Humans have written for thousands of years. We seem to have an innate instinct to make marks that describe events, feelings, ideas and stories. This ability to crystallise our thoughts into language and write it down is one of the traits that sets us apart from the animals.
So what is it that makes writing so powerful? Well, we know that some writers want to inspire others or change people’s minds about a particular topic. We also know that writing itself can be therapeutic, bringing about an emotional or spiritual release. In fact, some people cannot imagine a life where they could not put pen to paper. Charlotte Bronte said: “I’m just going to write, because I cannot help it.”
Yet the thing I find most fascinating about the process of writing is its ability to change our own minds. Have you ever written a shopping list and left it at home? And did you find that, even without your list, you could remember almost all of the items on it? Why did teachers of old make pupils who had behaved badly write lines promising a new behaviour? And why, when I was a languages student, did I find writing out vocabulary the best way to memorise new words?
The writing process has a power all of its own. It clarifies our thoughts in such a way as to make them more memorable. It formulates random musings into something coherent and logical. That is why I encourage people to write a book, even if they have no plans to publish. If you have something to say — anything at all — writing those thoughts down in a well-structured way will make those thoughts clearer in your mind, even if no one ever reads them.
But the other by-product of writing is even more interesting. When we formulate our ideas into a book, we commit those thoughts to paper and, in doing so, we seem to ‘free up’ our mind for something new. It’s as if our brain relaxes in the knowledge that its original idea is safely stored and allows us to start thinking about the next new thing. You could say that is why geniuses write books. I prefer to ask myself this: does someone write because they have a great mind, or do they have a great mind because they write?