6 Aug 2015
A Good Writer Is a Good Thinker
We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect. —Anaïs Nin
When I’m writing, I’m wandering. I’m wandering (and wondering), gathering my thoughts and arranging them through the medium of the written word.
It can be on paper or on screen (increasingly it’s the latter), but the purpose is the same. Writers are adventurers, they are the travellers of knowledge, embarking upon journeys into the unknown, following link after link after link, before distilling the voyage they’ve taken into a map, a guide to their journey, that might – one day – help others.
The web – by its very nature – foregrounds the connections between different clusters of knowledge. Links link. One article leads to another. As you make the journey from destination to destination, all inevitably connected by that trail of links, you begin to tease out understanding.
It’s this drawing together, this weaving together of knowledge, that is the important part. Your journey is unique. The chances of another pursuing the same path, link by link (or book by book), is – statistically – impossible. Your journey leads you to discovery and, through reflection, comprehension. You see the connections others haven’t, because your journey is your own.
Thinking Through Writing
The written word allows you to shape thought. Spending some time ‘writing around your ideas’ enables you to get your thinking in order. As Josh Clark put it in January, writing here, for The Pastry Box:
Writing gives form and discipline to ideas. Committing notions to paper gives clarity, tests logic, and inevitably brings up even more ideas.
I couldn’t put it better. Clark goes on to state:
I don’t do this enough, and I miss it. Last year, I wrote only a single post. Most of my thoughts stayed trapped in my own head, untested by bringing them into the light.
Reading this resonated with me and, perhaps like Clark, was one of the reasons I committed to writing throughout 2015 for The Pastry Box. I wanted to release the thoughts trapped in my head and, as Clark poetically put it, bring them into the light. The simple act of writing – here and elsewhere – is keeping me on my toes, intellectually.
Whether you publish your writing or keep it private, perhaps in a journal, the act of writing allows you to clarify your ideas, teasing out your arguments, leading to further avenues of investigation. The written word keeps you sharp and agile mentally. It’s good exercise and, as everyone knows, the mind is a muscle that – just like any other – benefits from a thorough workout.
Making Sense of the World
Like many, I’m trying to make sense of the world. Like many, I’m trying to wrestle my innermost thoughts into some kind of coherent order that adds up.
The act of writing is a process. It’s one of self-discovery and moving towards understanding. Writing is incredibly powerful, and – like anything powerful – requires a lifetime of practice to master. Put the effort in, however, and the rewards will be ample.
Writing isn’t easy. It’s hard. This is why so many people abandon it. It’s a shame, because I routinely see – in my teaching – that the students who have the tenacity to persevere reap immeasurable rewards, forever changed through a process of reflection.
This is why I encourage my students to write. Through writing they make sense of the world, embarking on a journey from existing knowledge into new knowledge. They start to see the deep truths inside themselves, and by uncovering them, are forever altered.
Haruki Murakami, a wonderful author, captures this perfectly when he states:
I came to feel strongly that a story is not something you create. It is something that you pull out of yourself. The story is already there, inside you.
Stephen King echoes this thinking, writing:
My basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow (and to transcribe them of course)… stories are like found things, like fossils in the ground.
Words draw the story to the surface and bring it into the light.
A Playground of Words
Stories are formed from the experiences you enounter. The books you read, the links you traverse, everything you experience…. All of this slowly, but surely takes form, crystallising, inside you.
As a writer you reach inside yourself to pull this material out; you wrestle and you fight to give it form. As David Weinberger put it (in 2002):
You are what you write. On the web we are writing ourselves into existence.
The idea of, “writing yourself into existence,” can be intimidating. At the end of the day, however, there are considerably riskier undertakings. Writing is a playground, and playgrounds are where we discover, through the act of play. As Cat Noone puts it, in Your Writing Is Crucial:
The human brain does something very interesting when it writes… It creates order and structure to the input received. Understanding what happens in our brain while we write, it’s easy to see how it becomes the way we affirm our thoughts. More importantly, it is the way we share our thoughts, allowing others to prove or disprove them.
Sharing shapes you. As Noone puts it, writing not only affirms our thoughts, but allows others to participate in that affirmation in the process of play. Together we edge forward towards understanding.
Writing isn’t easy, but its rewards when one perseveres are plentiful. Like anything, practice makes perfect; put in the time and the pay off will more than outweigh hard work and effort invested. Stick with it, don’t give up.
I’m looking forward next month to exploring the idea that ‘you are a channel’ and that – by putting some thought into what you communicate – you shape your perception of yourself and others’ perception of you. See you in a month for the next step of the journey.