Writing

For self-improvement, writing is commitment. Put it in writing, say it make it so

What is it about writing that makes it such a useful tool for self-improvement? In the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People there are some writing exercises suggested. For example, you are supposed to, once-a-week, write down your principles in a document so as to center you.

The underlying principle behind this method is that writing is commitment. There's a reason for the expression, "Commit it to writing." A management technique is to tell your subordinates that if they want anything from you, they should "put it in writing." The purpose of this is two-fold. First, it encourages internal vetting. Just as you're about to put something in writing, you evaluate first whether it's worthy and represents what you really think.

Second, it creates focus. Writing, unlike the mind, is less tolerant of ambiguity. Whereas you may think you want something today, and then tomorrow you want something else, you probably wouldn't write it down, because you know that it's fleeting. What you write down is meant to be permanent.

Thirdly, it is like a contract. The document is a constant reminder of you describing what you want, and unless you backtrack (with some embarrassment), you'll be held accountable to it.

Is the fear of writing sometimes just a form of attachment anxiety?

The process of writing, of committing something to paper, expresses the following: "I'm not willing to part with this." Consider the most basic forms of writing: little shopping lists or to-do lists. We make these things because we don't want to forget something. By extension, we write ideas down because we want to keep them, to pin them down. Inevitably we become attached to what we write, and so sometimes we intentionally write something down to form a bond.

Is a fear of writing, in some cases, a kind of attachment anxiety? Perhaps reluctant writers don't want to tie themselves down to a particular idea. Perhaps most brains work with fluid ideas that change depending on when we call them into question. Maybe writing things down forces our brains to prematurely commit. In which case, the act of not writing is a way to keep oneself free from attachment.

Joseph Campbell's hero's journey is universal, simply because it's the most efficient, entertaining story about self-actualization

Joseph Campbell's presentation of the monomyth is designed purposefully with an unanswered mystery. That there exists common myths in cultures that did not have contact with each other bespeaks of some innate, shared human longing, and therefore something universally identifiable with the hero's journey.

However, it's a simple exercise to guess what this innate, shared longing is all about. For one, the hero's journey is simply about education. Parents tell children stories about heroes to instill courage in grappling with the unknown: "There may be woolly mammoths in some valley or some other such mystery, but you will figure it out. If not, there will be mentors along the way." It reinforces the role of teachers, but also that of students transcending their teachers to acquire new knowledge.

The monomyth also follows the laws of flow, with the hero or player attempting something beyond their skillset, thereby causing anxiety and doubt. Eventually, through practice or trial-and-error (i.e. falling into the abyss), they will transform into new capable players and return to the village with bounty. The hero's journey is, therefore, the most compact, entertaining story about self-actualization.

Or, the monomyth is just what happens when a basic story reaches its logical form after generations of evolution. The first version could have been, "John went out into the woods, was hungry, starved for a few days, but invented bear traps, then came back with bear meat for the tribe." After iterative storytelling, with adjustments made over years to increase the story's appeal, it becomes, "John was hungry, had visions (i.e. hallucinated), was eaten by the bear, but became a bear god in the process, and now watches over the universe." The consequences are exaggerated to involve death and the abyss, and the stakes are made astronomical, with the whole world hanging in the balance. All of this makes for better storytelling, which means that the monomyth has a lot in common with a writer's room plumbing the human psyche for the most viral stories possible.

Only an elitist can't see that blogging, and subsequently social media, are some of the greatest things to happen to writing and literacy

Blogging was one of the best things to happen to writing, not because it necessarily improved the overall quality of writing out there, but because it increased the number of writers by a magnitude of ten. Before blogging, how did people nurture a writing skill? Without an audience, writing for fun wasn't that fun for most people. Sure, some who have a writing inclination are compelled to pull out a notepad and dabble. Maybe they want to see what it would be like to write a short story, or how it would feel to pontificate. But without the knowledge that someone, somewhere, is going to read it, the gesture is empty.

There is an authentic writing movement now, one that asks teachers to give students writing assignments that feel like genuine social transactions. Rather than writing an essay to be read by the teacher, students are encouraged to correspond with a pen pal. Perhaps this movement came about as a result of the explosion of casual writing that sprung from blogging.

Sure, in the past, people could write letters to their friends where they go to elaborate lengths to expound on some political subject, but that required two people to be interested in such a project. With blogging, someone will read at least a little bit of what you have to say, and so match-making is required.

Isn't it blogging, then, that is the great innovation for the collective conscious? The Internet is as important of an invention as the printing press in enhancing collective thought. And its sub-inventions (Google, Wikipedia) are pivotal pieces of that thinking, whether it's consensus truth (Wikipedia) or referencing our collective database (Google). Blogging fits in by enhancing our collective consciousness. People think aloud now in a way that was private before blogging. And while the term blogging is arcane at this point, blogging is the prototype for social media, and social media is now our global brain.

Understandably, the global brain is young, and it has yet to shed its sloppy reputation, thanks to its current propensity to promote foul-mouthed, but viral, politicians. But it will get better. Writing is thinking, and thinking is writing, and now that writing for oneself is an authentic gesture for more people than it was before, maybe we will begin to think better as a society.

The New York Times bestsellers list exists to turn the words of book titles into public thought

People hear about a non-fiction book from a popular magazine article or through an interview on the radio and are seduced by the thesis. They then buy the book and start reading it in earnest, gaining an introductory understanding of the nature of the research backing the thesis. They then often skim the rest of the book or set the book aside.

None of the author's research is retained by readers, nor necessarily even read, even if hundreds of thousands of people pick up the book. And yet those hundreds of thousands will believe in the words of that author, and of those hundreds of thousands, some will be policy-makers or spiritual leaders. The stack of text then becomes a beacon or totem that says, effectively, "This is probably true." People will cite the book after it's initial publication, and eventually, the book could be hollowed out. But even if the text were lost forever, the title of the book and the author's name could continue to guide the direction of human thought for years to come.

The purpose of blogging is the same as dream journaling: By writing down our days, we get better at remembering we have them

We have fifty-some dreams per night, but as we wake up, little scrubbers in our brain erase our memories of them. Some of these dreams are vivid dreams, where you can see everything in HD, like little goosebumps. And some of these dreams are lucid dreams, where you can dictate your wildest fantasies. We live this rich, imaginative life every time we sleep, and yet most of it is inaccessible to us because we forget.

Dream journaling fights back at this process, and the more I do it, the more my dream world becomes a part of my waking world. The stories, images, and characters linger after I wake up, and I use them to instruct my creativity and ideas. I almost feel a little boost of superhuman enhancement, like I'm experiencing more (interesting) hours per day than the average human.

Blogging has the same effect as dream journaling. I have fifty-some ideas throughout the day, but if I don't blog or speak about them, I forget them. I even forget that I had them in the first place, similar to dream-forgettery. It gets to the point where I don't think I have any ideas to speak of unless I keep a journal. And then I talk to someone, or I write something down, and it's like a flashlight goes off in a cave, and all these batty ideas come flying out the portico.

What we lose in zest by using passive voice, we gain in intrigue, as storms gather, and things happen

"The Internet was invented" sounds better than "Scientists invented the Internet" or "Al Gore invented the Internet." Even though passive voice is discouraged in English class, we crave it. Much of the human experience is about receiving things or things happening to us, with the actor or agent unknown. We can identify who invented the Internet, but doing so ignores the idea that technology itself has agency. "Technology wants something," with or without the specifically named inventors, and so the arrival of the Internet, in a way, is something that magically appeared.

Active voice frames conversations with causality, which makes sense in the plot of a spy thriller with a character who is pushing the events of the story forward. But even then, one could frame it in terms like, "conspiracies formed, commands were sent, and computers got hacked."