If you’re reading this, you know how to write. And even though you picked up both in elementary school, right now, you’re likely doing too much of the former and too little of the latter.
You might write sales reports, shopping lists, and birthday cards, but none of those are really productive, are they? They’re just necessary. Ironically, all the most productive forms of writing aren’t necessary at all — but that doesn’t make them less important.
Everyone should write.
Why? So you can get rich and famous and build a personal brand and attract millions of readers? No. Everyone should write because writing imposes discipline on your thoughts and emotions.
Writing is the only art where refinement is inseparable from the craft. You can’t take the paint back from the canvas. There’s no need to stop talking on video. You can, of course, make an effort to improve your work in other arts. You can shoot multiple takes, sketch on an iPad that allows for edits, and re-record the song a thousand times. But if you don’t make the effort? Then improvement never happens.
Writing is different. The only way to write is to curate what you think. Every waking second, you’re choosing one thought over another. Now, you have to select which thoughts will go onto the page. You can’t pick all of them. You have to choose.
“Don’t edit while you write,” they say. Nonsense. You’re always editing — because you’re always changing your thoughts. Sure, you can make an effort to not filter yourself as much in early drafts, but it’s impossible to turn that filtering off altogether.
Language is structure. We pick words to assemble sentences and chain together those sentences using commas, periods, and paragraphs. Then, we can build pages, chapters, speeches, even books of great magnitude — but they’re all works of structure and the process of structuring starts with the smallest unit. It affects every part of the coherent result because it affects every second we spend producing it.
You cannot write without structuring your thoughts. But what are your thoughts? Your thoughts are how you respond to your emotions. When someone insults you, you feel hurt. That hurt then starts to inform your thoughts. The connection may last for a second, ten minutes, or a lifetime, but it’s there. Therefore, in curating your thoughts which follow from your emotions, writing is nothing other than structuring your emotional responses.
Again, the difference between writing and other forms of art is that some discipline is imposed merely by engaging in the act itself. You can record a four-hour rant following that time you stubbed your toe, but even if it’s possible to write a really long essay about it, chances are, the fire of rage would fizzle out much quicker — because you’re forced to select which sparks you burn into the page.
That’s why writing breeds self-awareness more so than other crafts and why most of other crafts are, at least in part, also based on writing. Songs are written both in lyrics and tune, videos are scripted, and most radio shows and podcasts follow some sort of outline. That’s not a coincidence. Writing allows us to form and shape our selves unlike any other form of expression. It is the best version of that self that we want to put into our art, and so writing is a critical part of the process, no matter which medium you ultimately choose.
None of your writing needs to happen in public for it to be valuable, for this transformation to take place. You can keep a journal, a diary, or dabble with poems in the notes app on your phone. You can write essays, fiction, or short articles that merely serve as reminders to yourself. You can do all of this for five minutes or two hours, but I encourage you to try any one of it at all.
Whenever you write, however much of it you do, you’re unequivocally, irrevocably telling your story, and you’re doing it in a way that makes processing your emotions inevitable. That’s why everyone should write.