There are a handful of writers for me that—as the cool people say—live in my head rent-free.
- Sam Harris
- Christopher Hitchens
- Scott Adams
- Mark Manson
These four styles have served as models for me over the years, so I wanted take a quick look at what I like about each of them.
Sam almost doesn’t belong on the list because I feel so similar to him—possibly because I was heading that direction in my writing already (back in the early 2000’s), or because I bit his rhymes so thoroughly that I just think that way now. Either way, I am indebted.
His style isn’t so much a style as a lack of one. It’s pure clarity and precision. He does have a tremendous talent for metaphor though:
He especially does this when speaking.
This is how you play tennis without the net.
Sam Harris, Being Pissed at Someone Cheating
The combination of extreme clarity with occasional mental imagery is piercingly effective.
Hitchens was the most eloquent writer or speaker I’ve ever heard. I regularly re-listen to God is Not Great just to feel inspired as a thinker and a writer.
I’ve never heard sentences constructed or woven together so brilliantly as in that book. And to hear him speak these words is doubly powerful. We’re blessed to have many recordings of him at debates, and most importantly—narrating the audio versions of his books.
He was especially talented at alternating between long, complex sentences and short crisp ones.
My own view is that this planet is used as a penal colony, lunatic asylum and dumping ground by a superior civilization, to get rid of the undesirable and unfit. I can’t prove it, but you can’t disprove it either.
Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great
Adams is the author of Dilbert, but he also writes non-fiction and maintains a blog. I’ve fallen out of like with his actual content since around 2015, but his style is still worthy of study.
He takes minimalism to the extreme and also has a tremendous mastery of flow and tempo.
A good argument in five sentences will sway more people than a brilliant argument in a hundred sentences. Don’t fight it.
Scott Adams, from a Blog Post
Mark is the king of a new style of writing that emphasizes rawness and honesty. He basically just says things.
This is best captured in his most popular work, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, where he says things like.
You and everyone you know are going to be dead soon. And in the short amount of time between here and there, you have a limited amount of fucks to give. Very few, in fact. And if you go around giving a fuck about everything and everyone without conscious thought or choice—well, then you’re going to get fucked.
Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
Reading Mark is like taking a bath in truth and honesty. It’s most refreshing. He’s not hiding anything. He’s not trying to sounds smart. He’s just telling you—in a very conversational way—how he sees things and what he thinks you should do.
Most people—including me—could use more of that honesty in their writing.
So this is the extracted DNA from each of them that I look up to and hope to include in my own work:
- From Sam, extreme clarity of thought punctuated by imagery and metaphor.
- From Hitchens, a poetic flow and eloquence.
- From Adams, brevity and impact.
- From Manson, a direct, honest, and casual style.
As far as how close I’ve gotten, I’m 90% there with Sam. 20% of the way towards Hitchens. 80% of the way towards Adams. And—depending on the piece—around 70% towards Manson.
Where are you? And who do you look up to?