How writing sharpens thinking

Consider a sculptor making figurines out of clay. You would see how she works in iterations – first to get the overall shape of the figure, next to add the rough details. And later, she adds the finer ones.

As she works, she notices the imperfections in her work. When she spots a mistake, she layers in some more clay and does it over. She keeps refining her work until she is finished and can no longer improve it.

Writing works in the same manner. These thoughts start off as clay and is moulded by every word and every sentence that we commit. We then get to our first draft and iterate upon it with repeated edits until we are done. The key parallel here is that of refinement. When we observe a problem with our thinking – with either the underlying logic or the choice of the words that express it – we go back and edit our words. And with those edits, we refine our thinking.

In the past, when people wrote on parchment, cloth and even paper, they didn’t have the luxury of iterating upon their work. It was akin to carving on stone or metal. But today, as we type on our screens, our medium is more malleable than the softest of clay. 

Has there ever been a better time to write?

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