“Writing is Thinking…That’s Why It’s so Hard.”


English: David McCullough speaking at Emory Un...

English: David McCullough speaking at Emory University. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

David McCullough is a favorite writer/historian of mine.  I just real several articles by him so stay tuned…there are more quotes to come. But my very favorite is, “You can’t learn to play the piano without playing the piano, you can’t learn to write without writing, and, in many ways, you can’t learn to think without thinking. Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.”

So succinct and well put. Truisms. People often talk about the writing process as one of research, then writing, then editing or rewriting.  I think that is to omit a step on the journey.  At least for me, and apparently David McCullough, thinking is as much a part of the process as writing itself.  Thinking and rethinking. Would the character say it just that way? Given the nature of their relationship what should one expect to happen? What’s the next step I should take in the plot? Can the reader follow the action easily? and for editing: Would the sentences flow better in a different order? Are all of them necessary? Do any say the same thing just in different words?

The Thinking Man sculpture at Musée Rodin in Paris

The Thinking Man sculpture at Musée Rodin in Paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think in the shower and on long car rides. Especially when I was originally writing and stuck on what should come next or how to resolve something I couldn’t turn my mind off. In bed, cooking dinner, at the store, the characters and plot turned and turned in my head as I tried to think my way through.  Of course I wonder if McCullough would also agree that the reverse is true? If you think clearly do you automatically write clearly? l am inclined to think it is not that easy.

At the moment I am still editing my hard copy, and still incredulous at how different editing a paper copy is from all my previous editing on computer.  I am also reading the book aloud as I edit. McCullough has a quote for that as well: “Writing should be done for the ear. Rosalee [McCullough’s wife] reads aloud wonderfully and it’s a tremendous help to me to hear her speak what I’ve written. Or sometimes I read it to her. It’s so important. You hear things that are wrong, that call for editing.”  That is a statement I endorse 100%.  While I am more of a visual than auditory learner, I have learned so much from reading “The Call” aloud. I believe it is immeasurably better for this process.

One of the things I learned from this auditory review was there are patterns in my writing.  While not redundant, nor certainly on every page, I have a tendency to hedge:  “It was almost like…” “It seemed”  and another pattern is that  I love the word ‘clear,’  and use it way too often, especially when I don’t want to hedge or pull my punches: “It was very clear…” “yet it was clear to everyone…” “he was clearly known by her father.” I doubt without reading the book aloud to myself I would have discovered either of these things.  Have I changed them all…no. But I have eliminated the bulk of the hedging statements and replaced most of the “clears” …saving that word for where I want it most.

“Writing is thinking. That’s why it’s so hard.”  I agree. Particularly if you want the writing to be good, to be accessible to your reader, for them to be able to feel a part of it.  But I am reminded of another quote, “Cognito ergo sum.”  Descartes put it equally succinctly and well: “I think, therefore I am.” To which I will amend an edit, “I think therefore I write.”

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About joanneeddy

Writer living in North Carolina. Originally from upstate New York. I love my family, my community, and my friends, and embrace 'living deliberately' in the world, trying to make a difference. I have written an as yet unpublished book, The Call, an epic fantasy with historical fiction and folklore elements. My blog is for other writers, for those who love a good read, and for all who, like me, are looking to find and live their call.
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11 Responses to “Writing is Thinking…That’s Why It’s so Hard.”

  1. Writing is thinking, and we need space and peace in which to think and write. Not always easy in this hectic world. On another tack looking at the beginning of your blog, my son’s friend would not take driving lessons, because he didn’t know how to drive!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Osyth says:

    Writing is either a cake-walk or a walk through mud in concrete galoshes …. it is so hard to explain to people why, sometimes, the head just doesn’t engage with the fingers.. Your incisive article goes a good way to explaining. Thank you .

    Liked by 1 person

  3. lbeth1950 says:

    I agree. I have to read aloud to catch errors.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Bernadette says:

    I think (no pun intended) that it is very important to read aloud what you have written and work with a hard copy. Both tools stimulate different sections of the brain and create original thoughts. Thanks for taking the time to post this. I am going to send it to my friend Bill who is writing a book.

    Liked by 1 person

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