Get the thoughts OUT, now

What is your relationship with writing?

You probably read ~things (I would say most modern Americans do, though it is important, at least for me, to call out that literally 20% of Americans (in 2022) identify as illiterate—meaning they do not know how to read. The average reading level in the US is that of a 6th grader. Totally different topic, but does that shock you? Anyways, if you find yourself on this blog, well, there’s a high-chance you can read, and well, please continue with the post if you so please).

Said ~things that you are reading may be long-form essays or books or tweets (or whatever they are calling the latter nowadays). I would be generally curious, when meeting a new person, what their reading breakdown looks like. What does the split of the pie chart look like? In interviewing new candidates at work, you can learn a lot about them by how they answer that question. Some people will have very vanilla answers: well, I uh, read books every so often. When you ask them what books, they stutter, not because they have so many books in their head to choose from, but because the reality is that, since being assigned readings in high school, they have not read a book so they have no reference to really choose from. And that’s okay! I am not the arbiter of book reading nor intellectualism (though, I am pro book reading as a general tool for learning and collecting ideas). Other times, people will tell you what they read and you can learn pretty quickly what sort of ideas are coming into their lives. Who are they letting influence them? Who are they letting change their opinions? Most people are not super aware of this. Most people have not spent much time thinking on this ~meta-level about who (and whose ideas) they are letting come into their lives (a la mimesis a la girard a la thiel talking about all the time).

But ignore the CONSUMPTION for a moment.

How often are you creating? How often are you WRITING? What are you writing? And why?

For some odd reason or another, I find I am more likely to get along with people (on the margin at least) who intentionally WRITE at least a few times a year. I would define get along with in this context as NOT TOTALLY OPPOSED TO HAVING A MEAL WITH THEM AND ASKING THEM QUESTIONS THAT I MAY BE GENUINELY CURIOUS ABOUT. The reality is that many people—and this will sound dull but true? I would say I would not default look forward to a meal with. But hey, maybe that perspective will change over time (and maybe it will not?).

Back to the prompt—how often are you writing?

I am not talking about texting your friends or writing captions on Instagram (though, those do count!). I am talking about intentional ~long-form essay writing where there is a cursor or blank page of sorts staring at you and YOUR JOB is to color that SPACE in with WORDS.

How often are you doing that?

The answer for most people I meet is quite low. Like, for many, the answer is NEVER. And then for the next group it is BASICALLY never.

And when I ask why…

Most people’s answer, if I had to bet on it without knowing everything about them, is something like: “well, I do not know what to write about.” To which, I say, “what if you wrote about that?”

But then…the list of objections appears:

  • I have nothing to contribute that has not already been said.
  • No one would want to read what I write.
  • I do not want to write anything embarrassing.

Try asking a few people this same line of questions—”why don’t you write something” and they will answer roughly along the pattern I have outlined above.

Why? Why are these the default answers?

Here’s the meta (and the proof that writing has value!) Before writing this essay, I did not have a _very comprehensive thought_ towards this question. Now (and yes, I have finished the essay), I have _something_.

The reason people do not write is because they believe writing is strictly a tool for communication. This is what you are taught in school. Do this homework assignment. WRITE THE ANSWERS HERE.

I make the argument that, while the above is _one use case for writing_, writing is also a tool for THINKING. You can write BECAUSE YOU DO NOT HAVE THE ANSWERS. The process of writing, the melding of ideas and exploring around the museum of your brain—that is a major value of writing. You write to figure out the answers. You write to exercise your mind. You write for the same reasons you lift weights—to get stronger.

And so when people tell me they do not write, I wonder…I wonder what goes on in their head. Does their monkey mind EVER get out of the cage? Do they even have one? Do they have lots of thoughts? Where do those thoughts go?

Perhaps…and here is the benefit of the doubt voice speaking (I like to imagine that giving people the benefit of the doubt is similar to knighting someone…)…perhaps they are content with their THOUGHTS BEING JUMBLED INSIDE THEIR HEAD. Or perhaps their processor works in a different way, where writing does not help with the untangling.

Neither of those answers are super compelling to me. I know this because most people do not give particularly compelling answers to most questions I ask them. The most generous explanation I can think of for this is something like: This tells me that most people have not actually thought about most things and therefore do not have compelling answers unjumbled in their brain. So when you ask them a question, they have to improvise it entirely on the spot and therefore they EXTERNALLY PROCESS which is ~slow, boring, and not that interesting.

Well, the other answer for this is that all people I interact with just do not care much about the conversation and therefore give me boring answers but, eh, let’s pretend I have met enough people who have some sort of incentive to TRY THEIR BEST in conversing with me.

So yes, when you meet someone, and they word vomit external process in order to EVENTUALLY get to the answer that you are looking for—you, the question answer, must be patient and nod and learn and not judge too hard for THE EXTREMELY LAME answer they are giving you.

I wish I could just tell them to write for 30 minutes a day.

Go to the gym for 30 minutes a day. Run for 30 minutes a day. And write for 30 minutes a day.

If they just wrote more of their thoughts down—omg so much would happen GOOD for them. Like…I need to think of better ways to convince people because everyone seems to start a blog thinking that the way they measure their success is by looking at google analytics but the way I would think about tracking success is actually by looking at how well they show up in conversations with others.

If they just wrote…

Meanwhile, I, a person obsessed? with writing to some degree (at least as a form of thinking), am left questioning—what are you doing with all those thoughts in your head? How do you just sit with them there so DISORGANIZED? Do you not feel the compulsion to get them out and map them and start to connect them and activate them?

I remember reading a Sidney Lumet book where he talked about needing to do a crossword puzzle every morning before being on set in Making Movies. This was his way of getting his ideas out early and starting to activate his brain. This thought captures the exact reason I write in the mornings. To turn on the processor. To start firing references between nodes in my brain.

GET THE THOUGHTS OUT. Start the processor. Find the linkages. Think in shapes.

Writing is THE tool for thought.


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