I write a lot. Probably more than 99% of people I know. For a while, I thought a lot of my output had to do with really enjoying the intellectual and analytical exercise of putting thoughts on paper. From casual blogs, essays and rants to formal papers or PowerPoint presentations, it’s hard to deny the analytical rigor that good expository writing asks of us (fiction or screenwriting is something else entirely, and as someone who can’t even write a single line of realistic dialogue let alone come up with a crafty response on the fly when my wife accuses me of something, I won’t pretend to be an expert in these areas). But as I get older and busier — and as I have less and less time to pursue writing for the heck of it — I’ve realized that I really write for one reason alone. And in reality, it’s quite simple: I write for the process itself and what the act of writing teaches and does for me.
This might sound a bit corny. And no, I’m not arguing that writing is cathartic. But I know for a fact that sitting down to write sharpens my mind and gets me more engaged than any other activity I could possibly do, including presenting or lecturing to an audience, working with fellow team members in a collaborative manner on a project or even rigorous physical activity such as running, cycling, basketball or squash. Indeed, I believe that act of writing itself — even if nobody else ever sees the output — hones and sharpens our mind and indirectly trains us to structure and prioritize our thinking in general.
I know the power constant writing has had on me outside of building a following of both fans and detractors online. There are many times I’ve found myself without written notes or where I can’t see a PowerPoint because the computer is too far away and I must present or offer an argument to an audience — which might be clients, conference attendees, friends or family. The specific audience and topic is irrelevant. What matters is that when I’m well practiced and rehearsed with writing in general (e.g., 10 really good productive hours of sitting down to a computer in the past week to write), I can construct an argument on the fly to support just about any idea or premise. When I’m not practiced — or out of practice — on the writing front the quality of what I might present extemporaneously declines considerably.
The forced rigor that thoughtful writing (especially thoughtful writing to a deadline) requires provides skills that transfer not just to public or personal speaking, but just about everything we do. For me, the act of writing is just like the act of training for a running race. I would never consider entering a 10K or half marathon without putting in the requisite miles in the months before. Likewise, I’ve now learned that unless I put in the writing “training” on as close to a daily basis as possible — even 45 good minutes is enough to keep the mind sharp — then everything else slips or is not up to the levels I want it to be.
I can see this in a good friend and business partner of mine as well, who recently picked up the pen (for work, nonetheless). His profile suggests someone who doesn’t have any time to write, nor does writing come naturally to him. He is an engineering graduate with an MBA. He moved to this country as a child (English was his second language). He speaks Excel and accounting as well as anyone I know — including CPAs. Yet recently, my colleague started to structure his thoughts on virtual paper, writing more frequently, both on a new blog he started(SMB Matters — insights and commentary on current issues affecting small and medium business enterprises) and even to friends with extremely introspective and thoughtful emails. And I can see how it is changed the way he not only comes up with ideas for his own life and work, but how it regular impacts his thought process and relationships on a daily basis.
The process of writing itself can be good for anyone. Don’t let a little writer’s block or fear of sitting down with just yourself, a keyboard and a screen get in the way of the personal development and training expository writing affords. Whether family matters, procurement, trade, economics, sport, politics or celebrity gossip captures your fancy — or some combination thereof — it doesn’t matter. It’s the process and time spent structuring a written idea and argument that count. Trust me, if you can devote the consistent time to the written or typed word, it will improve everything else you do professionally and personally.