Writing is Thinking

June 17, 20201 min read

“Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That's why it's so hard." - David McCullough

Many years ago, I always had this misguided notion that there is this vast, rich mesh of complicated and deep thoughts in my mind that I can't communicate or articulate effectively.

The teenager in me falsely believed that I was way more intelligent than how I wrote / spoke, and that if only I had a way to convey these mature inner thoughts, people would be impressed.

Well, I was wrong.

The eureka moment came when I was attending a U.S. college application seminar in Malaysia.

Nathaniel Tan, one of the speakers who attended Harvard, was sharing the importance of writing well. He claimed that writing is a direct reflection of our thinking — if we don't write well, it means we are not thinking maturely.

This blew my mind back then. I became aware of the shortcomings of my thinking process, and made a conscientious effort to train myself to think more thoroughly and communicate better.


Writing in itself is not difficult. It is the thinking behind the writing that is hard.

This applies not only to ordinary prose writing, but also to writing code, mathematical proof, business presentation, etc.

Writing lucidly and elegantly is also not just a goal in itself, but also a means to helping us navigate our thinking process.

It is a linear, focused process that forces the loose connections in our brain to be organised and subject to internal scrutiny.


Have you ever wondered why teaching / explaining a concept is more difficult than learning it?

When we are learning, our mind grasps and forms a tangle of loose understandings based on our current mental model. Without further organising, this might be sufficient to tackle exam questions.

But when we are teaching, we are forced to turn this disconnected mesh into a coherent mental shape before we can communicate and explain it well.

In a way, writing forces our mind to undergo similar process as teaching.


Writing is a muscle. It is something that you need to build up with deliberate intention and repetition.

While you can accelerate muscle building by taking steroid, there is no shortcut to good writing except for writing more and editing.

A good post on learning to write with confidence.

Thank you for reading

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