Conventional wisdom states that the quality with which one writes can only be as good as the quality with which they think. But what if it works the other way too?
I've encountered several great thinkers over my life. Almost all of them were writers -- some casually, others professionally. You could chalk this up as circumstantial, but I'd argue the evidence points another direction. There are a couple reasons why I think great thinkers have to be great writers.
When the idea is sufficiently complex or multi-faceted, trying to stuff it in one's meat brain imposes an upper limit on how many of the idea's tentacles can be considered. Most of us aren't smart enough to rattle off the top 10 considerations of any topic. But we can write. Writing is the best path by which to harness/organize/cull the pieces of a complex idea. It can open the door for anyone with discipline to consider topics of incredible complexity.
Writing as a "means to tame complexity" illustrates how writing can directly improve thinking. Writing as a "means to enhance precision" is another way it sharpens thinking. Even the greatest thinkers don't want to bet on their meat brain to deliver the perfect quip. Which leads us to our first conclusion:
If you hope to change the world through ideas, the writing tools you use must foment your creative energy. The tool you use must support and enhance your idea-sharpening process:
rough idea ▶️ (
writing tool ↔️
writing ) ▶️
better idea ▶️
All the action, from a creative standpoint, is in the parentheses. Every time you leap across the
writing tool link in the above diagram, a translation has occurred. It's like encoding digital signal from analog. In a perfect writing tool, the translation quality is 100%, and your written idea sounds exactly as good -- maybe even better -- than it did in your head.
A rare tool that may inhibit expression even more than Microsoft Word. Sometimes there can be delight in self-imposed limitation
Compare this perfect writing tool to something like Microsoft Word. For most kinds of technical writing, Word is going to severely inhibit your ability to articulate ideas. In Word's defense, it's not because the functionality you'd need for a good translation doesn't exist. It usually does -- it's just hidden behind some submenu of some icon in a ribbon.
Since Word circa 2019 is too complex to write an equation, or format code, or do anything on mobile, the quality of the transcription from mind to document will be poor or worse. Ergo, idea quality limited by tool quality.
After all that high-minded philosophy, it would be nice to bring this back to practical use cases. The rest of the article focuses on a single Amplenote feature called Rich Footnotes, that presents a new dimension of expressive potential for writers. In just the few months since the feature was born, it has transformed our ability to relate complex ideas with clarity.
To discuss Rich Footnotes, it helps to use this verb we made up: nestle (verb): (1) to settle in snugly (2) to embed links, images, and backstory within text in a note. The resulting nestled content is known as a "Rich Footnote." (Ed note: the Guide to Writing Good Stuff advises against creating new verbs in your 1,000 word essay)
Even when the shell is great, what's nestled within can set your idea apart
Rich Footnotes are the heart of how Amplenote intensifies the force of your ideas. They compress information into its most concise representation, helping you to capture the essence of the idea. Here are specific examples where Rich Footnotes let you pack more 💥💥💥 into your writing 💥💥💥
Instructions for peers: If you'd like to try nestling a picture for yourself: open a note, type some text, highlight it, click the link icon, and upload your picture. Voila! What would've otherwise been a page of instructions & pictures is instead one sentence.
Vacation planning: Amazing Lakefront Villa in San Antonio Palopo ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ $80/room. 5 br. The pics say it all . Getting here requires "20 minutes from Pana" according to listing, looks more like 25 min tuk tuk, or 3 hour walk. Built into rock wall.
Bugs to work on later: This one is mostly for programmers, but really handy to be able to say external issue link missing from bubble graph
Email -> todo list: It's a Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Idea to treat an email inbox more like what it really is: a glorified todo list. The pieces to make a better inbox are already in Amplenote. This email becomes this list item, which lets you attack the email with the weapons afforded by Task Detail. Unstar and make a quick break for the inbox exit.
Rich Footnotes allow either a quick overview, or the opportunity to dig into finer details as the reader expresses interest. I strive never to put any essential details in them. But if the reader is interested, nestling information lets writers leave behind breadcrumbs for readers who want to dig deeper into the tangents.
Let's circle back to the hypothesis that better writing tools beget better thinking. What's the impact of imbuing text with two extra dimensions (images and descriptions)? You can pack 1,000 words into a phrase. You can lay out a complex idea in one sentence. You can describe a plan that gets others excited to join in with you.
Admittedly, it's still an open question whether it's even possible to nurture one's way to nestling. It requires a rare willingness to explore and change. It uses a thinking mode that some don't naturally possess.
But, there exist today creators who combine energy, creativity, and willpower, and bring about extreme impact to the world. The new dimensions provided by Rich Footnotes can get us closer to capturing 100% of the magic their creative process is sparking.