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Writing in pursuit of clarity

This post originally appeared on the Renaissance Collective blog, a wonderful community that I am a part of. This post was co-authored with Kali Borkoski.

**The skill of writing is the skill of creating clarity.**

In this post, we’re going to explore the benefits of writing, first to produce clarity for yourself, and then to share that clarity with others.

As humans, we shape our ideas through language. Yes, some people are more visual, others more kinesthetic, but we all use language. Often, we develop ideas in conversation with others, but writing is among the best ways to be in dialog with yourself.

Consider Abraham Lincoln’s diary entries: In the privacy of his own writing, Lincoln grappled with why the Civil War had gone on longer than anyone expected. It was only through this meditative process that he was able to determine that abolishing slavery was the solution for ending the war.

While most of us don’t contend with the urgency of war-time presidency, we’ve all encountered moments where we needed to be clear in relating our convictions. But, exposing the contents of your mind through writing—even just for yourself—can be cringe-worthy. Typically, the first draft of anything heartier than a Slack message will sound like stale biscuits. And that’s why writing is painful: it doesn’t lie about the coherence of your thoughts. The great benefit of writing for yourself is that you are safe to continually explore your incoherence until it yields something valuable. **Lincoln’s diaries don’t read like his public speeches, but they did provide the foundation.**

Once you’ve achieved some semblance of clarity for yourself, you can use your writing to connect with others—your audience.

Say you’re writing a memo to recommend a course of action for your team at work. You’ve done your research, explored all the options, and supported your points with data. Your efforts blossom into a thoughtful analysis, and you’re clear on the best course of action. Now, you’re ready to tell your readers…

Ah, your readers. What are they looking for? Will they absorb your full analysis and appreciate its finer points? Or do they just want to know, in three bullet points, the options you considered and your recommendation? This reflective process allows you to present your best ideas in the most impactful way, because it invites you to look inwards at yourself and then outwards at your audience and bridge the gap in understanding through writing.

In this way, your first draft represents your point of view idealized through an empathic regard for the reader.

Once you have a draft, you get to our favorite part: the collaborative process of creating with others. Writing is a way to build together. This post is a living example:

And in the process of writing—of creating something new together—we had the opportunity to explore an idea we all intuitively believe, but never took the time to fully explore on our own. This is one of the reasons why we at Renaissance Collective love and evangelize writing. It is, at once, a mirror to our convictions, an exercise in understanding others, and an opportunity to express clarity of thought through collaboration. There’s the respect that elevates writing from a necessity to an art.

If you’re interested in our group of co-authors and co-creators (or you know someone who is!) you can find out more here.

Thanks to Alizeh Iqbal, JLai, Jen Yip, Nadia Eldeib, Andrew Woo, and Leon Lin for their contributions to this piece.

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First published on August 19, 2020