As the late Intel CEO, Andy Grove, once told off Clayton Christensen:
You are such a naive academic. I asked you how to do it, and you told me what I should do. I know what I need to do. I just don’t know how to do it.
Peak has the “what you need to do” to learn effectively, but Ultralearning tells you “how to do it”.
Peak does flow well though, and has more nuance.
In this article, I will try to apply the first six Ultralearning principles to improve my blogging and writing. (I haven’t read the last three yet.)
1. Metalearning: First Draw a Map
Scott Young splits metalearning into the why, what and how.
Why: Why are you learning? Is this learning instrumental, for some purpose? Or is this learning intrinsic, an end in itself?
For me, it’s a blend of two motivations. One, for some purpose: to build an audience. In this sense, I might want to think more about SEO, headlines, and niches. Two, as an end in itself. I want to get great at writing, because it’s interesting to me. For example, I’m so interested in the rhythm of sentences, even if it doesn’t drive readership.
Specifically, I’m choosing to become a great blogger, which is more specific than being a great writer.
What: What are you learning?
Young suggests we split up what we’re learning into three categories: concepts, facts, and procedures.
Here’s a brain dump of everything I might learn, with no prioritization.
- Better sentence concepts (verb style, stress and flow, iambs, consecution, cumulative sentence, parataxis, hypotaxis, etc
- Style elements
*Super incomplete list. I haven’t read the writing books, On Writing Well, Elements of Style, etc, nor any good copywriting books. After I read them, I’ll need to update the concepts section especially.
- Transition words
- Good headline templates
- Writing headlines
- Writing hooks, writing conclusions
- Telling jokes
- Choosing/creating great images (memes, drawings, digital art)
- Writing better sentences
- Persuading (copywriting)
How: How am I learning?
Young suggests starting with benchmarking: collecting the conventional learning advice.
Blogging advice to me has been: Have a regular posting schedule and stick to it, above all else. Read a ton. Read the general writing books and also the general copywriting books. Spend a lot of time on headlines and guest posting.
Then, Young says emphasize/exclude certain parts of the learning program, based on why you are learning.
The benchmark program is a good start, but I want to emphasize storytelling. I don’t want to inform people, I want to move people—it’s why I got into writing.
Headlines and great images are big. Ideating, researching, also, I want to give special focus. The rest, I’ll give normal focus.
I’ll skip this principle, since most of the advice can be applied as-is to writing, no change required. I will say though:
Young has an emphasis on fighting procrastination by recognizing when it is happening. For me, that’s been big.
Procrastination comes in many sneaky forms, but I realize now, whenever I’m not writing, I’m procrastinating on it.
My goal is to get better at blogging to an audience, so I need to blog to an audience.
- I can’t hide with this small viewership (~4 people). The real blogging environment is with a large audience (social media short term, SEO long term).
- I need to improve by blogging, not through short stories, or Nanowrimo, or journaling. Sometimes, I forget this.
For this skill, we’re implementing project based learning, so pretty straightforward. Don’t need to simulate the environment, just be in the environment.
As opposed to immersive learning, or flight simulation, and a few other tactics.
- Don’t drill blindly. Drill with the purpose of removing a bottleneck in your progress (for most benefit), or attacking your weakest point.
- Drilling is sometimes at odds with directness. Solution: Alternate between the two.
Young gives us many tactics to find drills.
The ones that applied the best to writing:
Copycat: Active versions of copywork. Active > passive, and Ben Franklin did this!
To be honest, I don’t trust I’ll keep up copywork while I’m working full-time.
Magnifying glass: When you’re writing, 2x, 5x, 10x the time spent on whatever you want to drill.
I plan to write an article each week, and each week, I want to have a theme. Say, headlines. Or storytelling. Or research.
Whatever the theme, I want to magnify the time I spent on that part of the article. That way, my drilling habit fits in nicely with my doing habit.
Sometimes, there’s preliminary work to do that’s blocking your improvement in your craft.
For me, I need to get through the general writing books and copywriting books. Until I get through those, and get down the concepts, I’m holding myself back.
This section is about using retrieval to better remember what you learn. For me, it’ll apply to the writing books I read.
There are a few strategies, question based learning, flashcards, and free recall.
I will mainly use free recall. I journal near daily, so when I journal, I want to start by recalling the main points of what I’ve read that day. I’ll especially make sure to do this for the books I read on writing, so I can recall it.
If I still suck at remembering the concepts, I should strongly consider flashcard.
I don’t trust I can stick with the question based learning (leave questions as annotations in your text so you can quiz yourself later).
Young goes deep and explains there are three kinds of feedback: outcome feedback, informational feedback, and correctional feedback.
- Outcome feedback: Post got a bajillion downvotes—you don’t know why
- Informational feedback: Post got a bajillion comments, saying they hate your headline
- Correctional feedback: An editor or trusted friend tells you, your headline sucks, because it is misleading
Correctional feedback is the best, as it tells you what exactly the feedback is about, and you know how to fix it.
Furthermore, in writing, there’s two kinds of feedback: feedback on content and feedback on craft.
Feedback on craft:
- I can hire an editor on Upwork. I’m not sure about this though. I don’t just want grammar feedback. I want serious craft feedback on persuasion, storytelling, rhythm.
- I can ask a friend to take some time and peer edit my work.
Feedback on content:
- Feedback on social media: likes, comments, shares
- I can message an individual reader or friend in target audience and ask them what they liked, didn’t like, and why. James Clear did this for his first 10k subscribers.
The feedback on craft is all correctional, so that’s great. I just need to make sure to seek it out, and act on it. However, right now, I’m not seeking it out. I will start asking for feedback when I switch to publishing weekly.
I’m not collecting any of the feedback on content either. Messaging individual readers is more informational, because I don’t think they can tell you how to fix the issue always, but they can tell you what they liked/didn’t like. Sometimes, I can get to correctional if I ask why, hopefully.
The best is if I can get a mentor that would be able to work with me on content too, but idk how to get someone like that.
Feedback on social media and from analytics, I still want. It’s outcome feedback, but it’s still useful feedback. I want to post to a large audience and collect tons of analytics. Specific action item: I want to put a comments system on my blog. It’ll give me a better idea of what people are thinking about the article
Feel like this article would be really interesting to certain people. Thinking of you rn James haha.