Thinking With Writing

Writing helps us figure things out in at least two ways. On the one hand it makes our thoughts visible, allowing us to expand, contract, modify, or discard them. We can hold only so many thoughts in our heads at one time; when we talk out loud and have dialogues with friends, or with ourselves, we lose much of what we say because it isn't written down. More importantly, we can't extend, expand, or develop our ideas fully because we can't see them. When we can witness our thoughts, we can do something with them.

On the other hand, the act of writing itself generates entirely new thoughts that we can then further manipulate. Writing one word, one sentence, or one paragraph suggests still other words, sentences, and paragraphs. Writing progresses as an act of discovery; no other thinking process helps us so completely develop a line of inquiry or a mode of thought. Scientists, artists, mathematicians, lawyers, and engineers all think with pen to paper, chalk to blackboard, hands on terminal keys. Extended thought about complex matters is seldom possible, for most of us, any other way.

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