On Writing and Thinking

If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.
~ George Orwell


George Orwell presents us with a complicated condition regarding writing and thought. Writing is a product of the mind. Anything we express in writing is something we have thought about; sometimes, even something we have over-thought. In fact, anything we express in writing is certainly a reflection of whatever goes on in our minds, a reflection of what we think and how we think. I’m not saying, of course, that if you are able to think well you automatically will be a good writer. However, if you are able to maintain logical thought processes, it will not be difficult to translate that on paper.

Can the ability to think well stem from writing? If by well Orwell meant logically, I most certainly think so. Writing requires structure, adequate vocabulary, and logical processes to make sense and be effective. Learning to write well forces the writer to think well. When writing has to be structured according to definite rules and patterns, thinking will follow that structure. When writing requires a broad vocabulary to avoid repetition and redundancy, to create interest and imagery, the mind necessarily acquires the language required to fulfill that requirement. When writing requires logical presentations, reasoning, analyses, and conclusions, our mind conforms to the logic, follows the reasoning, analyses, and comes to conclusions. Once equipped with the forms and formalities of writing, the mind employs all the skills of writing in thinking. The strong writer is a strong thinker.

It doesn’t end there, however. No matter how strong a thinker you are, no matter how powerful or revolutionary your thoughts, if you do not put them into writing so your ideas are read, passed on, and remembered, it is likely they will be forgotten. Unlike speech which has limited audiences and is permanent only if recorded in some indelible medium, writing can last for millennia, as we know from studying ancient literature. There is also less chance of your ideas creating a permanent or lasting impression on others for generations to come if you rely solely on speech. By not making your own mark, you become a reactionary thinker, responding and reacting to the thinking of others who have made permanent their thoughts by writing them.  We only have to survey the literary canon to realize the world’s greatest thinkers are also some of the greatest writers.

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