Thinking and writing

Let us begin this section as we did the previous section -- with a simple assertion:

Writing is a form of thinking.

Building on the content of the previous section, rewriting, then, is a form of thinking as well. The fact is that we write not only to communicate ideas, but also to develop those ideas.

How does one develop ideas? By thinking, we may say. But what is thinking? Is it to sit quietly and picture things? Is it to assemble words in your head, only to later transcribe that inner voice on paper? Do we think while we write?

This last question is, perhaps, the one that leads us astray; this last question makes it sound as though writing and thinking are separate things, and this arises from our not having considered what thinking is. Thinking comes in many forms, and writing is one of those forms.

Similarly, we have not likely considered what writing is. Do we write only with pen and paper, or by typing into a device? Or is any act of composition, such as a conversation or a joke, writing as well? When we consider writing and thinking separately, we'll see that they amount to the same kind of activity.


The concept of "thinking" isn't a monolithic, unchanging concept that we discover. Rather, and like many concepts, it is ever-changing; we create the very idea of "thinking" in our commerce and conversations. Consider how we learn to use the word "thoughtful", and consider the many synonyms we might use in its place. To describe an action as "thoughtful" is to pick out some feature of the action that distinguishes one performance from another. Singing happy birthday is thoughtful if you sing it for my birthday, but we wouldn't say the same if you were recording a version of happy birthday as part of a radio advertisement.

In some cases, instead of thoughtful, we might say you were "considerate". Or we might say that you acted "deliberately" instead of "thoughtfully". These synonyms show that "thoughtful" is related to a range of other descriptions, and all are related to verb and noun forms of the words as well. Thoughts, considerations and deliberations resemble one another. To think, to consider and to deliberate also resemble one another.

The point is this: we learn what "thinking" is -- how to use the word -- in context, and in relation to other words that resemble the sentiment we want to express when we use the word "thinking". Thinking, then, isn't a single thing; it is a family of actions, plus related descriptions and dispositions.

To connect this to "writing", consider this: if I were nestled away in a corner with a notebook, scribing away furiously, perhaps mumbling to myself occasionally, how might you describe what I was doing? Would you say "don't bother him; he's writing". Or would it sometimes seem appropriate to say "don't bother him; he's thinking". Depending on the circumstances, either or both could be perfectly suitable.

Let's be clear: this doesn't show that thinking is writing or that writing is thinking. This doesn't show that thinking and writing are the same thing. It does show that thinking and writing are, at the very least, related activities.

The overarching story here is: rewriting, which is a productive way to develop your writing, is a form of thinking. To rewrite is to reconsider, is to think about, is to develop your ideas.


Writing is a form of composition, but composition is not limited to physical transcription of words. There are lots of ways to compose words. Conversation, for example, is a productive way to develop your skills with assembling ideas into words -- which is to say, to develop your skills with expressing your thoughts.

I say this because I find that many students seem to believe that the only way to practice writing is to physically record words -- be it with pen and paper or by typing into a machine, and so forth. Instead, I believe "writing" to represent a broader range of activities. For example, if you get really good at telling jokes -- if you practice your timing, your tone, your pacing -- this ultimately helps tighten up your physical transcription of words.

Like thinking, writing takes many forms.

I hear myself say words in my head (before I write them), then I write them (by transcription). But what I write is not always what I said in my head; transcription is a form of editing.

How do I know whether I transcribed accurately? Worse: How does anyone else know whether I have written what I meant to mean? Is there even a thing I meant to mean?

We can summarise all of this as simply as we started: Writing is a form of thinking. And as we write, we edit our ideas, whatever form they take. Then, we compare our writing to the original idea -- whatever form that takes -- and our revisions are what we commonly call "editing".

The lesson: as a writer, you throw a lot away. Don't worry about throwing away something you've written; you'll write more, and it will be better, if only because you've gotten more practice by writing the words you've tossed.

Imagine if you could keep all the best of your conversations over the years and hear them assembled into one stream. You'd be the most interesting person you've ever heard!

"Writing is rewriting" is this. In this course, there are four Writing is Rewriting activities, each associated with one of our four main topics: Words, Sentences, Paragraphs, and Structure. We'll develop the instructions as we go, but keep the remarks of this section in mind as you complete the Writing is Rewriting activities.

Last modified: Monday, 16 July 2018, 10:23 PM