Howard Marks’ book The Most Important Thing has sold three-quarters of a million copies.
I don’t know what the list of all-time best-selling investment books looks like, but that is up there.
The funny thing is that the book is based on memos Marks began sending to his clients in 1990. And the memos spent most of their existence in obscurity, ignored by readers. He told Barry Ritholtz:
RITHOLTZ: And what was the feedback when you sent the first one out?
MARKS: For 10 years, Barry, I never had a response.
RITHOLTZ: Crickets, just nothing?
MARKS: Not only did nobody say they thought it was good; nobody said ‘I got it.’
Why write into an echo chamber for a decade? Marks explained:
The answer I think is that I was writing for myself. Number one, it’s creative, I enjoy the writing process. Number two I thought that the topics were interesting and that I wanted to put them on paper. Number three, writing makes you tighten up your thinking.
I love this. “Writing for yourself” is under-appreciated.
Investors do all kinds of exercises to make sense of the world—modeling scenarios in spreadsheets, conducting diligence on management, or reading pitch decks. But few exercises help clarify your thoughts better than writing.
Writing is the ultimate test of whether your thoughts make sense or are merely gut feelings. Feelings about why something is the way it is don’t need to be questioned or analyzed in your head because they feel good and you don’t want to rock the boat.
Putting thoughts onto paper forces them into an unforgiving reality where you have to look at the words as the same symbols another reader will see them as, unaided by the silent crutch of gut feelings.
It’s hard to overstate how important this is in an industry where distinguishing what’s true from what you want to be true determines a big part of success.
Most investors I know are voracious readers. They want more than just new information. They want a different perspective, or a new way of thinking about a topic they’re already familiar with. That’s what the best writers provide.
But where do good writers get “perspective”? Where does “context” come from?
Most of it comes from the process of writing.
*Featured post photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash