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Writing is thinking

// Short reflection on why it's important to slow down and start writing, plus some tips.

I don’t know about you, but I used to have hundreds of neatly organised and categorised notes that I collected during the years. Don’t get me wrong, I still have them, but they’re becoming less and less organised.
And that’s a good thing.

I realised that too much of my time was spent collecting and organising these notes, not much on reviewing them, and definitely not enough on working with them.

Taking notes is different from writing.
You could compare taking notes and writing, with collecting inspiration and sketching versus actually painting.

The first ones don’t require a real commitment. You are not expected to finish your sketches, the same way as an unfinished note is nothing to worry about.
When writing a long stand-alone piece, or working on a painting, even if you do it just for yourself, you commit yourself to the result. You want what you created to be able to exist on its own.

Below I’m going to try and explain why I find writing, even if just for myself, so useful. Yes, sometimes I publish my writings, but that’s a small part of it. And, most importantly, it’s not the objective.

Writing to understand

Putting your words on paper, even if digitally, forces you to deal with the core of the topic at hand.

Writing forces you to think about how you express your thoughts.
Your words need to stand alone on the paper. No one can read your mind so you need to be clear. And to be clear you need to fully understand the topic at hand.

Reviewing what you wrote helps you better memorise things but also understand how much you actually understand of what you’re talking about.
Connections you didn’t see before will start popping into your mind and you’ll have to clearly explain how those connections work.

Writing for problem solving

Since writing helps you understand topics on a deeper level, it’s only obvious that it can help you brainstorm around issues and find a solution for them.

Choose a challenge that’s on your mind, set it as the title of the document, and start writing.

Ask questions and answer them, use bullet points, move sentences around, and analyse every question that arises from every possible angle.

Help yourself out by formatting words or sentences to easily identify them: [^I highly suggest you to use a markdown based text editor, since it makes it a breeze to style with just your keyboard.]

  • Use bold to make the topic of a paragraph stand out
  • Use italic to indicate something you’re not sure of or that could change in the future
  • Use strike through for items you don’t need but don’t want to delete
  • Use ==highlight== for actions or brilliant ideas
  • Use [ ] to create tasks for future actions you need to complete

Writing to clear your mind

Sometimes your head is spinning, with too many thoughts on your mind it seems impossible to put some order to them.

Even if difficult, that’s probably the best moment for you to start writing. Regurgitate every thought into sentences, don’t care if they’re all broken into what seems to be incoherent pieces and, for now, don’t go back and correct anything. Let the stream flow.

Put it all out there and you’ll see that, soon enough, your mind will start focusing and your thoughts, one by one, will take a clear shape.

And hey, even if that doesn’t happen, you’ll end your writing session with a much clearer mind anyway.

Writing to feel accomplished

This is more of an extra than a real goal but I think it’s worth adding it to the list.

Even if it’s not your primary objective (but it can be a good motivation), it is satisfactory to raise your eyes from your text and realise you put down hundreds, if not thousands, of words. They represent your unique thoughts, and you did all of that in just one session.

Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.
— Neil Gaiman


If you need help getting started…

Sometimes getting yourself in writing-mode can be difficult. Even sitting down and open your laptop can become a challenge.

Here are three simple tips that can help you out:

Choose the right tools

What you want to do is to remove as much friction as possible from the act of writing.

There are plenty of writing apps out there but, honestly, even the basic text editor or Word could be fine.

Still, my personal suggestion is iA Writer, which has a limited set of features, works with markdown, and opens (by default) with an empty page so you can immediately get into your writing flow.

It’s beautiful, solid, and extremely simple to use. The team behind it really understands writers and they prove it with every release.

If you prefer pen and paper that’s great as well, just make sure that the tools you use work in your favour and do not cause any friction when you want to get started.

Try freeform writing

Often times it happens that, even if you want to write, you don’t know what to write about. That doesn’t only happen if you’re working on a book or a project, even writing a journal entry can be surprisingly difficult.

In those cases it’s good to try the freeform writing technique:

  1. Set a timer
  2. Start writing about anything that you have in your mind
  3. That’s it

Don’t stop until the timer rings and don’t look back and fix what you just wrote. Once again, let it flow.

You’ll see, as you progress, that your brain will naturally come up with new ideas and follow ups and, before you realise, it’s going to be hard to stop.

Shut the door

Writing is a solitary task, you need to be able to focus and lose yourself in your thoughts.

Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself.
– Franz Kafka

If possible, as suggested by basically every writer out there, sit down in your writing room and close the door.   Otherwise, considering nowadays limited living solutions, it’s often enough to put your headphones on, even with no music going, to signal that you need some time for yourself and are focusing on the task.

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