed sexes in classrooms.
Despite establishing freedom of speech, the US heavily censored the Japanese media for years, even censoring the mention of censorship itself.
Tomas then makes suggestions for changes in Israel and Palestine – in the education, media, and social media landscape – for any semblance of peace to return. The efforts required are humongous and extraordinary and the outcomes are uncertain – but this seems like the best long-term bet for peace.
As the old saying goes: The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.
Scott is a master at using minimal words to set the context – in this case the remarkable recovery of Netflix after the lows of 2022:
A year ago, Netflix was losing 1 million subscribers per quarter and had shed 75% of its market cap. It was the worst performing stock in the S&P 500. Fast-forward one circumnavigation of the Sun, and Wall Street is “gushing” over its “beautiful” results while the rest of the industry flounders.
However, rebounds are not new for Netflix. Since it delivered DVDs in envelopes, the company has defied the odds. Think about it: a DVD-by-mail company turned internet platform turned Hollywood giant that would eventually join the same power acronym as Apple, Amazon, and Google. We’ve discussed entertainment’s woes at length this year, but Netflix has replaced Disney, Discovery, and Paramount on the content Iron Throne and boasts a market cap equal to all three combined.
Note how he uses ‘circumnavigation of the sun’ instead of ‘year’ and the sentence still seems so breezy and delightful to read.
One reason cited by Scott for Netflix’ resurgence surprised me – the Hollywood writers’ strike:
Five months ago I predicted the writers’ strike would do more to help Netflix than harm it. My thesis: The strike would “force” a universal reduction in spending, while actually increasing the relative value of Netflix to consumers. The streamer was able to cut costs without materially affecting the user experience, as it already had a content library as deep as the Mariana Trench.
🎧 1 long-form listen of the week
Tim Ferriss is a brilliant interviewer – knowing exactly when to let the guest speak and when to interrupt them to eke out a crucial clarification.
In this episode, he interviews the brilliant bestselling writer, Morgan Housel about his new book, Same as Ever.
This part by Morgan is striking and goes against the ‘shitty first drafts’ principle (emphasis mine):
I’m a first draft and publish writer.
I think the best way to write is to write a first draft, get it done, and then go back, and edit, and clean up, and rewrite, and whatnot. I’ve always been one sentence at a time, and when I’m done with that sentence, it’s final. So by the time I get to the bottom of the article or the bottom of a chapter, it’s pretty much done. But that’s not because I can write a perfect first draft, it’s because I’m not going to leave this sentence that I’m writing until it’s perfect. I’m not going to move on to the next sentence until every word is perfect. That’s always how I’ve been.
The above reminded me of a tweet by David Perell on the fact that there are no rules. You do what works for you:
Reflection is a huge part of writing. Morgan’s neighbours must be used to seeing him pace around the neighbourhood:
… honestly, I think most blog posts, I start with a headline. And I’m like, “I want to write an article called Everything is Cyclical. Whatever it might be. And let’s just run with that. That idea, because everything is cyclical, and I’m sure I could put together a story about why that is and a couple examples of that. So let’s just start there and see what happens.” And I just start throwing things on the page.
And usually within the process of a blog post or a book chapter, I’ll go for three walks around my neighborhood. And during that walk I’m a hundred percent focused on what I’m writing and thinking about, “What did I just write? Is that true? Oh, actually that reminds me of something else.” So that’s always a process. If I’m sitting at my desk, I really can’t get my brain to work as well as it is when I’m getting up and walking around.
That’s all from this week’s edition.