David Perell on Writing Online

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David Perell is an evangelist for writing online and he’s built a business around his passion that is as improbable as it is successful.

If you don’t spend a lot of time online you may never have heard of him; if you do, he’s unavoidable. On the Internet, David is the self-declared “Writing Guy.” 

He’s created a high-end writing academy called Write of Passage, as well as a couple podcasts, one of which, How I Write, launched last year. 

The guest list for How I Write is a murders row of some of the biggest names in business: Marc Andreessen, Howard Marks, Chamath Palihapitiya and Tim Ferriss. His next guest will be OpenAI’s CEO Sam Altman, arguably the top get for any financial journalist.

His achievement is remarkable when you realize he hasn’t worked as a professional journalist or copywriter or in any editorial role at a publishing house. He’s taught 2,000 students. A five-week course is about $4,000.

What David lacks in traditional credentials, he more than makes up for in talent, passion, ambition and hustle. His optimism is infectious.

David started posting online after graduating from Elon University in 2016. He tackled subjects ranging from his Christian faith to why the Boeing 737 Max crashed. Two essays that stood out for me: Peter Thiel’s Religion and News in the Age of Abundance. 

I stumbled across David’s writing a few years ago and my immediate thought was: “Who does he think he is?” Also, “Who gave him permission?”

My assumption that you need to be “certified” to call yourself “The Writing Guy” reflects a generational gap. 

Gen Xers like me were brought up thinking we need some sort of official approval, usually derived from a diploma or job title. 

David understands it’s not your employer that makes you a writer, it’s the writing.

The digital economy is filled with similar examples. Self-taught engineers are hired for their coding skills, with or without degrees.

As if to reinforce the point, the “About” page on David’s website lists his work — essays and interviews — not where he went to school or worked.

I suspect David’s guests appreciate the substance over style. They probably also notice his efforts to create the right environment for a serious conversation.

He set up a book-filled studio and strives to recreate the same atmosphere even when traveling. David borrowed furnishings from his parents’ house to decorate a conference room at A16Z when he recorded Marc Andreessen. 

I joined a webinar David hosted last week. He said the podcast has convinced him he should help clients focus on quality to produce longer, deeper articles. 

That idea probably came in part from Kevin Kelly, the former Wired editor, whose advice to writers in the podcast was succinct: “Don’t be the best, be the only.”


WHY WRITE: David Perell in his own words on the value of writing online.

HOWARD MARKS: Howard Marks’ advice for writers is to focus on quality over volume when writing online.

: MORGAN HOUSEL: What David Perell took away from what Morgan Housel learned from Howard Marks: writing helps promote clear thinking.

VONNEGUT’S EIGHT RULES: Kurt Vonnegut’s eight rules for great writing are timeless.

PAUL GRAHAM: Paul Grahman from Y Combinator is one of the most thoughtful and prolific executives writing online. Here are his thoughts on why and how to write.