There’s something about putting words on paper that isn’t just creative in our own imagination or in the imaginations of those reading those words. You can work through an idea and make a lot of progress with an idea in your head, for example, or you can set a goal by just thinking about it and begin to work towards it, or you can work through problems in your life in your head, but there is something almost magical about putting thoughts down on paper beyond just thinking about them. Writing thoughts somehow makes all these things more real, more substantive. It frees the mind to reveal and develop thoughts that may not have been possible without writing them down.
The simplest example of this is a grocery list, which almost seems silly, but it still illustrates many of the examples to follow in this article – most of which I’m not even currently aware of, but they’ll make themselves known as I write. You’ll see.
Most people, excepting those with incredible photographic memories, need to use a grocery list if they’re going to the store for more than just a few items. So let’s say you need to buy milk, butter, coffee, bacon, cheese, bread, crackers, beans, broccoli, tortillas, grapes, lemons, asparagus and ice cream. By the way, one should never leave the grocery store without ice cream. But anyway, can you remember all of that? If you think you can, why would you subject your mind to have to keep track of all of that? Chances are that if you went to the grocery store intent on buying these items without a list, you’d forget the broccoli (but who wouldn’t, am I right?) and probably a few other items too. However, you are guaranteed that if you went to the store with a list, it is impossible to forget any item on the list unless you lost the list on your way to the store. Also, you would be free to think about other things besides the list, and you wouldn’t stress yourself out reciting the list in your head to be sure you didn’t forget something. You wrote it down and all you need to do is refer back to it while at the store, confirming that what is in your shopping cart is what is on the list. Besides ice cream, which should be in your cart whether it’s on the list or not. In a way, you are no longer responsible for remembering what’s on the list; the list is.
Developing an idea is another good example. I have a lot of ideas flowing through my head every day. The ones I write down are the ones that actually make it out into the world. That may not be true for everybody, but it’s true for me and I bet it is true for anyone who thinks well on paper. Once an idea is downloaded from mind to paper, it then has a chance to grow and develop as it is continually developed until it eventually gains existence beyond what is on paper.
Not only that, writing down and continuing to develop my ideas on paper frees up my mental faculties; in a way my mind no longer has to process those bits of ideas that are written down and can then work on other perspectives around these ideas, which are then written down further refining the core idea. Even as I write this article I can feel and sense this going on. Every sentence I write is a thought that my mind no longer needs to fully process because it’s now written down. While I have a general structure about the content in this article, I have no idea what I’m going to write in a few minutes, but I do know that if I weren’t writing what I’m writing right now, the rest could not be written. The idea behind this very sentence that I am writing right now, in this moment, would not be possible had I not written down the other sentences in this paragraph. And the rest of this article would not be possible if I didn’t put down on paper what I am writing, right now.
Think about that one for a minute. In fact if you want to, write about it. See what you come up with. I bet you would come to far grander conclusions than if you just thought about it.
Goal writing is another fine example of the magic of writing. Written goals are far more likely to be achieved than unwritten ones. We have thousands of thoughts, intentions and goals small and big zipping around in our heads every day, but choosing a goal and writing it down is taking another step forward in the creative process toward that goal. Like a command to yourself and to the universe, words on paper are often the first physical manifestation of an intention that previously only existed in your mind. They are no longer imaginary. They now are real and have actual, physical substance in the world. Being written down they can now gain a traction they didn’t have before because now the goal actually exists beyond the mind, not only as a fleeting or even determined thought. Once a goal is written down, the mind is also more free to work on ideas surrounding that goal. Put another way, the mind is no longer thinking about the goal itself since it is now written, and more mental energy can now be applied to what can be done to achieve that goal. Ideas can more easily surface that become subgoals and steps to take toward the written goal, whereas before the mind was mainly focused on the goal itself, and probably busy entertaining thoughts about why the goal couldn’t be achieved in the first place.
What about the practice of personal development or creating lasting life changes? Have you ever tried to psychoanalyze yourself? If you have ever asked yourself “What’s wrong with me?”, “Why is this happening to me?”, “What can I do to get through this problem?”, or “What’s right with me?”, “What is my purpose in life?”, “Where is this going to take me?”, etc., then in a sense you are psychoanalyzing yourself, even if you’ve never taken a Psychology 101 course. But most of us that ask ourselves these types of questions with the intent of solving our own problems go through these mental gyrations purely in the mind, and eventually it can turn into a cacophonous, distracted, disconnected mess of self doubt and hopelessness, which then can feed a vicious cycle of creating more imagined problems to ruminate on with no end in sight. But what if you wrote these questions down, listened for the answers, and then wrote those down too? In the same sense that writing down ideas clears the mind to work on other things or to freely expound on those ideas, putting thoughts about yourself on paper can be liberating for a mind which is continually working on itself. Releasing thoughts on paper allows the opportunity for other, related thoughts to come to the surface that may not have ever surfaced while your mind was too busy ruminating on all these thoughts.
Here’s another perspective on the practice of writing for personal development: Writing down those inner thoughts about yourself and your life creates a record that you can refer back to. You may spend considerable time working through a problem in your mind and come close to a breakthrough conclusion, but then you sleep on it and by the time you get back to it, a lot of the substance of your breakthrough will have probably evaporated. You won’t be back at square one of course; you will have made progress regardless, but how much more progress would you have made if you wrote it down to refer back to later instead of forgetting some of those key ingredients you came up with before?
Writing can be used to clear up and reconcile negative emotions in relationships, too. Maybe you’ve done this yourself or heard or read about it somewhere. I’ve done this a few times myself, and the results can be astounding – and I just now had a thought that I should do this more often to accelerate my own personal development (see how this works?). Imagine that someone slights you, betrays you or takes you for granted, and you’re left with a pool of ugly resentment or even hatred toward that person, the situation or yourself. You might try fighting the situation often making things worse, or brooding about it making yourself worse, or thinking your way around it and rationalizing about the situation often still making things worse.
But then you write that person a letter, completely dumping all your negative feelings and thoughts surrounding what happened. You detail your grievances and explain your reasons for being hurt, really digging deep and doing what you can to put as much pain on paper as you can. Then you close the letter with an objective voice, ideally forgiving that person and yourself, then express gratitude in the letter for what you’ve learned from the experience. Then you tear the letter up, burn it or simply throw it away without ever sending it to the person to whom the letter was intended. If you’ve never done this before I invite you to try it. It can be amazing. I can remember doing this once and within two days the person that I wrote the unsent letter to, who I hadn’t heard from in weeks, called “out of the blue” because they were thinking about what happened, apologized and asked if we could still be friends. We still are friends, distant ones, but truly without hard feelings. The pain that was trapped in my resentment was cleared, that cleared the way for understanding and reconciliation, and it was cleared by writing about it. Crazy huh? Actually there’s nothing crazy about it.
So whether you’re setting goals for yourself, developing ideas, analyzing the roots of your behavior, dealing with hurt or simply going to the grocery store, get it out on paper. Write it down and get it out of your head. Try it. I know there’s something brewing up there in that noggin of yours. Write it down. Do it now.