Breakfast Notes #52 (A Year In)
Good morning friends.
This is my 52nd newsletter.
For 52 weeks in a row, I have dedicated myself to the weekly craft of writing.
Here are four quotes on craft I want to share with you.
- Steven Johnson, the American writer and Host of the PBS series Extra Life and How We Got To Now, spills the secret of good ideas in his book, Where Good Ideas Come From: "The trick to having good ideas is not to sit around in glorious isolation and try to think big thoughts. The trick is to get more parts on the table."
- Pablo Picasso, the great 20th-century painter, begins his great works with his eyes closed, "To draw you must close your eyes and sing. I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else."
- Austin Kleon, the New York Times Best Selling Author, shares the art of being influenced, "The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by."
- Orson Welles talks about making Citizen Kane and the source of his confidence which drove his cinematic innovations, "Ignorance! Ignorance! Sheer ignorance, you know. There's no confidence to equal it. It's only when you know something about a profession that you're timid or careful."
Here is the 52nd serving of the Breakfast Notes.
Reads Of The Week
Here are the reads of the week.
- Writing is a Bad Idea. Steven Pressfield shares a correspondence between him and a disillusioned writer. If you ever feel lonely in your craft, read Pressfield's reply. The best thing about writing in the age of Tik Tok & Reel is that you get a weekly micro-dose of disappointment. You shout from your corner of the internet, and all you hear is your echo. But, even then, you refine your thoughts.
- 52 Lessons from Robert Greene. My favourite lesson here is - to embrace your breadth. Greene had almost 80 jobs before he even became an author. This included being a construction worker, translator, Hollywood movie writer, skip tracer and magazine editor. These broad experiences allowed him to find pockets of inspiration, thereby allowing him to write from abundance.
- Craftsmanship is the way. Craftsmanship is different from design. It is quality that defines the difference between a Rolex and an Apple Watch. A Rolex is incredibly crafted and limited in supply. An Apple Watch is well-designed but mass-produced.
Here are five lessons I thought worth re-sharing in light of my 52 weeks on this page.
The Beauty of Etymology
Etymology has helped me appreciate the English language better. It has even imbued great meaning in some of the most mundane words.
Here are a few.
- The Latin root word of vocation is vocare, which means 'a calling'. Our occupation should not just be about earning money; it should feel like a calling.
- The Latin root word of religion is religare, which is to bind. Its later Latin variant meant religio- an obligation and reverence. To be religious is to bound one's entire being to principles.
- The Greek root word for history is histor ,a learned and wise man. It is through stories- historia, that wisdom is transmitted. The more you study grand narratives and great stories of civilization, the wiser you become. It is through historia, one becomes a histor.
Three Writing Tips You Wish You Knew Earlier
You should know I am on a mission to become Siglap's best writer.
This week, I learned three lessons on the craft of writing, and I want to share them with you.
- Be a miser with syllables. Short words are more forceful and less pretentious than their longer kin. Crisis is urgent, calamity isn't. Force is stronger than pressure.
- How to Sell Sushi to An Itamae. That's way better than 'Marketing Japanese Cuisine". A good title is short, informative and appetizing. Exaggeration and humour work wonders.
- Everything is material. Don't just settle for books and articles. You can write about a conversation you had, a podcast you listened to, or even a passing 'potty' thought.
When in doubt, I always consult the copywriter guru himself, David Ogilvy.
Watch the above three principles play out in this quote by Ogilvy in his Confessions of an Advertising Man,
The creative process requires more than reason. Most original thinking isn't even verbal. It requires 'a groping experimentation with ideas, governed by intuitive hunches and inspired by the unconscious.' The majority of business men are incapable of original thinking because they are unable to escape from the tyranny of reason. Their imaginations are blocked.
The Politician's Intuition
I have been reflecting on this question for the past week- what makes a great politician?
I am not talking about those who have supporters acting more like fans. But I am talking about those whose supporters find them disagreeable in some fashion, those whose mortal enemies could not help but grudgingly respect them and those who have supporters that are true believers.
The league I speak about are the likes of Lee Kuan Yew, Sun-Yat Sen, Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill. They can sketch a fairly accurate portrait of their people, akin to fleshing out what a 'national spirit' looks like. My sneaking suspicion is that they possess a deep intuition of the instincts of their people.
My favourite example comes from the late Lee Kuan Yew,
You know the Singaporean. He is a hard-working, industrious, rugged individual. Or we would not have made the grade. But let us also recognise that he is a champion grumbler.
He said this in 1977, and 55 years later, it still holds.
China's Impressive Economy
People always talk about how impressive the Chinese economy is, but how big is it exactly? Here are three indicators.
- China's Singles Day (11/11) Gross Merchandise Value is close to $30 billion (USD) more than American sales for Prime Friday, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Thanksgiving weekend combined.
- Despite having a zero-COVID policy, China's GDP grew by 8.1% in 2021. What makes it more impressive was China grew at 2.3% in 2020 and was the only major economy to report economic growth for 2020.
- As of 2021, China was home to the largest companies in the Fortune Global 500, and for the first time, there are more Fortune Global 500 companies based in Mainland China and Hong Kong than in the U.S.–124 vs 121.
In 2022, as China continues to grapple with COVID-19, it is expected to experience slow growth. But, these three tidbits are a reminder to ignore the China apocalypse that many of these finance bros on Youtube keep churning out.
Enjoy Being Wrong
Charlie Munger loves destroying his own ideas.
He even went on to say that,
Any year that you don't destroy one of your best-loved ideas is probably a wasted year.
How can one enjoy being wrong? What kind of masochist would that take?
But it turned out I got it wrong.
When we are proven wrong, we have been presented with the opportunity to get it right this time. We have the chance to work towards becoming the homo economicus that all economists extoll.
The best anecdote I have found to date was Daniel Kahneman explaining to a bewildered Jason Zweig why he, a Nobel-Prize Winning Economist, was more than happy to spend a whole night rewriting a chapter because an unsolicited email told him he was wrong.
His explanation - 'I have no sunk costs.'
Visualization Of The Week
The Great Irony of the Internet! Time accuses Facebook of promoting anti-Rohingya violence but promotes spam 'miracle pill' ads on its website.
This was the original picture I was looking for.
The Wall Street Crash of 1929 began on “Black Thursday” (October 24, 1929) when traders at the New York Stock Exchange started to mass sell-off at the opening bell.
The “Roaring Twenties” was officially over.
Almost 30,000 American businesses went bankrupt within three years, leaving 15 million workers unemployed.
This picture tells one man's story.
It is a stark reminder of how fast things can change. Things are fine until they ain't.
Thank you for reading this and truly, may the sun shine upon your face,