If you Want to Figure out What You’re Thinking, Write it Down

Simplistic though it sounds, it does work

Dispersed and unfocused?

Grab a pen, some paper, and ask yourself what it is you need to think about then see where it takes you. As a form of self-inquiry, writing can help you make sense of chaos and even weather it. It sounds weird but a mind looking for ways to articulate the unspeakable is a mind in motion rather than a mind caving in on itself.

For the last two years, I’ve been doing just that, rebuilding a life word by word after chronic depression destroyed everything and grounded me for five years. But before then, journalism was my job. And then I lost my words, all of them. No matter how often I parked myself in front of the page, nothing intelligible ever came out.

So I stopped.

‘Showing up’ isn’t everything. Stare at a blank page for hours on end day after day without being able to squeeze words out and frustration becomes doubt then doubt becomes certainty: You’ll never write again. Contemplating the demise of my livelihood at length wasn’t great for morale so I sought solace in the words of others instead.

Staring at pages full of words proved much less vexatious yet not entirely devoid of challenges.

Can’t think?

Then chances are you can’t write either, regardless of how much you might want to. Willpower and deep, abiding love for language(s) never left me yet there was no way of turning it into words. I took to writing down sentences and phrases from books, hoping they’d eventually jolt my imagination back to life.

It took a very, very, very long time to rev it up, and even longer to relearn how to communicate effectively. In stasis, I was dead inside yet inconveniently alive, compos mentis enough to dedicate all my waking hours wondering how best to die, much to the exclusion of everything else. It’s only when I began putting words together that life resumed in earnest.

So I knuckled down.

‘Showing up’ became everything, at least if I wanted a chance to earn enough to access the health care I needed. Soon, it was about traveling back to Europe so I could help my parents navigate stage 4 cancer. I wrote and fundraised my way across the pond, spent a year living out of a suitcase in transit between two continents and several countries.

Writing held me together throughout and helped me find the clarity I lacked and desperately sought.

What’s the catch?

There isn’t one. From a personal development standpoint, the time you spend thinking out loud in print is never wasted as it can help you get to know yourself better. You know it works when you look back at something you wrote and it surprises you. Processing life in print steadies restless minds until sense emerges because writing demands focus.

A regular writing practice has cumulative and enduring effects. The more you do it, the more familiar you become with the workings of your mind. Finding words to articulate the unspeakable deflects and often transcends mental chaos but it takes commitment, intellectual effort, and time. This is how self-expression can help you rebuild confidence.

Less chaos also means more creativity.

In times of intellectual, societal, and political instability, words matter more than ever. Words can lead you to people and them to you, allowing connectedness and human warmth to blossom. What money can’t buy or rent or lease, heartfelt communication can achieve. You cannot engineer it however: Writing is not marketing.

“Writing is really a way of thinking — not just feeling but thinking about things that are disparate, unresolved, mysterious, problematic or just sweet.”
Toni Morrison

Words are vehicles for change.

I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

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