Want to think better? Write more. - THINKERS Notebook

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Want to think better? Write more.

The image above is from this tweet by writing coach David Perell.

It says: "Read to collect the dots, write to connect them."

Seeing this tweet today, and reflecting on my own experience these few weeks of setting aside more dedicated time to read and write, reminded me of one of the most important lessons I've learned about writing in my career as an online content creator.

The lesson is simple: you don't need to think clearly before you start writing; you do the writing so you can think clearly.

For so long I had this reversed in my mind. 

I would fear the blank page, or just avoid sitting down in the chair altogether, because I didn't feel like I had a firm grasp on what words I was going to lay out on the page. 

But as my experience and my work have evolved, I've come to appreciate writing as a journey, an exploration, a voyage, a treasure hunt, an adventure ... not a final destination for thoughts only once they are fully baked in my head. 

And it's been so empowering. 

There's nothing to fear when you're headed out on a journey, seeking only to find truth and not committed to a particular destination. 

That is what every act of writing can be, if we let it.

This doesn't mean that we shouldn't be reading and thinking and ruminating and considering along the way, in between the moments when we sit down to focus on our writing journey. Of course we should.

The books and articles we read, the podcasts and conversations we listen to, the videos and lectures we watch ... this is how we collect the dots. And we have to have dots.

Have you ever tried to connect the dots on a page without dots? Your pen has nowhere to go, nor even a place to start.

But I encounter too many people who, like I used to, mistake thinking for writing. They feel like everything needs to be worked out in their mind before they sit down to commit pen to paper or keystroke to screen. 

It's not true.

The pen strokes, the keystrokes, this is where the dots connect. This is where the magic happens. This is where you discover what you really know and what you really believe and what you really feel conversant enough to discuss or debate.

The writing connects the dots. The writing organizes the thoughts.

Sure, you can think without writing. You can try to work out everything in your head, or in conversations with others.

But there is something special about setting aside time to do focused writing -- and it's not just the output on the page. It's the clarity and understanding you bring to your mind.

Do you want to think better? The solution is simple:

Write more.

And in this week's THINKERS Roundup, you'll find three more articles that explain why there is nothing better for clarifying your thinking about a subject than to sit down and write about it. 

Exercise your mind like you exercise your body.

"Writing is like weightlifting for the brain. Just as you’ll improve your food diet if you start cooking, you’ll improve your information diet if you start writing. Testing the limits of your ideas is the fastest way to improve them and raise your intelligence. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Jeff Bezos:

“People who write a lot, also listen a lot. They also change their mind a lot. Not necessarily with new data, but sometimes re-analyzing the same data. They also work hard to disconfirm fundamental biases.”

"An empty white page is a mirror into your mind. When the ideas in your mind are clouded, so are the words on the page in front of you. Re-writing is re-thinking. It’s the best single best way to sharpen your ideas. And once your ideas are as clear as a Neiman Marcus mirror, you’ll be able to teach them to others."

Read: Why you should write (David Perell)


Writing is the path to clarity for a cluttered mind.

"Writing helps you remember the important things and even what might not seem important at the time. It also clears your mind for higher-level thinking.

"One of my favorite memes equates a writer to a browser with 2,589 tabs open at the same time—a constant swirl of thoughts and ideas. Getting those open browser tabs down on paper (or on screen) helps your mind make sense of what’s going on. It also opens your channels to focus more fully on a specific idea or thought."

Read: Why Writing Helps You Figure Out What You Believe (Pro Writing Aid)

Writing is how you develop critical thinking skills, not just how you display them.

"Learning how to develop ideas in writing is a major challenge for many students. Developing critical thinking means learning to think clearly and form judgments. Writing can be used as a tool to evaluate a student’s ability to develop coherent arguments."

Read: How Essay Writing Can Enhance Your Critical Thinking Skills (American Board)

Quote of the week

"I write to discover what I know."  

-- Flannery O'Connor