Dive 26: Writing is Thinking
Hey, it’s Alvin!
I want to share with you one of the most important lessons I learned, writing this newsletter every week for six straight months:
Writing is thinking.
And writing for an audience takes that to a whole other level.
We all have thoughts, ideas, and stories in our minds that we think are consistent and complete. But when it’s time to share those thoughts, explain those ideas, and tell those stories, you may find you can’t quite do it. Gaps in your knowledge reveal themselves.
In fact, in Dive 11, I shared a story about a time I posted a visual on social media. Someone disagreed with the message. And when I tried to write a response to address his point, I struggled. Because there were gaps in my knowledge that revealed themselves in the writing process.
That’s the beauty of writing for an audience. If you want to convey an understandable message, you have to think through your ideas. In a similar vein, teaching others is an effective way to learn because it forces you to become intimately familiar with the subject. When one teaches, two learn. I’m not saying that written ideas are perfect. I’m just saying that writing well forces you to think deeper about your ideas.
And it’s not just about fleshing out your thoughts. Writing well for an audience means learning how to keep the reader engaged. For me, it’s meant learning to remove fluff from my writing, and sharing my personal stories. As with all skills, this takes practice.
This isn’t just about practicing writing tips like catchy titles, concise sentences, and pleasant rhythm. Those are all byproducts of empathizing with the reader. So, writing for an audience lets you practice empathy. You develop a sense of:
Will they understand what I’m saying?
Will they find this interesting?
Will they find this rewarding?
Getting feedback helps a lot. That’s why you can email me at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org, especially if you think this newsletter sucks. Or even if you like it. Or if it reminds you of something you find interesting.
So, when I recently heard people talking about auto-generating written “content” using AI tools, like ChatGPT, I was dismayed.
Of course, it depends on how those tools are used. As I mentioned in Dive 4, you can use a tool to augment or replace a skill.
I don’t mind using AI technology to help me generate ideas and research topics. But it doesn’t bode well for humanity to outsource their thinking to tech, completely. The writing process helps me think critically and independently. And it lets me practice empathy. Having AI auto-generate an entire written piece would be to replace my thinking and empathic abilities. That disgusts me. Because it’s akin to replacing two of the remaining characteristics that make us distinctly human.
I know some people are going to say that Google has been doing that for the 25+ years it’s been around. Yes. It has. And becoming unthinkingly reliant on Google is dangerous. Because malicious actors can manipulate Google search results to steal your data.
In terms of long-term consequences, researchers recently found that people these days are less likely to remember information they think they can easily look up later. Maybe that’s why cyberwarfare is heating up. Because nation states know people are so reliant on online services that even a small internet disruption can grind another nation’s economy to a halt, ruining the lives of millions.
None of this is to suggest we should abandon these technologies. It’s just irritating to see mindless adoption of new tech without a hint of caution. Because I remember a time in history when people questioned what they were told. There was a time when people understood that salespeople and charlatans only ever supplied the benefits of a product or service. So savvy consumers brought skepticism. Where are all the thoughtful skeptics of ChatGPT, or AI, in general?
This isn’t specifically about AI, of course. There will always be new technologies that can either replace or reinforce a human skill. Ever since I realized this, I’ve been more conscious about how I use technology. And so should you. Because mindlessly letting technology run our lives makes us more fragile. We end up in more situations where we need it more than it needs us. When it comes to this newsletter, everything I write comes from my heart, my soul, my human being. And I refuse to let anyone or anything else replace that.
Thanks to everyone who’s supported my newsletter journey so far. You’re all amazing. I hope you enjoyed this dive Below the Surface of writing, which is also a sort of meta dive into what this newsletter’s about. As I mentioned earlier, you can reply to email@example.com if you have questions or comments. Especially if you have feedback on this newsletter. I’d love to hear from you. Really.
Thank you for reading. Have a wonderful day. And I’ll see you in the next one.
Right back at you Alvin. Thanks for helping to keep me going with mine.
Beautiful expressed, Alvin. Writing is an oddity in that it's both selfish and selfless. Selfish because you write to think, learn and grow. Selfless because your readers learn and grow with you.