Everyone should write—not just professional writers.
You might say it’s easy for me to say that because I’m a writer. A singer can just as easily say, “Well, I believe that everyone should learn to sing.” But, out of all the creative means of expressions available to human beings, none intrinsically champions critical thinking, enhances creativity and improves clarity of thought quite like writing. Writing makes us smarter.
Here are some reasons (backed by science) why that is so:
1. Writing helps us untangle the messiness in our minds and allows for clearer thinking.
This is perhaps one of the most beautiful things about writing. In her book,Why We Write, curator Meredith Maran interviewed writers on why they write. Nearly all of them gave self-serving reasons, but there was a delightful, recurring motive of why people write: Writing provides a pocket of time in the present moment to reflect, digest and think deeply.
Joan Didion, author of Play It as It Lays said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.”
Armistead Maupin, author of Tales of the City explained, “I write to explain myself to myself. It’s a way of processing my disasters, sorting out the messiness of life to lend symmetry and meaning to it.”
It’s not uncommon for one to think they have totally grasped a concept until they write it down and realize there are aspects of the concept they hadn’t quite thought about.
Writing, then, is a way to organize our thoughts. It allows us to reflect and helps us gain new insights and achieve new perspectives. You think more deeply when you write, and that helps you see things more clearly.
2. Writing helps us absorb information better and learn significantly more.
Not only do you see things more clearly when you write, you also absorb information better and learn significantly more when you write down information given to you. That explains why students and attendees at conferences and meetings who take notes of lectures or speeches learn more than those who just listen to lectures and don’t write anything down.
Interestingly, according to a study published by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer from Princeton University and University of California respectively, students who take notes on paper learn significantly more than their peers who take notes on a laptop.
The researchers found that laptop users generally type almost everything they hear without devoting much thought to what they are writing. Basically, they are not processing the meaning of what they are taking notes on; rather they are mindlessly transcribing. Transcribing doesn’t require much cognitive activity.