Why We Need to Make Sentences

You don’t need to be a “writer” to make sentences that will change your life. If you want to skip this next part and get started making sentences, go here.

A friend sent me this short essay by philosopher/programmer/artist Paul Graham in which he says, “If writing down your ideas always makes them more precise and more complete, then no one who hasn’t written about a topic has fully formed ideas about it. And someone who never writes has no fully formed ideas about anything nontrivial.”

His double negative is a bit to wade through, but Graham says what those of us who write know: putting your ideas into words changes you. It illuminates what you need to keep and what you can let go of. It enables you to kick the tires of your life and proceed with greater confidence in your choices.

Speaking sentences aloud to a friendly audience (friend, therapist, advisor) can have a lot of the same benefit, but there’s a particular clarity that comes from seeing your own words on the page, being able to re-read them and re-work them until they feel true.

Writing also has a physicality to it — hand to keyboard, pen to paper — that matters. We are bodies having thoughts and feelings, so having the body participate can help those thoughts and feelings move, like how our ideas sometimes flow better when we’re out walking.

If ruminating generates fog, writing can dispel it.

When we don’t speak or write sentences, we tend to hang onto ideas or beliefs that don’t serve us anymore. Often when those thoughts meet the light of day, we can see what’s nonsense masquerading as truth or reason.

Sometimes, we don’t speak or write sentences because we want to keep our old ideas in the fog so we don’t have to give them up. Speaking and writing is a kind of commitment to facing what is so. Facing what is so is hugely helpful for getting unstuck in our lives and moving towards goals we’d really like to meet.

Graham asks, “Can you ever know so much that you wouldn’t learn more from trying to explain what you know? I don’t think so. I’ve written about at least two subjects I know well … and in both cases I learned a lot from writing about them. In both cases there were things I didn’t consciously realize till I had to explain them.”

Carl Jung described the process of a person becoming whole as bringing what is unconscious into consciousness. We don’t need to pull everything from our unconscious to live lives of clarity and purpose — but it really helps to have a way to allow unconscious material to flow into consciousness so we have more freedom in our choices. Writing is an extremely effective tool for this.

Here’s a baker’s dozen of suggestions on ways to use writing to fuel insight.