The American novelist Flannery O’Connor once said “I write to discover what I know.”
I think if you need a reason to write, you can’t do better than this.
Our thoughts always appear better in the warm and cushy dwellings of our brain, shielded from close scrutiny, hiding their flaws behind a perfect image constructed by our imagination.
When our thoughts are left to roam freely in the primordial soup of our mind, unexamined and unquestioned, they can produce “offspring,” which can then infest our thinking with wrong, fallacious, shallow ideas. This will dilute our intellectual capacity.
This is why we must pluck our most cherished beliefs from their cozy home and examine them closer. When we do, a few things will happen: we either discover holes and inconsistencies in our reasoning, or realize that we only have an incomplete picture of facts or we’ll strengthen our arguments. Whatever it is, it can only benefit us.
How writing is approached
Usually, we are heavily output oriented. Apart from maybe journaling, which is something you do as a brain dump, storytelling or emotional catharsis, writing is seen nowadays as a means to generate a finished product: social media posts, shopping lists, blog articles, essays, emails, copy and so on. Writing has become just another form of content creation, and its abilities to fortify our thinking have taken a back seat.
Writing is a profoundly intimate act. What can be more personal than a conversation with yourself? Writing transcends ages in both senses: across the generations and inside a generation. A middle school student and an octogenarian can both do it and reap the benefits. Ancient Greeks did it and humans 2000 years from now will still do it (barring some catastrophe.)
Why You Should Write
A quick Google search on “why you should write” will produce articles with dozens of list points ranging from organizing your thoughts to improving your communication, in general all valid and worthwhile endeavors. I’m not dismissing those approaches, but I think we can do better than that.
Writing Beyond School Assignments
The ability to express understanding in one’s own words is a fundamental competency for everyone who writes – and only by doing it with the chance of realizing our lack of understanding can we become better at it.
We’ve all had to do them, the dreaded writing assignments. I understand that the act of self-assigning a written paper to yourself may sound insane, but hear me out. There’s no better marker for how well you understood a subject than how clearly you can write about it. So, if there’s a particular thing you’re trying to master, then you can test your proficiency by writing 500 or 1000 words on that topic.
Writing will help you:
- get clear on what you know vs. what you think you know
- observe your thought process
- discover your weak points and gaps in your knowledge
- develop your arguments
- present clearer explanations
If we write, it is more likely that we understand what we read, remember what we learn and that our thoughts make sense.
Writing Beyond Content Creation
With everyone trying to rank for a keyword, blogging or simply writing on the Internet can turn into a number’s game, depleting one’s intellectual interests, rendering one’s content bland and soulless.
To move past the conveyor-belt of blogging, where the only metric is how well your content is optimized for the search engines, one must allow themselves to explore their natural curiosity and go deeper into the topics that give them brain chills. Always chasing numbers and choosing topics based on what others want to read, instead of what you’re naturally inclined to create, will make your writing lack authenticity.
These are all the topics that light up a fire in your heart, that make you stay up until 2am, following rabbit holes, chasing your curiosity. Everyone has a subject that they could talk for hours on end about, so why not write about it? If you start doing that, you may soon realize that you need to fill in some knowledge gaps or do more research on a specific area. Plus, you’re sharing something you deem valuable with the world, and we need more people doing that.
It’s crucial not to attach any expectations to these projects, because, remember, you’re not trying to “create content,” you’re just sharing what you know or what you learn about your passions. The minute you treat this like a business, you’re in a different territory.
It’s likely that if you start getting your ideas out there, if you release them into the Internet “ether,” they’ll become a magnet for the people who are interested in the same things as you. This way, you’ll increase your luck-surface area, opening the door for new opportunities and unexpected encounters. Your ideas will develop a life of their own, they’ll become your metaphorical “business card.”
Publishing your writing will for sure attract others like-minded people and open you up to a new world of ideas. And that, to me, is invaluable.
I can’t know for sure, but if I had to guess, I’d say the world is full of unfulfilled novelists or poets, people who fantasize about writing that bestselling story, but they never get past the resistance that comes with doing any creative work.
I think one of the thoughts that paralyze people is the thought of their work being unsuccessful, or worse, criticized. But that can only happen if you publish the work in question. There isn’t any law that states you need to publish everything you write. The thought that you can create something that will remain anonymous can be sad, but also liberating, because you’re only focused on the work, without worrying how it’s going to be received.
You can either choose to be criticized or ignored.
Creating a collection of poems or a short novel can be incredibly rewarding and I’ve heard many people who did so, but kept their creations to themselves, without losing an ounce of satisfaction.
If you want to publish your work, but you’re apprehensive about writing under your own name, there’s an easy fix for that: adopt a pseudonym. You’ll join the ranks of other successful writers who adopted a pen name, such as Eric Arthur Blair (who you probably know as George Orwell) or Samuel Clemens who wrote under Mark Twain.
Writing Beyond Goal Setting
In the age where goal setting is done with more precision than open-heart surgery, it would be a breath of fresh air to approach this activity in a more flexible manner. While SMART goals may have their place, it can be daunting to have to stick to a “formula” every time you set out to do something.
Researchers found that writing about important topics, such as one’s values, aspirations or gratitude is conducive to positive emotions and increased well-being.
I’ve found one of the best formats to do that is to write a letter to yourself. The beauty of a letter is that after the “Dear X” part, the content is free to take any form you may feel. It’s perfect for stream of consciousness style, which can unshackle you from any rigid template.
And if you can’t be bothered to take out pen and paper, consider using a website like FutureMe, which lets you write letters to yourself that will arrive in your inbox in a time of your choosing (even 10 years!)
Writing as Therapy
Write about your unresolved past issues.
Pennebaker (2004) found that writing produced positive outcomes for people detailing their emotional turmoils, traumatic experiences, or simply overwhelming life events. These findings have also been replicated by other studies. Among the benefits that writing about your past experiences can induce, there’s the improvement of coping skills and better decision making, as well as increased well-being.
However, positive outcomes are not limited to only traumatic events. King (2004) found that focusing on negative experiences is not mandatory for reaping the benefits of writing. Thus, detailing positive past events or writing about the future in a favorable light will bring about the same effects on one’s mood and quality of life, as when writing about hardship.
Fredrickson’s (1998) “broaden and build” model of positive emotion suggests that positive emotional experience, in contrast with negative emotional experience, broadens the individual’s attention and thought processes and presents an opportunity for building skills.