This is one of the lessons that every writer comes to appreciate: writing is thinking. Writing is not the artifact of thinking, it’s the actual thinking process. There’s no shortage of great quotes on this topic, the implications are less clear:
Writing is the planning process and the final product: You don’t design a final piece of writing the same way you might design a computer on paper. No writing emerges complete; everything has a starting point, and it’s usually a really crummy first draft. (It might also appear as an interview, a note, etc.)
Writing as start and end point: With other processes, there are different tools for preliminary work—many things start with pen and paper, but most things transition into either different software of some sort, or into the physical realm. If you’re making a film, for example, you’d probably start off writing a screenplay, or drawing storyboards (it used to be on pen and paper, I’m sure there’s software for it now). After sketching out a design, say, you’ll load up Figma. By contrast, the materiality of writing is confusing because it starts and ends with ink on paper (or characters on a screen). Writing can start and end in Google Docs; this leads many people to think the writing process is an end point, and neglecting it as a starting point. It can be either!
Writing a crummy first draft: If you only read books or polished articles, you might think that this is how all writing should simply be. If you’d started seeing people’s first drafts, or journal entries, or notes, you’d realize it was completely the opposite; the writing only ended up like that after a ton of revisions. A lot of writing starts off as wastewater.
Write for fun, even if it makes you look stupid and feel embarrassed: Don’t be afraid to write something that reads poorly thought out, entirely dumb, or completely whimsical. Writing is when you can allow your inner idiot to come out and play, to cause a ruckus, and to leave; your more critical self can then poke around and see what they left behind. As long as you’re having fun and not hurting anyone, you’re allowed to be as dumb as you like. In fact, as you pursue your personal interest, you’ll find that discovering your own personal inclinations and unconscious interests makes you luckier. (“Chance IV is the kind of luck that develops during a probing action which has a distinctive personal flavor.”)
Writing is sketching: I’ve always loved the title of the book, Why Architects Still Draw; author Paolo Belardi makes the case that amidst more efficient, tech-driven, methods of putting plans together, drawing by hand is an integral part of the architect’s working process. The same goes for writing. Just put the words on the page; with enough words, something interesting will emerge.
Writing to collaborate: If you practice articulating your thoughts on paper every day, you’ll get better at putting what’s on your mind into words that other people can then work together with you on. You can communicate concerns, possibilities, and action items, more clearly. You’ll write faster, and better.
Writing is just putting words on a page: It’s really that simple, and that difficult. Have fun!
Writing to think shares the same premise as my book, Creative Doing: Great ideas aren’t found, they’re made, through consistent creative practice. Creative thinking comes from creative doing. If this post resonated with you, you’ll love the book—learn more here.