An open letter to my students: Write it or regret it.

Dear Students,

In my previous letter, I expressed my concern about your phone habits and urged you to put down your (damn) phone and pick up a book and read – a lot.

This letter asks you to do something even more difficult: put down your damn phone and pick up a pen—real or metaphorical—and write.

George Orwell, wrote “Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs… A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

I contend that reading is like nutrition – it nourishes the mind and fuels creative thought. Just as food provides essential nutrients for bodily health, reading exposes us to new ideas, perspectives, and knowledge. And books are an abundant nutritious meal.

Writing, on the other hand, is like exercise. It takes effort, discipline and repetition to build writing strength and skill.

Why write?

Writing clarifies your thinking, helps you remember ideas, and allows you to effectively communicate with others.

I wrote about the power of writing in my book Shtick to Business. I show how writing is essential the writing process is to the stand-up and sketch comedians, but also to everyday people in business and beyond. (You can download the chapter, Write it or Regret it, on writing here for free.)

Here is more about how writing is helpful for getting ahead in life:

To remember. Writing things down is key for capturing creativity, inspiration, and the building blocks of future work.

Research supports the idea that note-taking by hand offers superior benefits for learning and retention due to a combination of factors. Handwriting facilitates deeper information processing, as it typically requires the note-taker to paraphrase and engage more thoroughly with the material. The manual act of writing minimizes potential distractions, a common issue with digital notetaking. Writing by hand further enhances recall since the act of handwriting itself helps to solidify the information in memory. Moreover, the inherently slower pace of handwriting compared to typing encourages the development of summarization skills and forces note-takers to be more selective in their note-taking, promoting a deeper understanding of the material. In contrasts, students typing notes on laptops are more likely to transcribe lectures verbatim, which is less amenable to learning.

To clarify. Writing exposes fuzzy thinking and forced you to get clear on what exactly you are trying to say. Putting fuzzy thoughts into words exposes areas needing refinement. As philosopher E.M. Forster noted, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”

Jeff Bezos instituted the practice of requiring six-page narrative memos to accompany any initiative at Amazon. This forces teams to clearly explain their thinking and how the proposal fits into the company’s strategy. As Bezos writes in his annual shareholder letters, “We believe that ideas emerge through the process of writing – that you can’t completely think through an idea until you try writing it out.”

To communicate. Writing can move from a private document to a public facing one. Here the challenge is ensuring you bridge their knowledge gap on the topic and make your thoughts understandable. Mark Twain noted that a message must be tailored to the audience, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug?

To become a writer consider the following practices:

Pick your tools. I favor a pen for early drafts and notetaking, but heavy-duty writing is done on my laptop. (The first draft of this letter was written on a yellow legal pad and completed on my old Dell laptop.) I also keep a paper journal.

Start by journaling. This act isn’t just about recording events, but about engaging with your thoughts, feelings, and observations. Your journal becomes a private domain for experimentation, reflection, and discovery.

Become an avid note-taker. Whether in lectures, while reading, or in moments of inspiration, capturing thoughts in writing solidifies knowledge and sparks creativity. Best done with pen and paper (see above).

Stretch your writing muscles by experimenting in various forms. Poetry, short stories, and blogging offer diverse terrains to explore your voice, refine your style, and engage with different audiences.

Recognize that writing is both an art and a discipline. Understand the process by learning the stages from ideation to revision. Embrace the concept of “write fat, edit thin,” allowing yourself the freedom to explore extensively in your (shitty) first drafts, then by culling with precision.

Immerse yourself in the wisdom of those who’ve walked this path before. Books such as Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and Roy Peter Clark Writing Tools offer invaluable insights into the craft from masters of the trade. Read great writing, especially the greats you want to emulate.

Hunter S. Thompson had a unique connection to The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American novel. Thompson saw “The Great Gatsby” as a masterpiece of American literature. His admiration was so intense that, as a young writer, Thompson would type out the entirety of “The Great Gatsby” on his typewriter. He did this not just once but multiple times to get a feel for what it was like to write a great novel, to understand the rhythm, pace, and emotion of Fitzgerald’s prose.

Writing, like many creative tasks, thrives in the presence of routine. Carve out time for writing—be it the serene early hours over coffee or the quiet of night. Ideally, make that time sacred. Not to be cancelled for frivolous matters.

Creative activities like writing, making music, or even doing spreadsheet calculations also has the potential to create engagement via flow—a mental state characterized by complete immersion in the task to the point where all sense of time and place falls away. Just as with mastering the piano or shooting free throws, expect writing fluency to demand dedication to daily practice over time. Be patient. It took me three years before my writing became flow worthy.

I wish you the best and suggest you start by writing me back.


Peter McGraw