Writing is not thinking, it’s thinking aloud

Part of my motivation to write is the mantra writing is thinking”. I often perceive a lack of clarity in my thought process and opinions, and have pinned hopes on writing as the way to tackle this. Because if I’ve written it out, I will have had to think about every sentence. How each statement links into the next, the logical flow, the flaws in my argument that I hadn’t noticed before.

To an extent, I have felt this in the pieces I’ve written so far this month. In several pieces, I have started writing with a strongly held opinion in mind, before realising that I can’t back it up with much. I soften the argument, or change tack completely. Under the self-imposed pressure of writing a piece a day, this unexpected change of mind/heart is frustrating, but ultimately I know it’s good for me. It forces me to cross-examine my beliefs in a way I sometimes can’t do in my head, or even with other people.

But I think I mistook the writing is thinking” mantra, to mean that I would start writing, the ideas would start flowing, the words would follow, and I would come to a reasoned conclusion. What I should have realised is that writing is thinking aloud.

While I write, I imagine an audience, complete with specific members (hi Mum & Dad), and try to make sure I’m making sense to them. My stream of consciousness is of little help alone in getting my idea across to them. As I write, my stream of consciousness meets my attempts to organise thoughts, which then meets my attempts to express them comprehensibly, when then meets my attempts to make them readable, enjoyable, memorable. It’s not a direct route from brain to page; re-routing is common. Sometimes I want the final piece to reflect this journey and bring the reader along for the ride, but it will often only make sense with some re-organisation. Ultimately, writing is an act of communication, to my imagined audience and maybe more so, myself.

So I find myself in a two-step process with every piece. First I must write to think, then I must use that to write to communicate. There might even be a third step - if the second step is actually more about communicating to myself, the third step is about to communicating to a reader other than me. I’m in the bad habit of often trying to do all three at once. I think I can sometimes see that in poorer results on the page, or maybe I just feel less confident in the process that’s produced those words. I should be more careful to keep the steps separate, but iterative upon each other.

Of course, this very piece is a case in point. I started writing this as a short piece on writing not being thinking. I had been annoyed, as I wrote previous pieces, that my speed of writing (glacially slow) did not match my speed of thinking (slow), and surmised that the old mantra was misguided. But sure enough, writing it out made me realise that writing involves everything thinking involves. Writing is absorbing information, writing is making sense of the world around me, writing is making something stick.

It’s just that writing also means expression of thought. And in that process of expression, the thought deepens, changes and is contextualised. So writing is thinking, but for the sake of my mental clarity and/or pedantry, I’d rather think of it as thinking aloud.

June 16, 2024