So you want to make a dent on the world’s greatest problems, huh? The best way to start is articulating your thoughts. Read this post to learn why the key to doing this is picking up a pen and writing.

All change begins with language, the best way to begin is to write.  Tweet This Quote

Making “generalist” a respected moniker will take effort. A cheap trick might be using a capital G when we write it. A better one is to make it stand for deep and important things. Since all change begins with language, the best way to begin is to write.

There is no better way to learn about yourself than by writing. One might think that putting things into words is primarily for the purpose of having other people understand them, but that is actually just a fortunate (or unfortunate depending on what you write) side effect.

Writing is the best way to see what you think, if you follow. It crisps up your logic, brings into focus your own unique view of the world. Unless you know your own unique view of the world you cannot set out to fulfill it, because you don’t know from where you are actually setting out. Writing requires great discipline. It trains your brain to focus and un-focus at the same time so that thoughts and feelings you don’t even recognize come out. It teaches you to listen to yourself, but in an adventurous way, not a self-indulgent one. Writing is a priceless but free method of self-discovery.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to take a picture than it is to write something.

Writing helps you talk as well. It makes you more succinct and persuasive—more aware of what you’ve just said, what you want to say next. It provides practice removing inanities like “like”, equally horrid empty generalities and the blah blah blah of current events. Writing is talking + time.

Emails don’t count. In fact, get as far away from email as possible when you’re trying to write so you don’t clean out your spam folder every ten minutes as a way to avoid the pain of concentrating. Journals are fine as a way to make notes and get started but they’re too forgiving. We can be sloppy when writing only to ourselves.

Writing is talking + time.  Tweet This Quote

It is true what so many have written: It hurts to write. It’s lonely and frustrating. There’s a reason why so many brilliant writers take to the bottle. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to take a picture than it is to write something. Which thousand words, in what order? Every once in a while something flows – writes itself as they say, overtakes you so that you’re not aware of time, only the feeling of writing. But most of the time, it’s a struggle.

The hardest thing of all to write is truth. Not the kind based on facts, not the kind where you review someone else’s theories and refute or support them. Not the kind that tells an anecdote about something that happened to you at a conference or on the subway one morning. The hardest things to convey are the not-so-obvious, Unspoken Truths that we see when we think about the big picture.

This doesn’t mean you should try to write a novel. Not everyone has one in them. It’s bad enough that every Tom, Dick and Sally feel the need to write a boring business book. I’m talking about the kind of writing where you gather your very own thoughts on a subject you care about and put them down in a manner that makes sense to someone other than you.

The hardest thing of all to write… is truth.  Tweet This Quote

Ronald Reagan supposedly said “there is nothing as good for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse.” (Let’s forget that he leaves women out of this, and let’s try to forget that the country may have been better off had he stuck to riding horses and clearing brush.) I would say, not that anyone will quote me, “There is nothing as good for the inside of a person than writing something good.” Not quite so symmetrical. Then there is Groucho Marx’s quote, “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

Here’s how to write.

  1. Pick a subject and notice how you feel about it.
  2. Take at least ten minutes, hopefully much more, to think about what it is you want to say. If it helps you to assume a Power Pose, by all means do so.
  3. Without censuring yourself in any way, quickly put your thoughts down in whatever order they come out. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, paragraphs, run on sentences, spelling or anything else. Be free. Write or type, whatever you do faster.
  4. Stand up, take a break, change your perspective, then come back and look at what you’ve written. Restructure it so there’s an illuminating order to it. Don’t be too strict with it, avoid chronological order. Let the writing talk back to you and see what it wants to say.
  5. Put it down for at least a day. Come back fresh and be an editor. Does energy come through? Read it out loud to hear the rhythm. Think about pacing and structure.
  6. Ruthlessly look at every word and sentence. Does it contribute? Is there a way to say it that uses less cliched or worn language?
  7. Repeat steps 4 and 5 as necessary until it doesn’t need you anymore.

And write short things. Nobody reads anymore anyway.

Some of my favorite books on writing are “If you want to Write” by Brenda Ueland. “Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life” by Anne Lamott. “Several Short Sentences About Writing” by Verlyn Klinkenborg

There is no better way to learn about yourself than by writing.  Tweet This Quote

Cheryl Heller

Author Cheryl Heller

Cheryl Heller is the Founding Chair of the first MFA program in Design for Social Innovation at SVA, founder of design lab CommonWise, and a pioneer in social impact design. Cheryl received the AIGA medal for her contribution to the field of design in 2014. She is the former Board Chair and founding faculty for the PopTech Social Innovation Fellows, a Senior Fellow at Babson Social Innovation Lab, and the Innovation Advisory Board for the Lumina Foundation. She created the Ideas that Matter program for Sappi, which has given over $12 million to designers working for the public good.

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