Be Compelling

If there is one thing you absolutely must learn as a creator it is this: be compelling. You can learn to be compelling, and you must, no matter what your preferred vehicle of creation–blogging, video, even visual art. This is like how writer/YouTuber Dan Koe says you have to learn to be persuasive. The art of persuasion can be learned, and you need to learn it, because it is the only non-violent means by which to allocate the power to get things done. It doesn’t matter who you are, you still need to do this. Two things that are no longer optional for creators are:

  1. Social media
  2. Writing

Here’s why. To be a creator is not the same as being expressive. Lots of people are expressive. When I was a kid a family member got pissed while cutting wood and threw a chainsaw. That was expressive, but it wasn’t creative. A lot of amateur artists fall into this thought pattern. They think that because they are expressing their emotions violently on canvas by smearing paint around with their body, or whatever other unthinking postmodern claptrap is their preference, that they are being extremely creative. But the act of creation is an intentional act. It’s not just about creating chaos that reflects one’s inner turmoil.

Professional artists are different — even postmodern ones. The creator-artist knows that art is really about casting attention on to specific ideas. When Marcel Duchamp created “Fountain”, he was acting deliberately and intentionally to highlight a certain idea, which was to refocus the attention cast on art towards intellectual interpretation. Even Maurizio Cattelan did something unique with Comedian, or as a lot of people probably know it: the stupid banana duct tape thing. You may not care for the aesthetic or think that it’s stupid, but the fact that we’re talking about it at all demonstrates conclusively that it was by a certain measure brilliant for directing human attention.

To be a creator, you have to harness expression–all the violent turmoil of emotions that impel you to create. But there’s more. You must also direct that creative energy toward an idea. That’s what it means to be intentional. You must direct your own attention and the attention of others.

Social Media

Social media is not optional anymore. Social media is a means of allocating attention. Nowadays it is the means. If you don’t have a social media presence, or if you’re not using it well, then you’re missing out on the opportunity to act more intentionally. All your creative output will result in, at most, garnering the attention of a small number of people around you, such as friends and family members. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, if that’s what you really want. Some people are fine with just creating things for themselves or their friends.

But there is a difference between craft and art. True art cannot properly emerge unless it is under the aegis of an idea, and to really tap into the sphere of ideas in a relevant way, the creative act must have its basis in the social world more broadly. That’s the only way for novelty to emerge. Sure, it’s possible you could stumble upon something nobody has ever thought of before and express it in a unique way. But it’s super unlikely. There are over 8 billion people on the planet, and more than 100 billion have existed before you. It’s highly unlikely you will come up with something totally new in a vacuum.

Don’t get me wrong. Creating new things is absolutely possible. It’s just that to do it, you need to be part of the social fabric. You have to read and learn and discuss. That’s what society is for. In short, you have to cast our attention on society and contribute reciprocally to allocate attention on your own creative output. This will sharpen your ideas and help you to discover your unique contribution.

That’s why social media matters. Social media is where the attention is. It used to be the television, and before that it was the radio. Before that it was the world of books and letters, and for most of human history it was word of mouth. But now it’s social media. You can, of course, explore those other media as well. Books, for example, still play an outsized role in public discourse. But if you want to go to where the attention is at its greatest focus, you need to be on social media.

Writing

Writing is for many things, but from the creator’s perspective, its primary function is as a means of persuasion. In order for attention to be really harnessed and put to work, it’s not enough to just have a bunch of it. There are many bad ways to allocate attention online. You can easily find examples of this by looking for cases of “dogpiling”, where somebody says something most people don’t like, or often just a subset of people find disagreeable, and hoards of comments pour in upon the person to demonize them and tell them what’s what. This is especially common in political discussions, but it can happen almost anywhere and on any topic, especially as the public becomes more polarized and politicized.

Some people are great at navigating negative attention. They have the skill or the thick skin (or skull) necessary to use the momentum of that attention to further advance their own ideas. Take for example, Donald Trump. He gets plenty of negative attention, but whether you love or hate him, it’s practically impossible to ignore the reality of his skill at navigating bad press. To the surprise of many, more often than not, he has been able to use the negative attention of his detractors to further rile up is supporters. That works for him.

Still, unless you have remarkably thick skin or just really like an uphill battle, there’s usually a much better way to utilize attention. Namely, to persuade. If you can master the art of persuasion, you don’t have to worry about negative attention. You will be able to get exactly the attention you want, both in quantity and quality.

That’s what writing is for. Writing is thinking, and writing publicly is helping others to think. If your writing is good, it will be clear and compelling. The more you do it, the better you will get at it.

Clear writing is compelling writing. The reason has to do with a basic principle of human psychology that nearly everyone fails to adequately appreciate: you cannot change other people’s minds. You really can’t. The only reason it seems possible to change another person’s mind is because you’ve changed your mind in the past. You might have changed your mind after listening to a friend’s point of view or maybe you read an interesting book or listened to a podcast. Probably the change was slow, and you likely had to encounter ideas in a variety of formats for the change to take place. The mind generally resists having its beliefs changed, because it’s hard work. Our brains didn’t evolve to track the truth, per se. We evolved to be good at surviving, and often simply doggedly believing the easy thing has greater survival value than believing the true thing, because beliefs don’t usually need to be perfect to confer survival value. They just need to be good enough. Understanding that when it thunders it’s going to rain soon is good to know. It doesn’t really matter if you think thunder is caused by the angry gods or because atmospheric electrostatic potential has a propensity to discharge in a violent clash of clamorous molecules.

When you write clearly, you’re not trying to change anybody’s mind. You’re instead giving others an opportunity to think with you and to understand you. You’re helping them to understand a line of reasoning, a way of thinking. You’re giving them the perspicacity to make their own decision on the matter. If your reasons are good, your words thoughtful, and your sentences clear, people will change their own minds. That’s persuasion.

Philosophy

Clarity in writing stems from two distinct factors: clarity in expression and clarity in thought. Clarity in expression has to do with the types of sentences you choose, what vocabulary you deploy, and the complexity of your style. All of these components depend on your audience. If you’re writing for the lay person, you generally should avoid sentences that are too complicated or vocabulary that is too erudite. For example, if I were just now writing for the average person, I wouldn’t choose to use the word “erudite” in that last sentence. I would use “stuffy”. But I take it most of my readers won’t be of the average sort. They’re probably readers, writers, creators, and generally thinkers, so it’s probably okay to use a word like “erudite” occasionally.

Expression has two main parts: rhetoric and syntax. The latter is what I pointed to above. Syntactically speaking, clear writing depends on using good grammar and choosing the right level of vocabulary for your audience. Rhetorically speaking, clear writing is about choosing the right types of sentences to convey mood, or direct attention in some way other than articulating reasons aimed at preserving the truth. It’s about pointing rather than saying outright. Or showing rather than telling, if you prefer that phrase. Clear writing that is rhetorically powerful makes use of metaphor and analogy (something I’m bad at) to get the point across. There are entire books about this subject, and I won’t dive into the issue any deeper here.

Clarity in thought is, in many ways, much harder to develop than clarity in expression. That’s because clarity in expression doesn’t have to pay attention to the truth in order to be effective. It might pay attention, but it’s not a requirement. Clarity in thought, however, has to pay close attention to the structure of thoughts. To write clearly in a thoughtful way means to pay attention to the logic.

As I’ve mentioned before in a video, this is one of the main reasons learning philosophy can be a powerful tool in the creator’s toolbox. In the video, I explain that philosophy essentially functions to help you understand yourself, your ideas, and why you believe what you believe. That is, it focuses the mind on reasons for beliefs rather than emotional or tribalistic in-group appeals (which our brains love). This, in turn, will strengthen your beliefs, especially if you adjust them when they are unreasonable or out of step with observable reality. In short, your beliefs will become resilient, and this will help you to develop a sense of confidence that will allow you to successfully project authenticity to your audience. The projection of authenticity is what creates trust, and trust is social cement. (And for those of you wondering how to make a buck with your content, it’s worth noting that money is just quantified trust.)

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