Writing changes how we think. To write is to invoke new ways of exploring ideas, expressing thoughts, and uncovering creative possibilities.
When we write, our brains begin to think in terms of prose and narrative, structure and meaning, not merely patterns and dynamic connections between invisible forces. Writing can unlock entire new patterns of thinking for us, similar to how exposing ourselves to new languages, cultures, or even tools, influence our thinking.
When an architect looks at a room, they see everything behind the aesthetic: the way the walls are constructed, how everything is supported and frames, the subtle details most everyone else will overlook. Similarly, when a writer looks at a room, they think of the details nobody else can see. The story the room tells. The characters and their stories, how it all relates to interweaving moments and narratives.
Writing is not merely a way to turn our thoughts into tangible constructs, but it’s also a way to change how we think what we do. You can think of writing as a cognitive technology we use to think in ways other than how we typically do. In our brains, thoughts are presented as networks between many different concepts. When we write, thoughts have to mutate into something we can put onto the page in a more structured and transferable way.
The same goes for drawing, dancing, designing, coding, playing music, and speaking in other languages. When we do these things they require ideas to transform from intangible, ill-defined networks of relationships into more structured representations of themselves. It’s through this transformation that our thinking itself changes. When we conduct these things, not only do we need to have the ideas behind hem, we must find also ways to transfer and communicate them through written formats, spoken words, or other tangible means.
The tools we use to conduct this work influences our thinking as well. The architect who relies on mathematical formulas and software to conduct her business is more likely to think in terms of equations and structure. The artist who expresses himself in cubism is likely to see things from more abstract vantage points. It’s the writer who sees the connections amongst things and the invisible spaces between them.
As Michael Nielsen explains: “You begin to think with the interface, learning patterns of thought that would formerly have seemed strange, but which become second nature…[these] make it easy to have insights or make discoveries that were formerly difficult or impossible.”
The power of writing is that it enables us to, as Michael explains, have insights and think in ways that were previously difficult or impossible to have. Any activity is beneficial in this regard, but it’s writing which enables us to quickly capture thoughts as they occur, to reflect on them in such a manipulatable way. Writing captures these fleeting concepts we call “ideas” and puts them bare in front of us, to explore and manipulate and better understand.
If you want to better understand your creative potential, try writing. A few words a day can go a long way.