You hate to write, and I get it.
Writing feels like an interruption.
You’ve got all this work to do, and writing a report or summarizing your diagnosis or conclusion takes you away from what you get paid to do. Writing is yet another duty added to a brimming to-do list.
But are there things about writing you may have missed? Bear with me while I argue that writing should be an essential part of most jobs that require humans to work at their peak humanness.
Reason #1: I Get to Reflect
Reflection—that process of slowing to examine something you or someone else has done or said—can have a healing effect. Slowing triggers a meaning-making mindset. You come to understand things better when you step aside to reflect on how your life works, how other people’s words work on your consciousness.
Reflection helps you put things in order: just how much authority do I give the troll on Twitter? (Hint: very little). How can I grow as a husband/wife, friend, mother/father/sibling, colleague? These are the kind of human-scale questions that bubble up from reflection.
Reflection via writing is a dialogue with yourself about what matters. It must be so: because you must choose your first word to type. And then, you must choose the next word and then each word that follows. These choices can be painful, but they become less painful with practice.
Our small dialectical choices are an exploration of who we are. It is an exploration that is wrong, and wrong again, and wrong yet again until it is suddenly right, and we find ourselves with a fitting set of words.
Reflecting when we write makes us more human.
Reason #2: I Did Not Know I Knew That
You’ve been in that odd conversation where a stranger asked a question, and you convulsed an answer that you did now know you knew. Maybe something about the situation made you reveal a deeply held secret (“I’ve always hated applesauce!”) or a hidden desire (“I’ve always wanted to be a street mime.”). But something moved from your brain to your lips and out into the air. And there it sits between you and this other person. The silence around your declaration makes you think, “Wait—that is exactly right. That’s true!”
Writing does this all the time. By starting a conversation with yourself on paper or screen, your work of filling the paper/screen with neat lines of words has the effect of revealing what you know. It also has the effect of showing what you don’t know.
I like to ask writing students to start writing when they don’t know anything. Writing from the vacuum of nothing-knowing triggers curiosity, a primary tool for humans to solve problems and connect with other humans. After choosing words that tell what little we know, pertinent questions line the road to knowing. And then, if all goes well, our will gets engaged, and we begin to care. Along the way, we discover things we didn’t know we knew. In a month, when we read the paragraph we wrote again, we might say, “Huh. Yes. That seems right. I should act on that.”
Dialogue with other humans, even when simulated on paper via writing, is a profoundly human activity and a route to knowing.
Reason #3: I’ll Just Step Aside. And That Feels Good.
Another thing we need to learn is how to get out of the way of our message. When teaching graduate students about communication, I ask them to forget what they’ve learned about self-promotion in writing. Often students are taught they need to establish a positive vibe towards themselves when writing to prove knowledge to instructors and convince executive committees—that showing off their smarts will lead to good grades, promotions, and assignments.
Writing out in the wild benefits from the author getting out of the way. Away from the classroom and boardroom, writing needs to be fast and easily digestible, so readers know new things before realizing they were reading. Personal, clever word-garnishes don’t survive in the wild and can stopper our writing.
Getting out of the way to allow a more meaningful message to accomplish a larger purpose is a mark of human growth. Taking the ego out of our writing is an act of love (which sounds strange) and an act of caring.
Caring is a human thing to do.
Making time to write may just have a humanizing effect on us.
I hope it does.