On the Benefits of Writing

Writing is a tool for augmenting your natural mental abilities. The psychologist George Miller wrote that the human mind can keep seven plus or minus two thoughts in working memory at any given time. When you write things down you move them out of working memory into a more permanent storage where you can refer back to them and remind yourself of them. This increases the absolute number of ideas that you can consider by a large amount.

Another advantage to getting your ideas down in writing is that you can rearrange them and compare them to each other. You can more readily recognize when an idea doesn’t fit or is not true on closer examination.

It is easier to brainstorm when you write your ideas down. You can evaluate them later but you can’t evaluate what you can’t remember so getting them down in writing is a critical part of brainstorming.

When you write your ideas down you can revise them and improve them. Then, when you’ve got them in pretty good shape, you can share them with trusted friends and colleagues and solicit their comments on you ideas. It always seems to help to get more than one perspective on a topic.

Once you’re satisfied with what you have written, you can publish it in any number of ways. For instance, you can post it on a blog. Or, you can submit it to a periodical or a book publisher. The possibilities are up to your imagination.

I write to remember. I write to learn what I think about a topic. I may have a vague idea what I think when I start writing but by the time I finish, I’ll have a cleanly organized, concise expose on my thoughts on the matter.

I write to challenge others to think about the topics I have written about, perhaps even to respond with a comment or a counter post. I would love to have a dialog on most of the topics about which I have written.

When I was a teenager my mother taught high school English. I was never a student in her class. I did get to hear a lot of the things that she taught. One that has helped me structure many an essay is something she called the instant theme method. It instructed that you start by choosing a title that included a specific number of items that you intend to discuss.

For instance, “Three Ways to Stop Being Late to Work”, or “Five Quick and Easy to Prepare Vegetarian Dinners”. Now, with title in hand, you write an introductory paragraph enumerating the things you’ve alluded to in your title. She called this “Tell them what you’re going to tell them.” Then you write a paragraph or two about each item in your list. This was called “Tell them.” You finish up by summarizing, listing each of the things you’ve written about and maybe drawing a conclusion, for instance, “I like the spinach lasagna best.”

While this remains a classic structuring technique, just have a look at the click bait articles on the internet or the advertising supported videos on You Tube if you need convincing, I think I am starting to move beyond exclusively using that structure and learning other organizational techniques. When I have them clearly cataloged I’ll share them with you.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.