Monthly Archives: March 2024

Advice for learning the dark arts

I loved this episode of “My First Million”:

It’s about how to communicate effectively for persuasion, which is very useful in business and life.

But I wanted to explicitly state an underlying assumption of their conversation: These techniques are a “dark art”.

These are not general principles for all kinds of writing. It would be mistaken to assume that one must apply these principles in any kind of writing โ€” ie.g. academic, creative, formal. These are techniques to deploy when you have specific goals for your writing, and are writing within specific contexts.

They come with tradeoffs and sacrifices, such as making your writing more “sales-y” or “clickbait-y”, which can decrease credibility or compromise an artistic vision. The exact tradeoffs depend on the context and community, but they exist. That’s why I call them a dark art.

What is mastery?

To use an analogy from cooking:

Master is when the chef not only knows how to make oatmeal the “right” way, but is able to answer if you ask “What happens if we use half the water? Twice as much butter? No butter at all? 4x the milk?”. Because they’ve tried all these things before.

A master understands where the canonical solution fits in the greater design space of all solutions, and the tradeoffs involved. They can explain, in depth, what happens if you “do it wrong”, and can provide examples of instances where you might want to.

A master understands when the laws of gravity actually break. 1