I’d like to start long-form writing more often. My motivation is to become a clear thinker. I believe that clear writing requires clear thinking, and that practicing writing is the same as practicing thinking. I used to be a good writer and a reasonably clear thinker, but today I wouldn’t describe myself that way. What changed?
One difference is that my day-to-day writing doesn’t require as much deep thought as it used to. Most of the written communication I read and write these days seems to be chat-app conversations, quick emails, or slide-deck titles. In our world full of interruptions, where a writer can’t count on a reader’s attention for more than a few seconds, punchy and interactive writing works well. But it’s closer to extemporaneous speaking than prose writing. It doesn’t require introspection. Adapting my own writing style has kept my writing professionally relevant. But I can no longer count time spent writing as time spent thinking. Thus, my thinking is out of practice.
Another change is that my definition of “clear thinking” has evolved. When I was younger and so certain that my own opinion was absolutely correct, it was easy to present a logical, start-to-finish argument. It felt good. It often worked. But if I could sit in the audience and watch my 25-year-old self think clearly, I’d likely judge his performance naive and simplistic. Today I know that practical reasoning is rarely linear. Many truths we hold are actually a matter of opinion or perspective. Clear thinking isn’t a flowchart, or if it is a flowchart, then every step is a diamond. The decision tree fans out quickly. Today’s clear thinking clearly tells me that nothing is all that clear. Which means that today’s productive thought is less about finding a valid solution to a problem, and more about coherently evaluating many options, diving deep on the most promising, and identifying the best. That’s a different kind of thinking, and it doesn’t come as easily to me.
Finally, though I wish I were immune to aging, I concede that age challenges clarity of thought. In From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life, the author makes a strong case for the inevitability of cognitive decline starting around one’s 40s. In a future post I’ll write about how I see this happening in myself. I don’t think that I’ll ever be as sharp as I was in my 20s, but I do believe the human brain can learn and adapt throughout life, so it’s worth it to keep exercising mine, in part through occasionally stringing full sentences together into few paragraphs.
I’m not making any promises how often I’ll write here. Too many single-post blogs do that. But once I have this post published, I’ll at least have a place to publish more, which is a start.