Plus my tips on how to write consistently.
Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman was a genius, but he wasn’t a writer. He dictated his memoirs, and his friend transcribed the audio-tape.
Still, Feynman wrote. A lot. Because he realized something, many people don’t — writing equals working. He explains it in this interview:
Weiner: (Referring to Feynman’s journals) And so this represents the record of the day-to-day work.
Feynman: I actually did the work on the paper.
Weiner: That s right. It wasn’t a record of what you had done but it is the work.
Feynman: It’s the doing it — it’s the scrap paper.
Weiner: Well, the work was done in your head, but the record of it is still here.
Feynman: No, it’s not a record, not really, it’s working. You have to work on paper and this is the paper. OK?
Writing is working. But it’s so much more. Here are three reasons why you should write even if you’re not a writer.
1. When You Write, You Have to Understand and Think for Yourself
You can’t summarize an idea that you don’t really understand. So, through writing, you realize whether you truly got the concept or swim in the illusion of knowledge.
The problem is as follows, writes Schopenhauer:
“When we read, another person thinks for us: we merely repeat his mental process. … For the more one reads the fewer are the traces left of what one has read; the mind is like a tablet that has been written over and over. Hence it is impossible to reflect; and it is only by reflection that one can assimilate what one has read if one reads straight ahead without pondering over it later, what has been read does not take root, but is for the most part lost.”
Writing changes the game. You put pressure on your thinking. It forces you to push your thoughts into logic. And in this process, you learn and understand.
Scientists call this the Generation effect. In 1978, researchers discovered information is better remembered if it’s generated from one’s own mind rather than simply read.
And while research is still unclear about why it works, it has been shown to accelerate learning and remembering information.
You can’t just read through an idea, hear a conversation, or watch an online course to learn what’s in front of you. Learning requires effortful engagement.
“The one who does the work does the learning,” Doyle said. And when you write about what you read and think about, you do the work.
2. Writing Will Create Meaning in Your Life
There are more than writing’s benefits to learning and working. Writing helps us make sense of our lives. Or, as diarist Anaïs Nin writes:
“Writing to me means thinking, digging, pondering, creating, shattering. It means getting at the meaning of all things; it means reaching climaxes; it means moral and spiritual and physical life all in one. Writing implies manual labor, a strain on one’s conscience and an exercise of the mind. My life flows into ink and I am pleased.”
Think of Dumbledore’s pensive. When you put the wand to your head, the pen in your hand, you extract thoughts from your head. Once they flush into the bowl and on your paper, your thoughts take a different form.
Now you see your mind in front of you. Writing helps you see how seemingly unrelated thoughts connect with each other. That’s why writing is a mind-expanding, often even enlightening experience.
I wrote my first article on March 28, 2020. Since then, I write almost every morning. Writing has paid me +€15K. But I gained something that outpasses any monetary reward: I learned more about myself.
Once you see thousands of words and plenty of articles in front of you, you’ll start to see a pattern — a pattern that can tell you more about yourself than any life coach or any book ever will.
3. The More You Write the Better You’ll Get
In the past months, a lot of people told me they also want to write every day. But they don’t. Because deep inside of them is this belief that they can’t write.
Quantity trumps quality. The reason why most people feel they can’t write is that they’ve never really tried it. They’re stuck in a memory of their high-school writing.
My first few articles were bad. There was much resistance inside my head. I was scared. I obsessed. But what helped me get better was pushing myself to publish and to write more. And more. And more.
Research shows the more you create, the more creative you become. The best ideas and connections will arise once you flow into the writing process.
Don’t tell yourself you can’t write until you’ve really tried. If you don’t want to write it’s fine. Life is still great. But if you want to give it a try, don’t use your inability as an excuse. Publish 100 articles before you decide.
How to Write Consistently
Writing can be fun once you found your process. As with many skills you want to learn, starting is the hardest part. Here are the things that have helped me stick to writing for almost a year.
Set a writing schedule. Whether it’s daily, weekly, or bi-weekly is up to you. Block a time in the calendar and make it consistent.
Give yourself a time limit. According to Parkinson’s law, work expands to fill the time available for its completion. When you write, set yourself a timer. Aim to finish your writing before the timer is up. Even if you don’t, it’ll help you progress.
Write down topic ideas on the go. Keep a journal, or use your favorite note-taking app. When you go through everyday life, write down what you think you could write about.
- What makes you curious?
- What surprises you?
- What can’t you stop thinking about?
Every thought that triggers your emotions is a good starting point. Don’t judge your ideas when you write them down. And don’t ever worry about what you’ll be writing about next month—consistency trumps strategy.
Practice in public. Writing is so much easier when you have a clear goal. You can start small. Set up a newsletter for your friends and tell them they’ll get one article a month. Publishing your work with others will also help you learn faster. Feedback is fuel for better writing. So don’t be shy and share your work.
“Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
Feynman was known to never settle for knowing a description of things. He wanted to discover the underlying truth. He really wanted to know, and it was curiosity that led him to his greatest work.
Use curiosity to guide your writing. Soon you’ll discover something about yourself you didn’t know before. All you need is time, motivation, and dedication.
So, when will you dare to write?