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The Link Between Clear Thinking and Clear Writing

Clear writing and clear thinking

I’ve spent the last few days reading through old journals of mine in preparation for an upcoming project, and in rereading those journal entries I stumbled upon an idea that I had forgotten that I had written down: the link between clear thinking and clear writing.

This idea – that in order to write clearly you must first think clearly – is one that I came across years ago when I first read William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. For some reason that idea has stuck with me while many others have fallen through the cracks of my memory.

For the longest time, though, I didn’t exactly know what “clear thinking” meant. What does it mean to have clear, organized thoughts?

One answer came to me earlier this year, when I was playing around with different modes of thought while on a walk. I enjoy experimenting with different ways of observing both the world outside of my body and the world within it, and long walks tend to be a great time for just such experimentation.

One way in which I direct my attention inward is by listening to my thoughts. By that I mean that I actively listen to the inner monologue in my head.

That act of intentionally listening to my thoughts is something that I experienced for the first time just a few years ago, and it was mind blowing. I felt like a whole new world had opened up to me, a world that I knew I wanted to explore.

My experience in that world of actively listening to my own thoughts is vastly different than when I am simply observing the world around me or interacting with others. Once I begin listening to my thoughts, those thoughts turn into full, complete sentences. Instead of just letting my mind bounce from one idea to the next, I think in complete phrases and follow a train of thought to its conclusion before moving on to the next.

That inner monologue of complete phrases and logical trains of thought is now what I think of when the term “clear thinking” comes to mind.

Clear thinking, then, is nothing more than writing in your head, even though no pen makes it to paper nor fingers to keyboard.

Now that I have made that connection between clear thinking and clear writing (my own version of that connection, at least), I can practice my writing skills wherever and whenever I want, simply by listening to my thoughts. You can too. Though it is much harder to go back and edit that mental writing, I can already feel my first draft skills steadily improve because of that practice.

If you’ve never actively listened to your thoughts, I encourage you to give it a try. You might be surprised at what you hear. I know I was. Just remember that you should never take your thoughts too seriously.

And if you’re interested in developing your writing skills while thinking, then gently shift your thoughts toward complete phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. You might find that you can write entire first-draft blog posts before ever sitting down to write.

Communicating your ideas clearly to others is an important part of developing a community online as you build your skills and document what you are learning. So if you’re looking for a strategy to achieve clearer writing (and maybe a more organized mind as well), then try listening to your thoughts.

Then come back and tell us what you hear.



Photo Credit: Churl Han

2 Responses to The Link Between Clear Thinking and Clear Writing

  1. Dan Lee says:

    I was reading this and realized that I have always assumed everyone thinks this way, in the same way as they write. Maybe that is an unfortunate reality? :-) The organization of language whether inside the mind or in writing is very much the same process. You might be interested in something I have worked with that takes this a step further. Work with the aesthetic component of the “inner writing,” so that you begin to make the pace, the sound, the punctuation, more conscious. Of course the sound is imagined but then, so is the writing. I have found that by this process I am able to produce some very interesting changes in my nervous system and attention span. The conscious mind is characterized by its jumping around from one thing to another and not being able to hold a thought. This attention to details of inner speaking helps to “tame the monkey mind.” I have long worked with writing straight from my thinking without editing or rewriting except for eliminating redundancy.

    • Doug says:

      Hi Dan, thanks for your comment. It sounds like you have done some formalizing of the same kind of ideas that I experiment with on my walks. Very interesting! Have you written up that work of yours anywhere?

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