Perhaps, running a website dedicated to my own essays, I am biased, but I honestly believe that copious amounts of writing, as well as reading, is one of the best things anyone can do for themselves in the long term.
Regular, structured writing has a large number of benefits, and I want to highlight these in today’s essay.
I would go as far as saying that writing has made me a completely different person, because it has made me understand the need for clarify, focus, and precision.
Also, while you should always aim for quality vs quantity, writing is also great because it’s something that is very statistical, in the fact that you can very easily track how many words you write each day.
While obviously you could write five thousand words of crap everyday quite easily, it’s much harder to write two thousand well thought out words each and everyday, but it’s something that is great to aspire to.
Two thousand words a day is just the right amount. It’s requires a certain time commitment, and so this can make it a difficult task, but you know what?
Difficult is good.
We should strive to do those things which most people shy away from, and regular writing is a perfect example of this.
By the way, this writing doesn’t have to be public writing like I do on this website, a simple private journal will do. The important thing is that you just write something meaningful. It can be a commentary about what happened in the last week in your life, it can be your thoughts, it can be everything you know about a certain topic, it can be a simple short story.
When you first start writing, it’s not going to be very good. It fact, it might well be quite terrible. That’s ok. I’ve been attempting to write for four years and I still struggle to create a coherent essay.
Here are a few reasons why writing is important, and I’ll update and add to this list every so often.
1. Writing Distills Your Thinking.
When you write, it forces you to turn the abstract and scattered thoughts you may have about a subject into concrete words and sentences.
This is an absolutely fantastic way to gain clarity in your ideas, and to understand exactly where you stand on a variety of issues.
There is a very similar concept in software and systems development. Someone has to create what is called a “functional specification”, which is essentially a very detailed set of written documents and drawings that describe in (sometimes insane) detail how a piece of software is supposed to work.
The person who is responsible for writing this document will interview everyone involved in the project, research alternative solutions, speak to the potential end users to understand their issues, and then needs to take all this scattered and fairly abstract information, and decide the exact order of the screens on a booking form, and the buttons on each screen.
It’s an amazing process, and regular writing over long periods of time will begin to give you a similar detailed view of your own life, your opinions, and your strengths and weaknesses.
Again, I’m not discussing any particular type of writing. This could be a private journal, a blog, or simply creative writing like short stories or poems.
Often it’s case that when you put a view point in writing, you begin to see all the contradictions and logical holes in your argument, and then that forces you to go back and reconcile these issues with your original point of view. You’ll often find that you may then need to do a U-turn and change your opinion complete because it doesn’t float.
2. Writing Slows You Down
Writing, by it’s very nature, is not particularly suited to speed and the general hectic pace of today’s life.
Most people prefer to write in a quiet environment with few distractions, and to write for longer, uninterrupted sessions. Writing for three and a half minutes is not particularly conductive to good results.
It’s rare than in today’s world we can get the chance to spend an hour or two by ourselves, especially during the working week. We all juggle multiple roles in our lives, and each role fights for our attention and time.
So by making this effort to block out time for such a personal pursuit like writing, we naturally tend to slow us down. We need the time and space to consider our words.
3. Writing Turns You Into an Awesome Communicator
Communication is one of the pillars of being awesome. Being an awesome communicator, well, that’s the pillar to being even more awesome!
While it’s fantastic to have a great mind and brilliant ideas, if you’re not able to communicate these ideas effectively, then they are pretty much worthless.
Written communication is what has allowed humans beings to slowly store a body of knowledge to continue to improve as each generation goes by. Think about it, every word ever written, has taken us a small step forward in the journey that humankind has embarked on for the last few thousand years.
Everything around you is possible because someone, somewhere, decided to write it down, so it could later be communicated to someone else.
So being a writer allows you to continue this tradition, and leave something for future generations to learn from. You’re a link in the chain of human knowledge.
The reason why the written word has worked so well for humankind is because once the ink is dry, so to speak, the words are immutable, and this has the advantage that anyone can review them and pick up mistakes, and offer improvements.
This is not something that can be so transparently with oral knowledge, because it tends to get morphed as it gets passed from person to person. If you’ve ever played a game of Chinese Whispers, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
So because the written word can be scrutinised so easily, it means that anyone who writes for other people on a regular basis, tends to start to review his or her work more carefully, with an eye for detail.
The transformation is swift, and incredible. Within a short period of time you’ll find yourself poking holes in your own arguments, clarifying points to make them easy to understand even if you’re not there to explain them, and generally making sure that the structure and order of your writing is as accessible as possible.
4. When You Write, You Learn
This is what I truly love about writing. Is that when you write, you begin to learn two things:
Your own shortcomings. These can be gaps in your knowledge, or just logical gaps in arguments you once thought were solid.
General knowledge and different viewpoints. Because you learn what you don’t know, you can then go and fill these gaps in your knowledge and become a better person.
Occasionally I do something which is akin to a deep analysis of a certain theme or subject. A great example of this is my essay on Delayed Gratification. I wanted to know everything there was to know about delayed gratification, and writing an essay to explain it all to someone else is the perfect way to learn. This ended up being one of the longest essays that I had ever written, and really informative too. I reread it from time to time to make sure I stay fresh on all the information contain within.
Now if we consider that everyone should always be educating themselves, we reach the logical conclusion that everyone should be writing something, as writing is a great way to learn, and learning is at the foundation of education.
This links tightly with the point I made earlier when I spoke about how writing turns you into an awesome communicator. Because you’ll begin to see gaps in your knowledge, you’ll naturally start to want to fill them, and that’s a wonderful feeling, and exactly what continuous learning is about.