Writing about your work
Back in the Clinton years, I interned at a publishing company in New Orleans and read “queries”, synopses of manuscripts that writers would like to publish. My job was to throw 90% of them out and give the rest to the actual editor. Three queries I remember for their enthusiasm were: a long-haul trucker’s exposé of his industry, a cookbook on next-level microwave-oven cooking, and a book about crawfish husbandry in Louisana. Writing about what you do, instead of reading about it.
Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.
~ Albert Einstein
Like a lot of people, I drink a little too much coffee and probably read a bit too much fluff — blogs, social media musings, magazine articles, et al. I read books too, which are better because they extract more thought and preparation from their authors — and tend to be professionally edited. But that’s still reading and I bet Einstein is right about reading stultifying the brain and detracting from creative endeavors. I think what he’s getting at with “creative pursuits” is not, say, taking up abstract expressionist painting, but creating more value in whatever kind of work you do.
My creative pursuits of choice are drawing and writing. My natural talent in these areas is basically non-existent and so, fortunately, I rely on neither for a living. Plus, proper drawing is demoralizingly challenging and time-consuming. Writing, however, you can do in bits and pieces. Writing can be anything, like writing a tweet, commenting your work when tracking hours at your job or, for me, writing these notes.
Writing comments about your daily job activities in a time-tracking system is a common way to write about your work, at least in my area. Done properly, you summon thoughts and organize them in a way that you would not have otherwise. You often recall doing work you might have forgotten about, just by quickly annotating it. (But not when the entire comment says “Did work.”)
When you refine the way you feel or think about something by writing about it, I think that’s a creative pursuit. When you organize useful thoughts about a subject, thoughts that previously floated around unattached, only being recalled from time to time by happenstance, that’s also a creative pursuit. Those aspiring authors whose queries I read had engaged in a highly creative pursuit by writing at length about their livelihoods. Whatever thoughts that long-haul trucker had harbored about the shenanigans of the trucking industry, I bet they were refined by writing an entire, book-length manuscript on the subject. And that’s a good model to follow.
Writing helps you throw thoughts in the mental trash bin
Writing in public pushes you beyond Einstein’s “lazy habits of thinking”; it pushes you to commit to an opinion on a given subject, and that commitment makes you think carefully. It puts your thinking and self-expression right next to that of your peers, so one and all can see how it stacks up. And it makes you find the right words and the right ideas, along with good examples to prove your case. If on public examination your case collapses, you get to revise and make a better one — and you’ll be much more motivated to do so.
What a great idea-filter writing can be; it’s the chance examine with a mental microscope how you and maybe your organization get work done — and what you should focus your time on. Writing lets you evaluate whether you have enough to say on a subject to justify someone else spending their time reading it. Or whether, valuable subject matter or not, you can talk about it convincingly in the emails, chats, and phone calls that happen daily.
The end result is that writing helps you throw thoughts in the mental trash bin. Leaving you with the good stuff.
That refinement and filtering process can help you discuss an important issue in conversation or by email. Especially a complex or multi-faceted issue; you’ve decluttered your thoughts on the matter in advance, eliminated repetitiveness, and trained yourself to replace generalisms with genuine insights. This could make you and your listeners a little happier to figure things out together.
In conclusion, I recommend throwing some of your thoughts in the trash bin if you want to double profitability by 2063. Ha, just kidding. It’s worth it right now.