Why Writing Helps You Figure Out What You Believe
by Kathy Edens
Where do you stand on the current political environment or the latest hot button issue? What’s your opinion on where your country is headed? What do you really believe about your current leaders?
Or, on another note, what is the purpose of life? What do you believe you were put on this earth for? And what about an afterlife—yay or nay? Where do you stand on organized religion or spirituality?
Finally, what do you want to accomplish today, tomorrow, next year? What is most important to get done and how will you find the time to do it? Where can you scratch out more time to devote to your goals and dreams?
Do you think in big, weighty questions like those listed above? Whether you do or not, writing your thoughts can help you figure out what you believe about everything in life. It also helps you remember what’s important to you.
Writing and remembering
Thoughts rush through your mental processes in a flash. In fact, many of your thoughts come and go in a hair of a second, never to surface again.
How many times have you had a brilliant idea in the shower, only to forget it by the time you get to work? And there’s always the amazing dream you swear you’ll never forget because it was so vivid, but it’s gone hazy by breakfast.
Did you remember everything on your list last time you went to the store? Probably not. Because you can only remember so much; the rest is processed and forgotten.
Writing helps you remember the important things and even what might not seem important at the time. It also clears your mind for higher-level thinking.
One of my favorite memes equates a writer to a browser with 2,589 tabs open at the same time—a constant swirl of thoughts and ideas. Getting those open browser tabs down on paper (or on screen) helps your mind make sense of what’s going on. It also opens your channels to focus more fully on a specific idea or thought.
If you haven’t done so yet, read Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. It’s a wonderful treatise on writing, but most importantly, she lays out her “Morning Pages.” It’s a stream-of-consciousness style writing that helps you clear your head first thing in the morning. It also primes the pump for the rest of the day and opens your mind to more important thinking.
Writing and thinking
Capturing your thoughts helps you think about big ideas. As your thoughts swirl in your brain, they’re fairly incoherent. But as soon as you put them on paper, your brain organizes your thoughts into cohesive ideas. You can think more critically and deeply about the subject at hand. And you clarify your beliefs as you type or write.
How many times have you thought about what you’d like to say on a particular subject, but once you start talking, your ideas are all over the place? It seems rarely to come out as good as you thought it would. Writing helps you solidify your thoughts into a well-built, organized presentation. That’s why teleprompters are so popular.
Another bonus to writing and thinking is capturing your deepest, darkest secrets, dreams, and desires. There’s something entirely liberating about capturing and exploring your dreams and ambitions in a place safe from prying eyes. You can also start your bucket list without worrying what others will think.
Writing and emotions
Do you sit and stew about things that happen? Do you always think of the best comeback long after you’ve left the scene? Writing can help you process the many emotions you feel during the day. You may not even realize how deeply something has affected you until you write.
There are so many articles about the physical and emotional benefits of journaling; it makes little sense to repeat them here. Consider the age old habit of writing “Dear Diary” like you’re writing to your best friend. Then pour out your heart. It will help you figure out how you feel and help you understand yourself better. Self-analysis leads to self-awareness, which is a good thing for a writer.
Writing and goals
Is writing a book one of your goals? Many people would love to write a book, but fear the process. Writing every day in a journal or notebook gives you space to capture your thoughts and ideas over time. Once you’ve filled that entire book, you’ve written the story of “you.” Now you know you can write that novel you’ve got inside.
The best piece of advice (I forget from where it came!) is to do something consistently for 100 days straight to form a habit. I take a piece of graph paper and draw a square of 10 blocks wide by 10 blocks deep—100 blocks. Then I hang it up above my desk and mark a red “X” on each day I’ve completed my habit.
The visual helps you see the continuous flow of marks and makes you reluctant to break the chain. Once you get one row marked, you’ll feel ultra productive, which prompts you to keep going. Your feelings will enhance your productivity, helping you stick to your new habits easily.
This chart can work for any habit you’re trying to build, but is especially effective for writing. Commit to 10 minutes a day. That’s easy enough for anyone to find the time for. Now fill in your grid with red marks. Or you could use gold stars. Whichever motivates you better.
Stick it out until the end of 100 days or the last page in your journal (whichever comes first). You’ll be hooked on writing to help you understand what you think and feel. At the least, you’ll have better self-awareness to help you process what’s on your mind, what you believe, and your opinion on the subjects that matter most.
You’ll also have a record of the past. Reading back through your journal is fascinating. And it helps you remember the small things you can be grateful you didn’t forget.