Writing Better

Writing better isn't just about practice. There's an entire thought process behind it.

Why bother writing?

I’m not talking about authors – they make a living from their words.

It’s also different for those who are famous – people actually read what they write.

When you know a large audience cares enough to spend time on your stuff, you won’t stop to wonder why you bother. And the engagement – comments, likes, retweets – probably further spurs you on.

It’s another thing to perform to the chirping of crickets – you have to really like your craft for its own sake to continue. Writing on a blog that no one visits or a book that no one reads – which is the fate of most writers who don’t have a name that sells their books – is much harder.

Even in my own case, the few who will read this are mostly civil service aspirants, even though I never write for that niche. But this seems to be a tag that overrides everything else about me – probably because there is little else, and this is all there is yet.

Hopefully, this tag will fade away in a few years, and then everything I’ve written will have one of two possible fates. The first, and most likely – to disappear into oblivion. The other, much less likely one, is to be able to stand on its own feet, unsupported by the crutch of the tag of a “UPSC topper” – because who really remember the toppers of a few years back? In the same way, by 2025, if not sooner, that label should disappear, as new faces will crowd the posters of coaching institutes and websites for their fifteen minutes of fame.

This is similar to the distinction between “famous writers” and “famous books”, though I’m nowhere near “famous” and don’t care to be. A writer who’s already famous – say an entrepreneur or a president or a musician or a sportsperson – could write anything and it would sell. The contents of the book are almost an afterthought. People would buy it for the name alone, especially his legions of admirers.

These books often sell on the name alone, but sometimes they’re really worth reading. Especially when the writer has solid achievements to his name – such as a renowned investor with a consistent track record like Warren Buffet, or a serial entrepreneur like Elon Musk, or a nation builder like Lee Kuan Yew. These are people who did something tremendously hard, that few can do. They probably have original ideas, worth listening to.

The other sort of books sell because of their content. It could be Harry Potter -no one had heard of JK Rowling before that. Or famous philosophers like Schopenhauer or Nietzsche, who entered the literary scene as outsiders. It doesn’t mean, of course, that it’s worth reading these books. The books could be doing well because of the content, but there could be many reasons for that.

It might be that they really do say something profound or new, worth reading. Or it might be that they know “what the market wants” and cater to it. So a book on sex or making money without working hard, or about IIT / IAS if it’s in India would definitely find a market – at least much more easily than others.

Why write?

The easiest reason is because you like to and you enjoy it.

But there are other reasons, less obvious, as well.

  1. It helps you think of new ideas. A lot of ideas come when you begin writing.
  2. It forces you to be clear about your thoughts. A vague idea develops into a coherent line of reasoning. Writing for public consumption means you’ll be called out if you do it shoddily.

So writing helps to generate new thoughts and improve existing ones.

It also helps you discover what you really think or feel about something. One of the only occasions you can sit, clear of all distractions, and think about something deeply is when you’re writing about it. Otherwise, almost always, life gets in the way.

How to Write

The easiest way is to write as you speak.

That means – in your unique style, and, unless you’re a pompous windbag with a predisposition towards exhibiting a convoluted vocabulary in an artificial endeavor to display your sophistication and erudition the way I’ve done here, as simply as possible.

In your unique style – without aping someone.

The main reason for pretension is insecurity. You only need to pretend if you think you don’t actually have the quality you want others to think you do.

You pretend to be cool if you think you’re not really cool.

And so, if you’re not a good writer but want others to think you are, you’ll pretend to be one by aping an author you think is better. But that’s not much use – people would rather read the original Kafka or an Orwell than a pale imitation.

And if you write originally, as you are, you will be unique, because there isn’t another you. It’s the attempt to conform to a standard – trying to “write like Hemingway” or trying to “write what college kids want to hear” – that makes us imitate others instead of creating something of our own.

As simply as possible – because those who throw complicated words when they’re not needed usually want to appear intellectual. And again, it’s pretension – they feel they probably aren’t smart and don’t have anything worth saying – so they try to dress it up and look smart rather than be smart. Someone who knew he had stuff worth saying wouldn’t bother dressing it up.

Using complicated words unnecessarily actually makes your writing worse – now you’re focusing your energy on the packaging, while you could have been using it to improve the content.

It’s also a sign you don’t understand what you’re saying. Someone with a deep understanding of the fundamentals could explain it to a layman. When I can’t explain something I know I don’t really know it well.

Sacrifice Correctness

Lastly – a slightly controversial opinion.

Give up some correctness.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to write something that’s difficult to refute.

“Women empowerment is a multi-faceted issue that needs to be looked at in its entirety and a holistic solution based on engaging multiple stakeholders and changing social mindsets is vital for achieving real change.”

It means nothing. It’s just a way of saying that this is a complicated issue. Everyone’s probably familiar with these sort of cliched essays – like the ones on growth v/s development you write in school or exams.

They either say nothing at all – like the sentence above on women empowerment – or restate some cliché everyone’s heard a million times – like the one on a “balanced approach” between growth and development.

They’re completely true. And completely pointless.

It’s “safe” to say these things because you can’t refute them. Yet they add zero value because you’re not telling anyone anything they don’t know already.

These are “weak” truths. There’s no strength – meaning you’re not being specific in what you say. And you’re not saying it with any confidence – anyone can hedge and say “This is just my perspective” or “This is one viewpoint”. That’s rubbish.

Strength = Confidence * Specificity.

It’s much more common with general topics like environmentalism, women empowerment, inequality etc. They’re so general that we’ve already spoken about them a trillion times; it’s very hard to come up with something that’s not already been said. That’s one reason I never write about them. Maybe if I ever actually have something to say I will, but I don’t think that’s likely.

It takes courage to give up some correctness. And get more strength – specificity and confidence. Without that you’ll never have any novelty – telling people something they don’t know, or showing them something they know in a new way.

Sacrificing some correctness for strength doesn’t mean giving up correctness completely – you just become a liar then. It means balancing the two – which requires going against the prevailing tendency to focus only on correctness.

It’s so common to see people taking refuge behind correctness, throwing generic platitudes in seminars and speeches and invariably putting everyone to sleep. You can’t blame them because millions of people will rush to nitpick and point out “flaws” anytime you say anything – so it’s a natural defense mechanism to use correctness like a shield. That way no one can attack you, or at least it’s very hard to.

Making a specific claim takes courage because you can always be refuted.

I said that good writing means balancing correctness and strength and trying to bring novelty. Again, you can ask – Why? It’s just an arbitrary claim I’ve made. There’s no God-given reason that this is what defines good writing. There could be plenty of other criteria – but again, I traded some correctness for strength, otherwise this would just be a laundry list of generic points.

What to Write

And what do you write about?

Write about what you care about.

You’ll write best if you write about something that matters to you. And you’ll have fun doing it.

I said you’re unique in the sense no one is exactly identical to you, but you’re not a special snowflake, so there are plenty of people with the same tastes and interests.

That means that there will be at least some people interested in what you write about, so if you do it well, you can find an audience.

Or you can write about what others care about if you don’t care about anything yourself, or if you need to make your living writing.

Paul Graham, who’s among the best writers I know, gave a nice metric to know what’s important.

How many people care about it, and how much do they care about it? The product of these tells you whether you’re writing about something your audience wants to read. Often a lot of people care a little, or a few people care a lot.

That’s why journalists don’t write about their private lives; people don’t care about them. But a lot of people care a lot about the same thing when it’s about a celebrity, and so they write what their audience cares about.

Similarly, entrepreneurs or crypto-investors or hackers can write about their pet topics – most of the world doesn’t care much, but a small group cares a lot. The same actually applies to coaching centers and books for competitive examinations – they know that a few million people every year care enough to read their stuff, though the rest of the world doesn’t.

And if you’re hesitating to write because you don’t think that anyone is going to read what you write, then you should know about compounding. It takes time to build an audience and to develop your writing skills – the longer you put it off the further off it is in the future.

Platforms like Quora and Medium offer you a way to reach an audience that no blog can – because people need to come to a blog specifically for you, whereas they come to a platform for content in general.

Recognize that you’ll suck initially and no one will read your stuff – that initial pain is inevitable – but keeping at it means you can build a base which’ll keep growing every year. Your skills and your audience will compound; and with compounding, the sooner you start the better.



Good article sir…

Kanika Sharma

Being heard or read matters if you are in a space surrounded by humans, precisely to everyone.
Born with or acquired, one needs this skill eventually.
Thanks for choosing such offbeat topic, Pratyush.

Rupali Dhadnekar

This comes when I started reading the book of well known author Tony Robbin ‘Unshakeable”. I loved your post. I know that you want to share so many things with us the day when your video about upsc posted on YouTube.one of my favorite video. Now this blog this is amazing. Thank you sir for sharing with us your experience.


Sir, I want to read philosophy because I find it enigmatic. But I am not able to convince myself that it is a subject worth reading. Should I invest my time in going through a philosophy course or a book? Could you write on the reasons to study philosophy — or trying to kindle the reader’s interest on philosophy — at least as a reply to this comment.


Someone else has written it better than I can – http://www.paulgraham.com/philosophy.html




Thank you for all your articles. Even though I am not an avid reader, I genuinely enjoy reading your articles so much so that I keep a track as to when there will be a new article and that is the case not because of your credentials but only because of the content and the clarity with which you articulate your thoughts. Not only do I read them, but I re read them multiple times so that I can inculcate the ideas that I really like. Just want you to know that your words have a huge impact on me and they help me to know myself better (like things I have been doing for many years but wasn’t really conscious of doing them) and I’m sure that there are many who feel the same way. Keep writing.


I don’t know if anybody has said this to you but your rational style of writing backed by an uncanny honesty is most appealing. Your words have merit.
You’d make a good author.
P.S. I wouldn’t read any of your articles if they were limited to IAS.


Sir you are writing good but sir please make one stuff for upsc students – How to remember what you read?
How to revise ? And How to consistent in preparation …… and some motivation


Everything is an idea – currency, nations, corporations, titles. It’s not unique to that.

It’s not about demeaning the the topic of women empowerment either (the criticism applied to that sentence, not to that topic).
It’s just a criticism of banalities. Saying things that add no value, yet pretending you’re doing something important.

On the contrary, general topics are the most important. The more general, the more it’s visible around you, and the more people it effects.
Why do you think Newton or Einstein are given the reverence they are, compared to so many others who came up with ideas applicable to smaller niches?
That’s also why it’s harder to talk about general things if you really want to go beyond superficialities. I think they should be treated with the most respect. If you can’t do justice to it by saying something useful, don’t touch it.
This explains it better – http://www.paulgraham.com/sun.html

You might like this – http://www.paulgraham.com/disagree.html
(No disrespect, it’s probably unintentional – quoting from that essay:
“Much of the time they’re not even doing it deliberately. One of the most surprising things you’ll discover, if you start writing essays, is that people who disagree with you rarely disagree with what you’ve actually written. Instead they make up something you said and disagree with that.”

Koushik Das

Great writing brother.
In your book you have written a piece titled ” Surety brings ruin ” . This was an eye opener for me….very fundamental yet powerful.


Hi Pratyush! Irrelevant(or maybe not), What is your ultimate career? or goal as one may call it. I get it that you have your constraints answering that, but genuinely just want to know how does one go about developing a clarity of mind regarding the long term vision, especially when it’s not as if you decide and start working directly towards it. Often there is a path, self made though, but still not everything in the path is directly related to the vision.
Also, great insights in each blog! Thank you.


I thought I answered all these questions here – http://pratyushpandey.com/premature-optimization/


Love your writing, dude. This blog is like a place of solitude for me.


To be frank, I do like what you write most of the time. I am an IITian but not an UPSC aspirant. Though I only came about you from some UPSC aspirants but really liked what you right most of the time. I think you really like your craft of writing in this blog for whatever reason and being a bit selfish will motivate you too keep writing, It helped in some my darkest phase of life previous year. Love from Kgp. #Machate rahe sir


So, I just backspaced my entire comment(is backspaced even a word?). I was reading your “How to make friends” blog and then I had few thoughts/questions which i wanted to put down in comment section, but then when I began writing I din’t know where the head and tail of comment is, then i saw this blog and thought “ok.. i am not a writer but i want to put some thoughts down, let’s just give it a read” …………………………..
I don’t know where that was going I just want to say “It also helps you discover what you really think or feel about something.” this part inspired me to write so that i can learn about myself and have a clear understanding of myself and definitely to improve my thoughts writing process…?(how to remove this formatting)

A quick question – Does this happen with everyone when they write something or you are very clear about how will i start and end and everything in between…

There is also a part where it is said you write what you speak, so i think i should start……… my break is over got to go…

PS: A good read, definitely inspired me to question about myself to know about myself before i go and make some real friends……..

PPS: Not a upsc aspirant