Why Writing Can't Make You Dumber

I began my 32nd journal the other day. Every time I finish one and begin another, it prompts reflection over what I learned in the past year or so of writing. I've never arrived at the end of a journal and concluded, "I learned nothing this year."

This is Journal No. 32, courtesy of Ultimate Gifter
Nancy Forrest. Love the dog sweaters.
(Photo: Rachel E. Watson)
I don't believe it's possible, when a writer writes regularly, to walk away without learning something.

Here's an excerpt from a paper by Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus of linguistics at the University of Southern California. I think it contains nuggets of very-true truth:
We write for at least two reasons. First, and most obvious, we write to communicate with others. But perhaps more important, we write for ourselves, to clarify and stimulate our thinking. Most of our writing, even if we are published authors, is for ourselves. ... When we write our ideas down, the vague and abstract becomes clear and concrete. When thoughts are on paper, we see the relationships between them, and come up with better thoughts. Writing, in other words, can make us smarter. Readers who keep a diary or journal know all about this — you have a problem, you write it down, and at least 10% of the problem disappears. Sometimes, the entire problem goes away. 
This has been so true for me in my years of journal-keeping.

What I've learned

I'd like to share a brief list of the things I've learned via writing at various points in my life. Also, I should note: I am so grateful for all the people who have helped me discover these things. You know who you are.

  1. I remember what first inspired me to start keeping a journal to record my thoughts. I was 12 years old, and I saw Lake Michigan for the first time that I can clearly remember. I remember feeling at one with myself on that beach. I did not possess the eloquence of an adult to express it in writing, but I wanted to try. I'd been given the gift of a journal with a lock and key, and it was something that was truly mine. It enabled me to begin those first few halting, awkward entries with a sense of safety and privacy. It was a place to explore what I could say without having to share it yet.
  2. I've gained so much more confidence over the years. I was greatly helped when my mom enrolled me and my siblings in a curriculum experiment comprised mostly of reading and writing. My imagination gained traction, and my creativity took root.
  3. My friends and family began to respond well to my "story club" concoctions and adventure tales of "CCW and friends" (a series of short stories I wrote based on the lives of my little brother and his kid pals). I began to realize I could entertain people and make them laugh or cry.
  4. I high school, I used my writing to cope with growing pains.
  5. In community college, I began to see that what I can do comes somewhat naturally. I soaked up each new structure, editing and formatting tip from professors, and I began to learn from them the art of critical thinking, discussion and persuasion via the written word.
  6. In university, I studied journalism, harnessing my curiosity to find out "the hook" and to get the real story out of each assignment. It was an overwhelming challenge at times, and one I often overthought. In reflecting now, I realize the lessons drilled into me by a perfectionistic college newspaper adviser and department head have stuck with me.
  7. As I've built my professional life, the pendulum has swung toward editing. But even that has only served to sharpen my sense of what is important in each story and what truly matters to me: the written word.
  8. Now that I am solidly post-undergrad and starting to form deep roots in my work life, I am building this new home-life habit: blogging several times a week. I've decided my writing can't stay "under a bushel," as the children's song goes. I must find what I can say that will resonate with readers and connect people, and I must do it honestly. 

Share your own insights

What about you? If you're a writer or creative type of any kind, I'd love to hear some of the lessons you've learned from the pursuit of your craft. Leave me a comment here or navigate over to my Facebook Community page. Let's share our insights and boost our collective wisdom.

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