To Write is to Think

Many see writing as a process separate from thinking. As if, for a writer to write, some thinking had to have already happened. And then it became the writer’s job to report on the results of that process, the way a scientist documents his experiments. This is, as the Germans say, falsh.

No writer that I know of has been blessed with some incredible faculty of mind that lets him sit down and construct flawless arguments on the page, written in sharp, elegant prose. Even Steven Pinker, the world’s leading authority on clarity of expression and style, admits to shooting the arrow first and painting a target where it lands. In practical terms, this means letting yourself be carried by your train of thought to an interesting conclusion, and then redoing the rest of the text so that it appears to have been pointing in the right direction all along.

That’s how everyone does it. Get it out of your head first. Discover what it is, and if it’s worth someone else’s time, rewrite, rework, redo.

Mind you, not all writing you produce will be worth other people’s time. Sometimes a concept or a story will follow you around, and when you finally write it, you realize it’s an ugly duckling. Deep down, you’ll want it to grow into a beautiful swan, but baby swans are actually quite cute-I looked it up-and this… this stunted, sickly thing you wrote will never be that. Which leaves you with a choice: dress it up in ribbons and parade it, or go to some secluded spot, dig a shallow grave, and do what you gotta do. Unfortunately, many writers opt for the former. I don’t blame them. But they don’t have the guts to be professional writers.

To give you a measure of what I’m talking about. I started to get serious about writing in 2013. Since then, I wrote 30+ short stories, sold only 4, and only after 70-something rejection letters. The rest of my stories will never see the light of day. On top of that, I wrote three full-sized novels for practice. They’re flawed in all the right ways, which means they’re dear to me, but I will never send them to agents. They were mere rehearsal before the real thing, the one I’m writing right now-which, by the way, may not be good enough either, and that’s okay. I’ll write more. Moreover, for the 100,000 words published on this blog, another 100,000 rests in a ditch I dug out not far away from an abandoned train station on the outskirts of Berlin.

And if, a long time ago, I rebelled against the view that what I write down may be utterly useless, I now embrace it. It must be this way because writing is thinking on paper-or through the keyboard, it doesn’t matter. To write is to think things through; find out what you really mean.

And, unless you think only in quotable thoughts that other people engrave on the backs of gold watches, or tombstones; if you’re human like the rest of us, most thoughts you have, even the ones that seem profound at the moment, are not that profound, or original, or useful to anybody else but you. They’re just thoughts. There for your amusement.

And that’s okay.

Originally published at https://www.sebastianhetman.com on October 12, 2020.

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Writer. Editor. An avid reader. Thinks too much. Writes about human nature and the stories we tell ourselves. Cooks. The owner of Twitter’s most beloved desk.

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Sebastian Hetman

Sebastian Hetman

Writer. Editor. An avid reader. Thinks too much. Writes about human nature and the stories we tell ourselves. Cooks. The owner of Twitter’s most beloved desk.

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