Starting or running a business is a risky endeavor. Entrepreneurs and artists deal with a storm of surprises and self-doubt, and they need to constantly learn and adapt to steer the ship to safety.
I’ve found that one of the best avenues for problem solving is writing. The process of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) allows us to digest and distill experiences mindfully.
Here’s an example: If you keep ramming your head into a project, it’s worth pausing and writing about it to understand your thinking process. You might normally go over the problem again and again in your mind, but writing your thoughts out to see the language you’re using—and for a colleague to read and provide feedback on—is a far more fruitful method to untangle the mess in your mind.
As much as writing is about communicating to others, it begins with self-reflection.
As Terry Tempest said in Why We Write, “I write to make peace with things I cannot control. I write to create a fabric in a world that often appears black and white. I write to discover. I write to uncover. I write to meet my ghosts. I write to begin a dialogue. I write to imagine things differently and in imagining things differently perhaps the world will change.”
Let’s take a look at the benefits of building a habit of writing.
Public and Personal Writing
The kind of writing I’m suggesting falls into two categories: public and personal.
Compared to a decade or two ago, it’s easier than ever before for entrepreneurs to have their own public platforms where they can share ideas and build a legacy. Think Paul Graham, Marie Forleo, Bernadette Jiwa, Warren Buffett, or any important person in an organization who writes. When you share in a public forum, your posture is different; you have an idea or perspective to stand behind. It takes guts to share your thoughts for the masses to read, but doing so encourages a firm stance on what you believe.
However, there’s a flip side: Because your work is going to be public, you may withdraw from sharing certain things about yourself or your business. Vulnerability can be a sign of honesty and openness to your customers, but revealing too much can be off-putting and unnecessary, so tread this line carefully.
Equivalent to a private journal, personal writing is about self-reflection. You may write about a deal that might not go through and how it might affect your business—the things you will eventually have to say to your team and investors.
By writing this out, you’re on the path to creating clarity. You begin acknowledging the fears, doubts, or ideas that can be readily missed or ignored.
Personal writing is also a great avenue for brainstorming and dreaming. Where would you like to see your business flourish? What are your personal goals in work or in life? How do you imagine you will accomplish those things?
Watching Professionals Develop the Habit of Writing
Nowhere has the fruitfulness of writing been more evident to me than in my experience as a coach for Seth Godin’s altMBA program.
I worked with professionals from a variety of backgrounds. Many of them didn’t consider themselves writers, and many of them hadn’t written this extensively in a long time.
The intensive program assigned multiple projects week after week and put students in a position to not only share an understanding of their topic, but to tell a story and teach it to someone. All of their work is public.
After four weeks, the benefits of writing about one’s life and work were clear:
Writing hones thinking. For many students, writing was like putting on a new pair of glasses: It helped them see details they otherwise would have missed. If the project prompt was about outlining one’s assets and narratives for their organization, writing those down yielded insights they hadn’t yet realized. Because writing is a lot like meditation, the students tuned into themselves and thought more deeply about the issues, philosophies, and practices of their businesses.
Writing bolsters creativity.
Writing generates ideas. By reflecting, connecting the dots, and cross-pollinating seemingly unrelated ideas, we think of novel ways to improve our situations. As Todd Henry said in Manage Your Day-to-Day, "When you give yourself frequent permission to explore the ‘adjacent possible’ with no restrictions on where it leads, you increase the likelihood of a creative breakthrough in all areas of your life and work." We can explore these possibilities by tuning into ourselves, paying attention to the world, and sharing what we see.
Building the Habit of Writing
Whether you choose to write in the mornings, during lunch, or before bed, find a pocket of time in your schedule to which you can commit.
It’s not the lack of a MacBook or an 18-year Scotch that’s delaying you from writing; it’s the habit that’s amiss.
A habit takes shape by doing something regularly (daily, weekly, etc.) at a specific time. Put it in your calendar, and keep your writing appointment as you would an appointment with a colleague.
Aside from the self-serving benefits of writing, it’s a fundamental skillset that will enrich your life personally and professionally. Much of our modern communication relies on writing—notes, emails, copy, essays—and I don’t see the value diminishing anytime soon.
Writing is not just a tool—it’s the tool for learning, reflecting, and living.