writing, writer, notes

How a writing habit can change your life


The daily practice of writing is the habit that has most changed my life. I believe it is an amazing thing, that can transform your life as well, given the right amount of care. In this article I will attempt to convince you of the importance of writing, presenting an argument for why you should embark on this journey.

Writing builds understanding, which leads to learning and creativity

An idea exists in your mind as an amorphous, ephemeral notion. It is a vague concept that shifts with your thought. This makes it hard for us to see connections between this and other information, and makes you liable to various inconsistencies of thought and argument.

Writing forces you to solidify and elaborate on an idea. You fix it in an external form, which requires you to think it through and fully develop it in a logically sound way. In this way you solidify the idea in your mind as well, as it is no longer a vague notion, but an independent and developed thought.

Creating a latticework of ideas

In this way you form a latticework of ideas through writing. By developing an idea we solidify it in our minds. By explicitly stating (in writing) a connection between information we render the link more meaningful, and therefore stronger. Through writing, you tremendously strengthen the web of your current knowledge.

This works wonders for our understanding, which is just linking new ideas to our current knowledge. If we ground and develop our current ideas, solidifying our latticework, it naturally follows that it will be easier to link new ideas to them. A strong latticework of knowledge is essential for being able to interact with and understand new ideas effectively.

A representation of the latticework of my current knowledge, with dots being individual ideas, and lines being explicitly stated (and therefore meaningful) connections between them.

Think of it as an electricity pylon. If it is built out of wood (weak connections), then it cannot support much added weight (new ideas). However a steel pylon (strong connections) can support a much larger weight (new ideas), more easily. The stronger the latticework, the easier it is for us to add new ideas to it (and understand them).

Strong connections means more weight (new ideas) can be added on.

Meaningful connections foster learning and creativity

Past understanding, there are two more benefits that stem from this. First of all it fosters long-term learning. Learning is all about building a meaningful connection between a cue and a piece of information (for example a heading — favourite pizza toppings — and information — anchovies, ham, cheese). It follows that the more cues there are (the more ideas we link to new ones), and the more meaningful these connections are (resulting from solidified ideas and explicit relations), the easier it is for us to learn. The more ideas we have truly learned and understood, the more connections we have to draw on, and the easier new connections and therefore learning is. A virtuous cycle manifests itself.

This learning is also smarter than traditional methods. One idea acts as a cue for another, meaning by strengthening this connection what we get is an unbroken chain of ideas that arise effortlessly, when relevant (a related idea has been drawn on).

Creativity is just the linking of seemingly disparate ideas. The more disparate and the stronger the connection, the better. By allowing us to see connections, and explicitly state them, writing fosters creativity.

Daily writing cultivates creative fertility

Following on this theme of creativity is the notion that the daily ritual of writing cultivates a period of increased intellectual and creative fertility. This practice of writing every day at the same time brings about this period of thought and reflection, where ideas pour forth. The brain, in fact, starts to recognize the time and conditions, and associate them with thought and creativity.

The power that comes with this is indescribable. My writing every morning is just a period of utter flow and razer focus, where paragraphs seem to craft themselves. I am often left hurriedly transcribing the flood of ideas. I believe this is a magical state, one which you can achieve and benefit from as well.

Writing hones clarity and allows you to clear up your thought

The Zeigarnik effect is a principle that states that an unresolved/interrupted task or thought occupies much of our attention. Think about it. If you have some brilliant idea in your head, with no way of making sure you act on it, it tends to occupy much of your thoughts. Writing allows us to counteract this. By writing down an idea in a system you trust you eliminate this drain of attention, freeing up your working memory, promoting clarity and focus. Moral of the story — find a system you trust and consistently write down your ideas.

Writing down your feelings also comes with great advantage. Often anxiety, stress, melancholy, dread all result from vague and unjustified fears in our head. It is often the delusions that are the root of the problem. These can be removed through the practice of writing, clearly defining something and seeing the errors in your judgement about it. These negative emotions lose their power over us once they are trapped in the confines of the page.

Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it — Viktor Frankl

You develop your communication skills

Writing refines your communication skills, firstly by requiring you to structure arguments logically and coherently (as it will be obvious if they are not), and by getting you to reach for more sophisticated words and expressions. By writing you hone your skills of clear and concise communication, which has obvious long-term as well as daily benefit.

Writing externalizes your thought

With writing you can analyze and assess things, gain distance from them. The ideas now exist in an external system, one relatively free from the prejudice and misconception that plagues your mind. Writing requires you to form a clear chain of reasoning, and allows you to easily spot when it is not. It is therefore very easy to detect weaknesses in your arguments and opinion.

I like to think of writing as scaffolding for your thought, with sentences representing the various beams and poles that crisscross the immense structure of our thoughts. The more scaffolding, the easier it is for structure to rise and develop.

I speak more about the power of language in shaping thought here.

Writing guides your learning

Writing lends focus to your consumption. Your learning process needs something to guide it, some tension, leading it in a certain direction. Writing provides this, just as a work project, or a school test, would.

Learning for the purpose of writing, outputting something, has changed the learning process for me. The endeavor is more strategic and focused, based not on the fanciful wandering of my interests, but on a clear plan to output something . The goal of writing about something you are learning provides much-needed tension, pulling your learning in a direction and giving it focus.

Learning with the goal of writing actually leads to higher quality consumption. I am more attentive, retain more knowledge, and find greater understanding as I know I need to be able to explain it simply at a later stage, in my writings.

The focus, direction, and incentive provided by writing in the learning process is valuable.

Planting the seed

A love for writing can lead to great things in your life. My blog started out as me just wanting to write, and grew into a desire to learn and share, and has transformed my life. Many people have become very successful from writing. Who knows where your writing will take you — maybe a book, articles, a new career even? By building a daily habit of writing we plant the seed for your future, something that can potentially blossom into a grand enterprise.

If you are still not convinced of the power of this habit I recommend you check out my blog post on The Nature and Magic of Writing.

This is part ½ in a series “How and Why You Should Start Writing Daily”. The next entry can be found here.

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[…] I can assure you that writing is more important than at least one thing on your schedule, and provides many more benefits. So identify something you do that is less important than writing, and scrap it, even if this comes […]