Modern life is defined by the organization of people, working together to maintain and to create. Competency in this collaborative, social world is largely derived from the power to think, and to articulate that thinking. Writing exercises both of these activities. Writing is the best practice for flourishing in the modern world.
Here's a list of things you can do with writing and speaking:
- Present a proposal.
- Argue a point of view. Ex. advocate for a business decision.
- Share a story.
- Evaluate an option, or proposal.
Performing at a high level in these tasks leads to opportunity and success.
Beyond communication, to integrate ideas and knowledge into a coherent whole is to strengthen the mind. Because our minds direct our lives, increasing one's quality of thought can conceivably lead to an increase in one's quality of life.
My goal is to strengthen my thinking and communication through practice writing. More concretely, I want to improve in the strength of my writing.
A good speaker or writer communicates with strength. The strength of writing or speech can be broken down into clarity, coherence, and perspective. Clarity is the ability to break things down into small, easily understood, and well communicated ideas. Coherence is the ability to assemble these ideas into a meaningful and concise whole. Perspective is the ability to select the correct problem first of all, to formulate an insightful question, and then to creatively and honestly address that question. The best writing and speech contain surprising insight, either through innovative framing of the problem (the question), or through innovative responses to the question.
There are two main tasks in achieving my goal and achieving strength in my writing. First, identify the elements and principles of good writing to guide my practice and learn. Second, practice writing on a regular schedule.
Identify Elements and Principles of Good Writing:
To accelerate progress toward my goal, I will read or otherwise consume content which can educate me on how to write or speak more effectively.
This could be books, such as On Writing Well by William Zinsser which focuses on both style and content. It could also be YouTube videos or lectures which focus on how to write and speak, of which there are many.
Beyond just consuming these, to gain any real benefit their concepts must be implemented. Taking notes and distilling the content down to principles and elements will allow one to better understand the content and refer to it later. While practicing writing, these concepts need to be evaluated and applied appropriately.
My plan is to write one piece per week. In addition to using the elements and principles learned, it should also aim for the qualities of strength previously defined.
No specific topic or format is necessary, however there are some guidelines which would be beneficial to this practice.
The writing should address a narrowly defined question which can be properly covered in the space of a week. This is for both practical concern and the concern for clarity. Selecting a smaller question allows it to be addressed fully and will result in stronger writing. Compare this to a too broad question which would either become too long, involve many tangents and digressions, or be forced to inadequately address the question.
The writing exercise should be practical and have an audience in mind. While this is practice, the writing should address real, not imaginary, problems and should have a clear audience in mind. The writing practice should avoid being completely esoteric or introspective. The practice should aim to be relevant and approachable.
Here is the basic process of writing I plan to engage in:
- Find an interesting problem, then generate good questions and select one.
- Research the question and generate insight and ideas.
- Collect and organize thoughts and research into multiple points.
- Generatively bridge the collected points and the central question to form an argument (thesis).
- Articulate the argument through points and through sentences and words to create a strong written document.
Through intentional and regular practice, I aim to see progress toward my goal of stronger thinking and communication over the next 8 weeks. In order to judge progress, I should review my work weekly as well as request feedback from others as to the quality of the work and areas of improvement.
It is worth keeping in mind my goal: to improve my ability to think and communicate. The goal is not to reach a wide audience or to please an audience.
Clear, articulate writing creates clear, effective thinking. Together these skills will promote professional, social, and personal success.