• Vela Georgiev

I’ve Fallen Prey to the False Mantra of “To Write Is To Think Clearly.” Have You?

“Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.” ― David McCullough

If Ship30for30 has taught me anything, it's that I've fallen prey to the false mantra of "to write well is to think clearly".

The implication of "Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly" is that if you can't write "well," then perhaps you aren't capable of deep thought and critical thinking. But here's the catch. Writing to clarify your own thinking is not the same as publishing a piece of writing in order to share your thinking with others, wherein editing and revision come into play, as does understanding the needs of your audience.

Publishing should be about communication, and communication should be more than writing.

Writing to clarify your own thinking vs. writing for others

When you write for an audience, "to write well" is no longer about only expressing your thoughts.

It's also about how well your audience can understand, connect, and engage with your writing. It forces you to consider attention-grabbing headlines, rate of revelation, emotion, tone, style, writing rhythms, visual appeal, and so much more. Writing for others is both a skill and an art.

I'd even argue that publishing is a form of performance art.

And while I've been busy performing these past 30 days, focusing on form over function, deep thinking has taken a back seat. Writing for others has robbed me of deep thinking time. Don't get me wrong: I believe writing has a place in the thinking process, and that's first and foremost as a method of clarifying one's own thinking.

Using writing to clarify your own thinking

For many years, I routinely log 2-5h of writing each week, utilizing mindful journaling practice and active reflection, both of which are central to how I live my life.

Writing to clarify my thinking is about putting thoughts on paper.

It's about exploratory writing rather than explanatory. Anything from a few of bullet points, quickly written sentences, a doodle, a mind map, or free-flowing notes on a page are more than enough to clarify my thinking.

Focusing on function, not form, is what delivers value.

It is also where deep thinking happens. This is distinct from the process of communicating my thoughts to others.

Communicating your thoughts to others

Today's digital world rewards publishing tactics like clickbait headlines, the use of keywords, word count limits, and the gaming of platform algorithms to lure readers and increase reach. No doubt, they're important and a skill. But these tactics are more about writing smarter than better writing, let alone better thinking.

The dictionary definition of the word "write" is to form (characters, symbols, etc.) on a surface with an instrument (such as a pen). In this post, Duncan Anderson, founder of Edrolo, writes about communicating in writing using three different perspectives: (1) Words, (2) Equations & (3) Visuals.

He explains how using this combination of approaches offers new and emergent ways of understanding and communicating that have a greater impact. In practice, it looks something like this:

  • 1=1. Just using words to explain;

  • 1+1=3. Using words and equations to explain;

  • 1+1+1=6. Using words, an equation and a visualization to explain.

In other words, using more than words to communicate your idea has an amplifying effect - for the writer and the reader.

I believe Duncan Anderson has nailed it.

And, importantly, what Duncan describes is also much closer to the kind of thinking that occurs when your use writing to clarify your own thinking (bullet points, symbols, free-flowing sentences, doodles, etc).

Publishing should be about communication, and communication should be more than writing.

Last but not least, as much as I've liked my Ship30for30 experience, I've come to realize that I only enjoy writing for others when I genuinely have something to say. But when I do, I want it to be with polish and skill that makes people take notice. Perhaps trading some deep thinking time for performing time might be a worthwhile trade-off in the long run.