It is challenging to write and even more so to write lengthy works based on many sources. For me, a significant part of the challenge involves my assumptions about how such works are produced. I assume the writer must work out all (or most) of the ideas in his mind before he begins to write. Only then can he translate his formed thoughts and mostly finished arguments to the page. In this understanding, thinking happens and then writing emerges as the product of thought.
In one of my favorite books, Sönke Ahrens conveyed Richard Feynman’s adamance that writing is the thinking process. To Feynman, his notebooks were not merely records or even the product of his thinking process, they were his thinking (Ahrens, How to Take Smart Notes, 95). I agree with that sentiment.
Certainly writing is not the only portion of the thought process, but it surely is part of it. Something happens when we are forced to write complete thoughts. It is much more than a change in medium—it is a creation and formation. Writing is not the product of thought. The act of writing is also an act of thinking.
If this is true, how impoverished must we be if we are not actively writing most days? We’re not thinking! But it is also stressful to feel that we should write while at the same time thinking that writing is a elaborate formal undertaking. I do not write as often as I think I should because I set the bar so high for what actually qualifies as “writing.”
In moments like these, it is tempting to look for a silver bullet. “Perhaps,” I speculate, “the right tool or method will ‘fix’ the problem.” But what I really need is a change in mindset coupled with discipline. Ultimately, the writer needs to take up pen or keyboard and simply write (and therefore think).
Our environment and daily habits can either facilitate or hinder this discipline. Zettelkästen and Obsidian have helped me to write more often. But at the end of the day, I still need to take the initiative to think by writing. I need to wrestle to translate and transmute what is in my head into words that may be shared to my future self and to others.
Join me and take a moment today to “think” by converting your emerging thoughts into words.