Michael Ashcroft

How to get the most from Write Of Passage

You’re probably either considering purchasing, or are about to participate in, the online course Write Of Passage led by David Perell.

If you’re about to take part, this article will tell you how to get the most from it. If you’re considering it, you’ll get a good understanding of what the course involves. 

Full disclosure: I am an alumni mentor for Cohort 6 starting in February 2021.

Putting yourself out there in the way that Write Of Passage demands is not at all easy, because it’s not just about writing, it’s about becoming someone who writes online. There are traps and emotional hurdles all over the place. Fundamentally, I think the world needs more people who are able to think and act independently. Write Of Passage is a transformative experience that is helping to make that happen.

This essay is about 4000 words long (c. 15 minutes to read). If you’re a current student and in a rush, here are some high level pieces of advice. 

Charlie Bleeker, lead alumni mentor for Write Of Passage Cohort 6, has written a great list of do’s and don’ts — read them!

My own experience with Write of Passage

I took Cohort 2 of Write Of Passage in August 2019, shortly after taking Building A Second Brain, that other well-known online course. Over the five weeks of the course I was winding down at one job and getting started at a new one, so I had some spare intellectual bandwidth, energy and time to devote to it.

Before Write Of Passage I had made a few feeble attempts at writing blogs, but I didn’t know what to say and I was inconsistent, so no one read them. I had also been feeling stuck in my career for years and I knew there was more available. Write Of Passage seemed to be offering a solution to all of this.

Fast forward a year and a half to the end of January 2021 — three weeks ago as I write this — and I was able to leave my consulting job and a ten year career in system innovation to pursue a self-directed independent lifestyle. I built an online course around a demanding full time job by following David’s audience-first products approach. I have a growing, engaged and nurturing audience on Twitter — and, more importantly, I am making real friends there. And, I have a number of coaching clients, all of whom reached out to me in response to my writing. 

But it’s not just that I have more; I’ve become more. The journey I’ve been on since taking Write Of Passage has been profoundly transformational for me. I don’t know exactly what comes next (that’s largely the point) and I couldn’t have planned my way here. It happened through a series of serendipities facilitated by putting into practice the principles I learned during Write Of Passage. 

So let’s talk about some of those principles, my experience with them, and my advice on how to navigate them, both during the course and outside of it. 

I’ll frame my advice around the Write of Passage modules:

  1. The Age of Leverage
  2. Make Your Serendipity Vehicle
  3. Create Your Online Home
  4. Set Up Your Distribution System
  5. Learn To Write Clearly & Persuasively
  6. Connect With Anyone
  7. Build Your Personal Monopoly

The Age Of Leverage

“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world. ” ― Archimedes

Most people are used to trading time for money. We go to work, we give our employer eight hours of our time, and we get paid for those eight hours. It’s an ‘un-leveraged’, one to one exchange. That frame easily leaks into other areas of life, so we end up associating our time with our ability to influence the world: when we’re not working, we have no influence. 

The Internet gives us the power to invert that frame. Our words and ideas can work for us while we’re spending time with friends and family, adventuring or working on other things. As long as we have a system to capture the value that our published words create for us, we increase our capacity to connect with other people (for that’s all words do). We give ourselves leverage.

This may seem obvious, but it’s not until it actual happens to you that you internalise it as a truth. Until then it can seem like a fairytale, or something that just happens to other people.

If you’re early on this journey, I encourage you to have faith, keep writing and be playful. This is a long game, one where the results can’t be forced and take time and consistency before they show up. All you can do is choose to keep playing and see where the game takes you.

If you’re a Write of Passage student, it’s normal to have doubts and second guess yourself here. This is definitely something to bring up and explore with the mentors and your course mates. I’d also encourage you to reflect on this stuff on your own, perhaps in a journal, or you can even publish your thinking on this as you go through the course. You’ll be surprised how many people will appreciate it.

Make Your Serendipity Vehicle

Here’s a story of serendipity for you. 

Not long after I started that new job, I was given the opportunity to write an article for the Ordnance Survey, the UK’s mapping agency, about the the role of geospatial data in the energy system transformation.

I wrote the article, shared it on LinkedIn and thought nothing more of it… until someone on LinkedIn,,who I had met perhaps once several years before, invited me to speak on that topic at a conference. 

In South Korea. As a VIP. All expenses paid.

He had seen my article, liked it, and someone had just pulled out session he was organising.

And of course I said yes.

 “BIXPO2019 — Gwangju, South Korea. This happened because I wrote something online”

This is the power of having a serendipity vehicle. In this case it was a ‘guest post’ and LinkedIn, but many other serendipities have happened via my website, my newsletters and Twitter. There is no one serendipity vehicle.

The thing about serendipities, though, is that there is a lot outside your control and knowledge; you don’t know when, where or how they will happen. You can’t force the right person with the right problem to read the right article at the right time and in the right frame of mind.

But there are some things you can control:

If you’re a Write Of Passage student, I would encourage you to focus on quantity over quality at first. Aim to publish 100 things before you even expect to see any benefits, though they’ll appear sooner than that. Remember, the probability that you’ll creating serendipity from something you don’t publish is 0.

Create Your Online Home

What’s an online home? Well, you’re in mine right now! Welcome, please make yourself comfortable and feel free to explore.

Your website is one of the first places people will look when they discover you. It’s where you tell your story and it’s where you put the ideas you want others to associate with you. 

You’ll see a link above that says Start Here. That’s my chance to share with you who I am, what I like, what I’m interested in, what I’m working on, and whatever else I deem important. It answers the question “who is this person and are they worth me reading more?”

How’s this for a business card?

But it’s so much more than that. When I first started writing my online home I had a bit of (okay a lot of) an identity crisis. “Just write a bit about who you are”, Start Here invites. Okay… but who am I? Writing my Start Here page made me question and explore what I wanted to put on there. It turns out that I didn’t really know who I was or wanted to be.

And that, I strongly suspect, is normal. Write Of Passage, like Building A Second Brain, is a personal transformation experience disguised as an online writing course and it should be treated as such. That means it’s going to be difficult at times. It means you might have to go to some of the places you really don’t want to have to go. And it means it’s okay to ask for help and get support from your friends.

Remember that creating your online home is an iterative process, one that invites a bit of identity R&D. It lets you try on different versions of yourself to see which one fits. Chances are you’ll end up tweaking it a lot over the years to come, so don’t worry about getting it perfect up front — in fact, to do that would be to miss the point. Maybe it needs to feel uncomfortable for a while, maybe that’s what will drive you need to change it. Not just the words, but what lies behind them.

If you’re a Write Of Passage student, I’d encourage you to just get something published, even if it’s rough and you hate it. Go as personal as you feel safe going and then 1% further. Other people want to connect with you, so it’s worth sharing as much you as you can. And, if you have the resources I highly encourage you work with a coach while you’re getting started writing online, particularly in the way that Write Of Passage teaches.

Set Up Your Distribution System

That’s right, you’re going to become one of those people who has a newsletter. You’re going to write regularly to, at first, an extraordinarily tiny list of people, some of them well-meaning friends and family. Cringe, I know. 

It can be hard to convince yourself that this is worth it, particularly at first when it feels like screaming into the void. But don’t worry. Stick with it long enough and the void talks back

A newsletter is a mechanism by which people can get to know you, to build a relationship with you, to become invested in your success. Your newsletter is where you’ll find your 1000 true fans. It’s a place where you can test ideas and perspectives to see what resonates with people.

I shared my journey in leaving my job with hundreds of people on my main newsletter — Thinking Out Loud

Let’s stick with that resonance theme. A newsletter can be seen as a kind of ‘Resonance Engine’. Consider two kinds of resonance: 

The Resonance Engine (newsletter) allowed me to discover these things, because it gave me a space to play around with new ideas and ways of being, and because doing it ‘out loud’ let people hit reply when they were moved to do so.

This is how my Alexander Technique ‘persona’ and ultimately the online course that let me quit my job came about. After a few editions where I wrote about it a lot — and found great interpersonal and intrapersonal resonance — I realised that I didn’t want Thinking Out Loud to become a newsletter about Alexander Technique. I decided to spin that out into Expanding Awareness, a second newsletter focused just on Alexander Technique, which right now has about 1050 subscribers.

Although I didn’t realise it at the time, that act of spinning something out of Thinking Out Loud crystallised its role for me. Thinking Out Loud is where I explore new ideas in a quest for both interpersonal and intrapersonal resonance. When I find it, I continue to write about it there. Then, if it gets too big, I take it somewhere else. 

By repeating this process the Resonance Engine is free to continue its never-ending and insatiable quest for more resonance, staying lean and flexible to new ideas and perspectives. It also preserves the working with the garage door up mindset.

It’s fair to say that writing a regular newsletter changed not only my life, but my self. It will be hard at first, but trust me, it’s worth it.

If you’re a Write Of Passage student, you will probably find it tough to write a weekly newsletter at first. It’s hard to know what to write about and you probably don’t have particularly well-developed ‘writing muscles’. That’s fine, you have to start somewhere. They don’t have to be long or particularly insightful. If it helps, here are my first three: 1, 2, 3.

Learn To Write Clearly & Persuasively

Thanks to decades of school, university assignments and work reports, many of us believe that writing has to look and feel a certain way. Worse, associations like that might make us think that writing is something we can’t be good at or enjoy for its own sake.

Nothing could be further from the truth. While writing isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, it can also be much easier and more rewarding than you might think. 

Writing doesn’t start from a blank sheet of paper or empty screen. It starts in the conversations you’re already having and in the daydreams you’re already having in the shower. Everything you write is assembled from idea fragments that happened somewhere else, and each piece of writing represents a new intermediate product in your idea refinery.

Here’s a dirty little secret for you: I have recycled loads of this essay from other things I’ve made: past newsletters, Twitter threads, a YouTube video I made, and countless conversations I’ve had. But you probably haven’t seen any of those, and even if you had, you haven’t seen them articulated like this. This essay is now something I can share as one discrete chunk and no doubt I’ll recycle material from this into something even more complex. 

This is a good thing. It’s not that I’m short of ideas or that I’m in some way ripping myself off. No, each time I write something I get a clearer idea in my mind of what that thing is about. Getting it out of my head and onto ‘paper’ frees up my mind to do things with it and mix it with other ideas, whether my own or those of others. 

Writing is the process of articulating fuzzy concepts until the point where they’re legible to ourselves and others. That’s why learning to write clearly and persuasively — as is taught in Write Of Passage — is so powerful. The more clearly you can write, the more clearly you can think. The more persuasively you can write, the better able you are to articulate your thoughts.

And all this comes from writing a lot and from getting useful feedback, whether it’s explicit feedback you asked for or implicit feedback from people responding to you via your newsletters or tweets. It’s all feedback. 

My advice here is to:

If you’re a Write Of Passage student, I strongly encourage you to attend the Crossfit For Writing sessions that are run as part of the course. Fellow alumni mentor Roxine Kee has written a great summary of how these work. That, and make sure you give and ask for feedback as part of your writing groups. 

Connect With Anyone

We’re entering a relationship-first model of the Internet, one where it’s becoming entirely normal to meet someone on, say, Twitter and then ‘jump on a Zoom call’. 

Seriously, I must have Zoomed with at least 100 people from the Internet in the last year. Many of these people, I have no doubt, will turn out to be good friends for many years to come. You know, the kind of actual friends you would have in the actual world.

Three friends watching Foo Fighters together, each separated by eight timezones, and having never actually met each other.

This flips the conventional model of ‘networking’ on its head. When you share more of yourself online, you create more opportunities for other people to discover you and realise that you’d probably hit it off. 

If you’re trying to connect with someone new, you can start by reading their writing and get to know them. You can strike up low-stakes conversations with them in the (privately owned) public squares of the Internet. When you reach out to them directly, they already know who you are, and maybe they’ve already read some of your work. 

Even if you reach out to someone completely cold, you can still sprinkle relevant examples of your own writing that you know will be of interest to them as proof of work and sincerity. This isn’t something I have done much myself, but plenty of people have done it to me and I promise it works.

All of this is made possible by people sharing their ideas on the Internet. Start by sharing your own ideas and reading the ideas of people who respect and may want to talk to one day. Don’t be pushy about sharing things with them in public and don’t take it personally if they don’t read or respond, everyone is busy. But low-pressure, friendly persistence will likely pay off. Long games, remember.

If you’re a Write Of Passage student, I’d encourage you to play with this idea with your course mates, because they know the rules of this particular game. Follow them on Twitter, subscribe to their newsletters, exchange emails during live sessions and maybe suggest a call with them. I am still in contact with people who took Write Of Passage with me in 2019.

Build Your Personal Monopoly

Write Of Passage introduces the idea of the Personal Monopoly:

The ultimate goal of writing online is to build a Personal Monopoly. It’s your unique intersection of skills, interests, and personality traits where you can be known as the best thinker on a topic and open yourself up to the serendipity that makes writing online so special. - David Perell

This is the thing that will let you stand out from the crowd and carve out a name and a space for yourself. When I came across the idea I knew it would be helpful to have one of my own, but the way I interpreted it also got me stuck.

I suspect this is a common failure mode for online writing. Many people who want to write online trip over at the “what should I write about?” stage. There’s a belief in there that it’s important to know your personal monopoly before you start.

A useful metaphor I used to get around this lies in the difference in approach between Architects and Archeologists

The Architect designs the building up front before construction can begin. The design may be adapted along the way as things come up during construction, but the frame is that the building follows the design. 

The Archeologist, on the other hand, discovers something hidden underground, makes some guesses about what it might be, and then starts the process of uncovering it. Whenever the truth of what they find differs from their idea, they update their idea of what they've found.

This idea was so transformative for me that I even made a YouTube video out of it. 

I realised I was seeing my creative journey through the lens of an architect rather than an archeologist, trying to design it rather than discover it. Now that I've made that reframe, I'm free to create, safe in the knowledge that the more I create, the more I'll discover. 

The fate I want to avoid as a creator is to force my way into a box that I hate living in. By letting my personal monopoly emerge — as ‘I’ emerge alongside it — it's much more likely that I'll enjoy both the journey and the destination.

So rather than aiming to write within a theme, write to be prolific. Abandon hopes to create structure from the top down and watch in surprise as structure emerges from the bottom up. 

Look at me, mum, I made it!

If you’re a Write Of Passage student, I invite you to keep the idea of the Personal Monopoly in your awareness and reflect regularly on your own. But don’t let not having one stop you from just making things. You’ll be amazed at what will show up if you just keep moving forwards.

Have fun!

With that, my final words of encouragement to you are to have fun with all this!

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will everything I’ve just talked about. Write Of Passage is the catalyst, the kindling that will start the fire. But the rest is up to you and I guarantee you’ll see more success if you approach it with a twinkle in your eye.

In the words of the immortal Ze Frank in his Invocation for Beginnings: “And God let me enjoy this. Life isn’t just a sequence of waiting for things to be done.”


Want more?

I publish a regular newsletter called Thinking Out Loud, which covers things like stuff like building in public, Total Work, solarpunk, carbon removal, sense-making, building communities, creating positive narratives for the future, identity and various other things. 700 subscribers can't be wrong!

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