Writing is Thinking

“Thinking without writing is daydreaming.” Those five words were the most memorable of many spoken at a conference I attended two weekends ago. The speaker, Peter Boettke, an economics professor at George Mason University, made me think about why exactly I write in the Opinions section. The answer is partly what he said, but to go further, writing itself is a process of learning, development and influence.

That writing is a learning process is both psychologically and scientifically proven. Janet Emig, a leading scholar on composition theory, points out that psychologists agree that writing requires the use of higher cognitive processes, such as analysis and synthesis. In contrast to reading and listening, which Emig argues are passive or receptive functions, writing is an active or productive function. Unlike talking, writing is a learned skill, necessitating the development of a greater part of the brain—both sides, in fact.

Yet writing is not only learning, it is also teaching. Whenever I write, I am continually altering my understanding of what I actually want to say. Have we not been told countless times that the best-written pieces are revised countless times? 

Writing serves to develop the ideas of an individual. Writing can also have enormous influence beyond the individual. 

It is true that as college students, our influence is limited. But we won’t be college students forever. Why not practice writing now, so when we are older, wiser and have more credibility, we have the skills to communicate?

Although I plan to major in the sciences, I still recognize that writing, critical thinking and communication are the foundations of my liberal arts education. As an Opinions writer, this is my rationale for publicizing my popular and unpopular views: Why not take advantage of this time while I have an audience of intelligent peers to respond to me? 

In an article I wrote a few weeks ago about an advertisement that contained wording I disagreed with, I stirred a fair amount of reaction, judging from people I spoke with and comments left on the TSL website. While I could have taken greater responsibility to articulate my ideas more clearly and accurately, the many reactions I got were a testament to the number of people who were kind enough to read my article. I got to learn about myself through the support and criticism of students and other readers. I got the best of both worlds. 

So, is thinking without writing daydreaming? Well, thinking is certainly valuable, and extremely important. But it will make as big of a difference in the world as daydreaming unless the thinkers make something with their thoughts. Writing is permanent, and it reaches people. It’s a great way to process and expose your ideas.

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