Lesson 2: What to Write

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  • Post last modified:August 19, 2023

Choosing a topic is a good first step; writing something readers want to read is the second good first step.

The best two principles I have uncovered to do that are:

  1. Stating the mainstream narrative.
  2. Advancing the mainstream narrative.

The Mainstream Narrative

The mainstream narrative is the history of the present.

It is what most people think about a topic at instant T.

In the year 800, people thought that a storm was a sign that God was angry.

Today, we know it happens due to meteorological effects.

That’s the mainstream narrative for weather events.

You have a mainstream narrative for everything in society.

There’s one for domestic politics, international politics, sports, new technologies, ecology and climate, finance, the economy, the relationships between men and women, etc.

Why Is the Mainstream Narrative Important?

The mainstream narrative is what interests people now because it is what people are discussing now.

If you want to be read, you need to write stuff that your audience wants to read. The mainstream narrative helps you find out what that is.

Eg: if you monitor online discussions when unemployment rises, you notice that people worry about how to save or earn more money.

If these fall within your niche, that’s what you should write about.

How to Find Out What People Think About?

There’s only one way: you need to listen.

You need to be receptive to what they’re saying.

A part of my own writing process is to spend time on Twitter and Medium to learn about what people are saying about X and Y so I can guess the mainstream narrative around these topics.

The more data you acquire, the more precisely you know what the mainstream narrative is.

Once you know what it is, you have two choices:

  1. You either state it as correctly as possible.
  2. You move it forward.

1. Stating the Mainstream Narrative

Have you ever met someone who wrote exactly what you thought?

How did you feel then?

I bet you felt very excited!

Human beings bond over things they have in common. When they find people who think like them, they establish a connection with that person and that feels nice.

The same effect happens when people read a text that expresses what they think. They feel good knowing that they are not alone in thinking this way. This is the purpose of studying the mainstream narrative: writing it back to people that read you.

Eg: Self-Help Content Is Gettingt Out of Hand

I wrote this article after identifying a pattern of people complaining that self-help content had become nonsense.

That’s what stating the mainstream narrative entails.

The second option you have is to move it forward.

2. Moving the Narrative Forward

Moving the narrative forward comes down to answering the question “What does that mean” when stating the mainstream narrative.

Let’s take our meteorological effects from the year 800.

Let’s imagine that in 850, one guy comes to the castle and declares:

“Storms aren’t caused by God, but by weather effects!”

Imagine the revolution that this would create in people’s minds.

If God didn’t cause the weather, this means that:

  • God doesn’t express Himself how we thought he did.
  • There is a hidden mechanism to natural phenomena.
  • We can study that mechanism to understand things better.
  • If we were wrong about the weather, what else are we wrong about?

Moving the narrative forward is often the job of journalists, intellectuals, and scientists (engineers).

They take whatever we have now and make something new out of it by asking what does that mean and how can we make this better?

Moving the narrative forward can also be explaining why the mainstream narrative is wrong – if it is wrong about something.

When he was a lawyer, my dad often wrote to the newspaper when they made a law mistake in an article. The same principle applies here.

Eg: No, Belgium Will Not Cease to Exist

When I saw a bunch of newspapers writing about the end of Belgium, I wrote an article explaining that it wasn’t true.


To write interesting content, you need to know what people find interesting.

To know what people find interesting, you need to listen to them.

  • What are they talking about?
  • What questions are they asking?
  • What problems are they trying to solve?
  • What does that mean?

These form the mainstream narrative. Talk about that.

State the narrative back them, or move it forward.

Tomorrow, we will see how to write so that people want to read.

See you tomorrow!

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