One of the goals I’ve set for myself is to become a better writer. How does one do that? Why by writing, of course. In our society, it has never been easier to write. Most of us don’t even need pen and paper to do it. Many of us have a computer at our disposal with a word processing program already loaded. What could be easier? It’s not the act of writing, though, that is the difficult part, I find. No, the hard part is the thinking.
I can’t remember who pointed it out to me, but if you call to mind the famous statue by Rodin The Thinker, you’ll see what I mean. Look at his pose. He’s a bit twisted and doesn’t look terribly comfortable. I think that may have been intentional by Rodin. Thinking is hard. It’s not for the faint of heart.
It used to be that people spent a great deal of time thinking. We used to live in a world with fewer distractions. We used to live in a world without Smartphones, 24-hour news cycles, radios, televisions, and Twitter. I’m not saying that those were better times. I’m saying that we have to think about the trade-off. I think that one thing we’ve lost in our modern, connected lifestyle is time to think.
Try this: try spending five or ten minutes today without your usual distractions, whatever they may be. If you are usually plugged into your Smartphone, try turning it off for five or ten. If you usually listen to music while you commute or while you jog, try turning it off the next time you do that. If you usually power up your laptop while you’re waiting for your flight to leave, don’t; just for five or ten minutes, or as long as you can stand it.
Now, I know it’s not Walden Pond and even without the distractions of our own making there is still plenty to capture our attention and keep us from thinking, but just for fun try it. What happened? What did you notice? What did you think about? Did you feel uncomfortable? What else did you feel?
For extra credit, try it again the next day. This time, try to follow a line of thought and see where it leads. What happened? If you like this exercise, make it a habit.
I began turning off the radio on my daily commute some time ago. While I miss my talk radio, I find that amazing things come to mind. I find that I solve problems that had been bothering me. I come up with ideas and inspiration. When that happens I often wonder, “What if I’d been too distracted to hear/notice/realize/solve that?” It reminds me again of the importance of unplugging and of thinking.
If I want to pursue my goal of becoming a better writer, I need to become a better thinker. I suppose that’s my real goal: to become a better thinker.
[There are so many powerhouse thinkers/writers from the past, but one of my favorites is C.S. Lewis. Wow. When reading his work it’s easy to see what a giant thinker he was. Also check out Socrates, Henri Nouwen, and Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. Powerful thinkers, all.]