The ways writing helps improve your thinking

A pen and paper, or a digital notepad, are undoubtedly some of the absolute most powerful tools a creative worker can have.

Actually, writing tools are some of the most valuable tools anyone can have.

The reason why writing matters for creativity is simple enough to understand. When you go about your day-to-day your brain is automatically consuming, filtering, and sorting through information. Most of the thoughts you have throughout the day are ignored by your lower level consciousness. i.e. You have thoughts you don’t even realize you have.

Unfortunately the value of those missed thoughts is lost. Again: without us even realizing it.

We’re unable to solve a problem or come up with an original idea because the information that could feed our solution is being filtered out, mentally ignored. That means creative insights are less likely to occur as a result of day-to-day thinking, when we’re not aware of the thoughts running through our own mind.

One way to combat this automatic filtering and sorting process in the brain is to work around it through free writing exercises.

Free writing allows you to capture your stream of thinking without first filtering all of the information.

During free writing, your brain is occupied with the act of writing itself – moving the pen across the page or your fingers over the keyboard – as well as the objective of creating at least somewhat of a flow to what you’re writing. So much so that there isn’t much energy or room for the standard filtering process to take place.

Free writing steps over our mental filtering processes to unveil our more basic thoughts. Of course, at some magnification this isn’t true (or at all possible), but on the face of things the argument stands.

It’s through this overcoming mental filtering that writing helps us to clarify our thoughts and explore possibilities too. When we free write, we control our focus in a way that allows the brain to look just outside of our scope without the burden of staying too-focused.

If you find yourself creatively stuck or digging for new ideas, free writing may be all you need to move forward.

In addition to getting unstuck, writing can help us feel grounded to a situation or event. Seeing written thoughts on a page allows us to manipulate them in a more tangible way than merely thinking can. Rather than trying to imagine how a situation might play out, for example, we can write the words down and then expand on them with additional words (or by erasing or deleting words). This act is ideal for capturing ideas as well as exploring them in depth.

A daily journal, for example, allows us to sort through feelings and situations in a way we otherwise could not. When we write down a problem we’re having or a victory we have achieved, we are able to explore those feelings without the mental filtering process and without the burden of having to sort through so many varied thoughts. In this way, writing allows us to relieve our minds of those situations and make room for newer ones.

Similarly, when we use the likes of sticky notes or a moleskin journal for capturing ideas, that frees up room in our mind for other ideas without risking the loss of previous ones.

I created an app to help this process along, it’s called Prompts.

Even the best ideas must be sorted and stored in the recesses of the mind. No matter how great we think our ideas may be – no matter how hard we believe “I’ll remember this later“ – the brain is a machine that makes the calls, and ideas are regularly shuffled away into places both dark and distant.

If you’re hoping to sort through your thoughts, solve a problem, or have more ideas, try writing.


This is your brain on writing

Unloading mental debt to make room for creative ideas

You should free-write, even if you’re not a writer

Photo by Jeffrey Pacres.