Public Writing as a Thinking Tool

When I’m solving problems only in my head, it’s hard to see the big picture. There’s a limit on the number of units I can hold in my working memory at any given time. And the connections between them are often fuzzy.

When I write things down, define the problem, goal or action steps clearly, I get a bird’s-eye view of the issue and put it in perspective. I start to see flaws or connections that I couldn’t grok while it was just a jumbled mess inside my head. Writing activates a different part of my brain than thinking. This increases the chance that I’ll get some unexpected insight.

The obvious benefit is that I now have something workable. It’s no longer a jumbled mess between my ears, but an actual thing that exists in the world. This frees up some of the mental space the topic was taking in my mind. I can either do something about what I’ve written or release it and move on to more interesting things.

My mind is also loopy. It tends to dwell endlessly on unresolved issues. Ever noticed that the same pattern of thought has been on repeat in your head for days, months or even years? How many of those thoughts were new? How many were just recaps of the things you thought before? Writing them down breaks the loop and siphons them out on paper/screen, and they often stay there.

You could do it on a piece of paper, or a text file on your computer. I’ve been doing that for years. But the problem with that is that I’m sloppy. I cut myself some slack and don’t probe beneath the surface. But when I write something others can see, that gets a bit more engaging for my mind.

I get an instinctive urge not to embarrass myself, so I put a lot more attention to what I’m writing. This forces me to double-check my sources, be more specific and organize the whole thing into a nice, complete whole.

Writing about topics like productivity and good mental habits forced me to really think about what that means to me. And sharing it with others means I have to get my shit together and produce something actually useful.

The feedback I get is also great. If people can see what you’re thinking, they can point out any errors that you might have missed. It can spark an interesting discussion and connect people.


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