Nothing is more important or more valuable than thinking and communicating clearly. Thinking before acting helps you minimize expensive and painful mistakes. Clear thinking allows you to prioritize effectively, produce more, and make better decisions. Good communication starts with good ideas. So, your ability to deconstruct ideas and think critically enables you to communicate effectively. Expressing your ideas effectively empowers you to influence people and have an impact on their thoughts and actions.
The best way I’ve found to improve my thinking is learning how to write. Writing helps you formulate and organize your ideas into a clear and persuasive form before you act on them. You can write down more facts, ideas, and stray thoughts than you can remember at any one time. Putting your ideas in writing allows you to organize and edit them. Writing also exposes gaps in your knowledge while allowing you to see the interactive effects of ideas.
Writing instead of meeting
Replacing work meetings with long-form memos is one way you can practice writing to help you think and communicate more clearly while also saving time. Most meetings are an inefficient waste of time and resources. When I walk into a meeting, the first thing that comes to mind is how much it costs to have all these people sitting in one room instead of getting work done. Communication based on long-form writing forces an exchange based on complete thoughts and ideas whereas meetings encourage participants to react in the moment and shoot from the hip.
Communicating through comprehensive written memos also frees you from the constraint of aligning schedules and allows people who could not be in the room to understand the issues, assumptions, and decisions. I’m not suggesting you do away with meetings altogether because there can be value in getting people together to discuss ideas. However, meetings should be a last resort and not the first option.
Writing to gain leverage
Writing also gives you leverage and the ability to scale your ideas. Sharing your written ideas offers opportunities to find peers, collaborators, and business opportunities. Paul Graham, cofounder of Y Combinator, wrote online essays to share his ideas and lessons about how to build a start-up. This strategy attracted start-up founders from around the world and has contributed to Y Combinator’s massive impact and success.
Writing to learn
Writing also helps you learn faster as it forces you to internalize learning at a deeper level. My mind is terrible at retaining what I read. I bet I only retain 10% to 15% of a book’s content. However, when I write an essay that synthesizes ideas I have been reading, the act of writing helps me internalize knowledge and remember it.
Useful tips to improve your writing
I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing. Here are some tips I’ve found useful.
- Write like you talk. This is one of the most helpful tips I have learned. Spoken language is easier to understand, so read your writing out loud and fix anything that does not sound like a conversation.
- Use simple, clear language. Imagine you are writing to an eight-year-old, and don’t allow your sentences to become flabby and swollen. Write tighter, stronger, and more precise. Avoid complex sentences, fancy words, jargon, acronyms, and filler phrases. Don’t use unfamiliar words to sound smart or important.
- Choose your words with care. Each sentence should include one thought—and only one. Don’t make one sentence do too much work. After each sentence ask yourself, “what does the reader want to know next?”
- Shorter is better. Remove every element not doing useful work. Use the fewest words possible. Imagine someone paying you $1,000 for each word you remove. Rewrite to remove ragged edges and extra parts. Sharpen, tighten, cut.
- Simple style results from hard work and hard thinking. A muddled writing style reflects a muddled thinker. If what you write is ornate, pompous, or fuzzy, readers will perceive you as ornate, pompous, or fuzzy.
Use writing as a tool to help you think and communicate more clearly. Invest time to improve your writing to achieve your potential.