Communication may eventually be your outcome, but it is not the key. It does not open the door. There is a reason Rene Descartes said: “I think, therefore, I am.” The key to good writing is thinking.
Good writing often effectively delivers your message and can elicit a range of reactions and emotions, which lead to communication, but good writing does not happen without your brain kicking into action.
You might coast in low gear for a while if you haven’t made up your mind yet about your focus or your topic. You might move into mid-gear if you have a sense for where you’re going and have thought about the idea in the past, you just haven’t written anything yet. You can take off into high gear if you have been musing for a while first and have a concept in mind, and you are just itching to get the beast off your chest and launch it onto the page or screen.
You think, therefore, you write. When you write, and especially if you’re a beginner, if you’ve not done all your thinking, your writing will wear it.
For example, let’s say you want to write about the best ways to avoid the longest line-ups in the grocery store. Before you sit and write, you are going to want to make 10 or 12 trips to the grocery store. You will want to make a quick express trip with only four or five items, take note if someone is ahead of you with 25 items, ask the bored, apathetic cashier if she has any idea how long it takes her on average to check someone through and when she gives you that ‘are-you-for-real’ glare, you know you’ve got a snippet of ‘material’ about which to write.
Then you’ll need to go back to your grocery store and do a load where people take one look at your cart, grimace and move to any other line but yours, even longer ones. Your cart is so full, you can’t keep the last few boxes of macaroni and cheese from sliding off and careening to the ground.
You muse about the possibilities on the bus on your way home from work. When you’re walking to the coffee shop to get a refill halfway through the morning, you’ll daydream wondering if there’s a karma connection with people and grocery line-ups or if when people line up, the cashiers sub-consciously decide how long they will take for each person by how they look and how they carry themselves. When you sit on the throne, you’ll wonder if you dressed differently or bought higher-end items, would that get you better service and speed up your progress in line. When you think you’re not even thinking anymore, you will be thinking – which means, you’re writing.
In between all your trips, you are putting the pieces together in your mind. You may use a notebook or a journal or a digi-recorder to spew your thoughts and clear out the debris. This tactic is highly recommended as it allows you to clear clutter out of your head so it doesn’t show up as a splat somewhere on your writing. Clearing the clutter will help condense the amount of thinking time you need before you become ready to put down the real words that will actually make sense and exhibit coherence – a much sought-after goal.
I’ve given up on the grocery store research. No matter what I do, I end up in the longest one, even when it looks shorter. But I still continue to indulge in thinking before writing. You can write without having done any thinking, but you will end up with splatters all over a page. For some writers, that’s their process. They make it work, though, because they clean it up. Good writers will shape those splatters until they weave together, fit snuggly or sing in unison, depending on their desired product. So, some people think on the page, some off the page; either way, the incubation must happen or the writing suffers.
Good writing does not have meandering tangents, unless they are meant to entertain or make a point, or sentences that refuse to flow coherently or that waste the reader’s time, or remnants of your leftover thinking that should have stayed in your head. Good writing has purpose, heart, forethought and care. All of these qualities lead to great communication.
Previously published on Helium.com (now defunct)