There are many shiny new personal development tools these days. We’ve got e-books and webinars. There’s AI-assisted learning and all manner of Zoom-connected tools. They’re all great, but one of the most powerful development tools has been around for centuries.
Writing is one of the most powerful learning and development tools you’ll come across. It can be decidedly low-tech. All you need is something to write with and something to write on.
Why Writing Helps You
Writing helps you because it gets thoughts out of your head. When thoughts are in your head, they seem connected and working perfectly. But once you get them out of your head and onto a sheet of paper, you spot inconsistencies and difficulties.
Writing helps you because it forces you to be precise. When you write, you must choose your words. And you must turn your words into sentences which join up to form paragraphs and make sense.
Writing helps you because it gives you something to return to. Once you’ve written something down, you can return to it a week later and it won’t have changed. That can remind you of what you were thinking at the time. When you write something down, you can edit it and improve it.
Writing can help you do a better job of solving problems, venting emotions safely, learning new things, and practicing presentations.
Writing Can Help You Solve Problems
The problems you run across in real life aren’t the same as the ones in school. Those were well-structured problems. Most of life’s problems aren’t well-structured at all. There are lots of moving parts. Writing can help you make sense of them.
When Dwight Eisenhower was the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II, he made many complex decisions. When he faced a tough situation, he drafted a memo to himself with the heading “Concerns of A Commander.” Ike would write down what he knew, what he didn’t know, and what he thought. He would work through possible options. He would set the memo aside for a few days and go back to it later.
Writing things out helped Ike make better decisions. There was another benefit, too. He said that he felt calmer after the process of writing his memos.
Writing Can Help You Vent Emotions Safely
Sometimes, people or incidents can hook our emotions. We’re tempted to respond aggressively, but that may not be the best alternative. Writing gives you another way to handle those emotionally fraught events.
Abe Lincoln and many others wrote letters to people they were angry with. In those letters, they vetted their displeasure and their reasons for anger. The catch is, they never mailed the letters. Instead, they worked out their emotions in the letter. Then they were able to respond in a more-balanced way in the real world.
Writing Can Help You Learn New Things
You know about taking notes in class. That’s one way that writing helps learning. Writing can also help you learn from experience, especially new experience.
A good example is Theodore Roosevelt during his first term in the New York State Legislature. Being a new Assemblymember gave Roosevelt a series of challenges. He needed to learn about the processes and customs of the Legislature. He needed to learn about the other Assemblymembers. He needed to figure out to how best to fit in and make an impact.
Roosevelt recorded his insights on the people and processes of the Assembly in a special notebook. The result was he was able to make major contributions earlier than most new members.
Writing Can Help You Practice Presentations
If you’re trying to have someone understand you or agree with you, writing can help you sharpen your presentation. Write out what you want to say. Then revise it and sharpen it until it’s the best it can be.
When Jeff Bezos was CEO at Amazon, he had executives write memos on a topic that would be covered at a meeting. Meetings began with a silent reading of the memo. Bezos said the best memos took more than a week to complete. He goes on to say:
“The great memos are written and rewritten, shared with colleagues who are asked to improve the work, set aside for a couple of days, and then edited again with fresh mind.”
Writing gets thoughts out of your head so you can revise and improve them.
Writing forces you to be precise.
Writing gives you something to return to.
Writing can help you solve problems more-effectively.
Writing can help you vent emotions safely.
Writing can help you learn new things.
Writing can help you polish a presentation.