On writing a wrong
This post was originally published on Medium
‘There is a spelling mistake in your tweet Fede. How fitting for the announcing of your first book…written in english!’, our impeccably objective Principal pointed out as I got back from a meeting — by the way @jack, if you’re reading this, that’s exactly why we need the freaking edit feature.
So what’s it all about my writing in a third language when I could have more naturally butchered the prose of Paz or Proust. If you have heard me presenting in English, you would know my phrases are interjected by unfittingly-long pauses, I make all kinds of grammar mistakes, insert incomprehensible words and I can’t seem to shake the slightly strange accent. Why then? Do I feel like some kind of Diego Luna acting in a kind of Star Wars movie? Do I think my writing in English will make me some kind of Silicon Valley thought leader, as if they cared what I thought in the first place?
Not at all. If, at the start, writing in English got me published on Techcrunch, albeit accidentally and slowly, the unnatural dimension to the habit has become part of the reason I persist in exploring this handsome craft.
It’s about daring
I can still hear the sounds of nature outside of the beautiful Mexican town Tepoztlán that were the soundtrack to my childhood as I was growing up. The music always seemed to be topped off by guitar notes from a tired cassette player and the sound of fingers furiously hitting typewriter keys at crazy speed. At the time, I did not make too much of it for I had too many things to do outside in the fields and the river. My mother is a writer. The sounds I remember are her, every weekend in the midst of her personal writing flow on a black Olivetti typewriter beating to the drum of The Beatles, Joe Dassin or Silvio Rodriguez. Since the beginning of her writing career, she has always been a great storyteller. Without no previous experience, no major in literature and a late start, there is one virtue that I think set her apart and has made her a compelling public figure since: her courage. She doesn’t give a damn what people think about her or how readers will judge her articles or her novels. That audacity provides her with the freedom to be poignant, funny and truthful.
Despite her example and half of her DNA, I am definitely not as courageous. And you need to be brave to be completely honest to the point of being vulnerable. That’s hard. Using foreign words allows me to avoid inhibition. Somehow the fact that the emotion behind them was not hardwired from childhood helps me say what I feel without over-thinking. Let’s take for example one of the scariest words for business matters: Love. If I asked in French ‘Est-ce l’amour le plus important?’ or responded in Spanish something like ‘Si, lo que más importa es el amor’, it would feel too revealing and too weird to share. I would never ever upload that to my LinkedIn blog. What would people think of this forty-year old investor talking about el amor! No way, pas d’amour. But, in English, I don’t care. Words don’t scare me. So I’m brave… like my mother.
About thinking slow
A couple of decades ago, I was diagnosed with ‘ADHD predominantly inattentive’ along with the many millions of children across the world. At 24, it felt like a big deal and somehow a long-awaited redemption. It, however tardily, explained my daydreaming, my impulsiveness, my lack of concentration and my capricious memory. ‘Yeah, we knew…’ or ‘What’s new besides that…’ were the reactions I got when broke my ‘big news’ to my family and close friends. It was already obvious to everybody. I can’t hold still, my mind jumps, words are elusive, and my hard drive is often unavailable. Over the years, I have coped by overcompensating: by thinking and acting faster so I avoid losing concentration before completing a task. I make cognitive adjustments too. I am a machine of mental shortcuts and fast conclusions.
As you can imagine, sitting for long hours is impossible, even if The Beatles are on in the background. Writing in English makes things much more complicated. I need to write and re-write, while I tweet, read and re-read, while I email, re-write and skip sentences, create new drafts and so on. It’s such a slow and taxing process that it may take a few weeks to write for your 5 minute read. So I write in my head when walking, I write on a couch in my phone and in my office in the morning when no one has arrived. Like the next fellow, in order to make sense of the world, I tell myself a bunch of stories. Slowly and hardly, composing a post helps me remember the stories, weigh and doubt them. It helps me suspend judgement. I can go deeper and further in my memories to understand my luck, my failures, my motivations, my values and my weaknesses.
But mostly about acting
So while all those middle-aged VCs are blogging and snapping their ‘wisdom’, another smarter investor is helping a founder change the world. Right? On its face, writing seems to be a quiet and passive exercise. It’s not. When you think about our job as investors for instance, most of us take a handful of decisions per year. The rest of the time we ought to be thinking about them. Jeff Bezos famously asks management to record the reasoning behind important strategies. Like them, this writing habit helps me understand the decision I just made and prepare for the next one; it helps me act. Moreover, potentially what we publish even in an obscure social media platform, a dying magazine, a book or our own very standard blog may lead to action for someone, somewhere, somehow.
Running the risk of oversimplification, I find the English language, particularly in its written form, to be more simple and direct than Spanish or French. My wickedly bright cousin, in his quest to abolish la Real Academia Española, always reminds people of the incredible flexibility and versatility of a Do-It-Yourself language as opposed to the almost religious treatment of Spanish: ‘In three words you can convey sarcasm, disagreement, humor and content.’ In my case, that content means action: it needs to inspire action for me and for others. Besides, the more people can read me the better. English helps increasing the probability of influence in my tini-tiny number of readers. Finally, and this is between you and me, being understood and writing right, even if aided, is imperative. I‘m fortunate to have alongside an editor that totally gets me and makes magic with whatever little she receives. Having my favorite millennial polishing my raw impressions into coherent ideas has made all the difference as I write about my quest for Unicornios.
Some people say I would be better off expressing myself in Spanish. If English is needed, I can always trust the recently AI-improved Google translate do its thing and have the latest crowdsourcing platform fine-tune the output. That would save me so much time and awkwardness, they say. They are wrong. Because, then, most of what I have published would not exist. What is more, perhaps my experience with writing is even a lesson for how I should engage life: have the courage to become who I am, slow down to find meaning and act to think. Or maybe it’s just a lesson about writing blog posts and that’s all. I don’t know. Here’s what I’m really sure about: you should start writing something, somewhere for someone in whatever language you choose. If you dare, you might find surprising things. Go write wrong!