Joel T. Sanders
The Case for Starting a Writing Practice: It Makes You More Creative and a Better Leader
Updated: Mar 9, 2021
I came across this quote over the weekend in Maryanne Wolf's excellent book Reader, Come Home:
When we reflect that 'sentence' means, literally, 'a way of thinking'...we realize that...a sentence is both the opportunity and the limit of thought—what we have to think with, and what we have to think in. Wendell Berry
The fact that "sentences are the opportunity and limit of thought" means that, like it or not, we're stuck with them to get everything done that we want to get done.
If we want to be creative, and if we want to lead, we need to be great at crafting articulate, insightful, meaningful sentences—for ourselves, and for others.
"Sentence" and "sentient" share the same root word: sentire which means to sense or feel in Latin. At the risk of being annoyingly redundant: sentences make us sentient.
The ability to craft a series of sentences into long-form prose gifts us with observing our thinking more objectively. After writing, you might ask, "do I really believe that?" or, "this isn't even clear to me!"
On rare occasion, our sentences surprise us with the raw material for creative insight.
But perhaps sentences are much more. Perhaps sentences are also the opportunity and limit of leadership.
Is it possible that the challenges we face in business and in life stem from our own failure to find the right words?
Nearly a century ago, Charles Kettering said, "A problem well-stated is half solved." Most of us nod in agreement at Kettering's insight. Yet I also believe that most of us severely underestimate the difficulty of finding the words to adequately state the problems we face.
Try sitting, thinking, and writing deeply about a complex problem you're facing. If, after writing down your problem, you don't believe that you're halfway to a solution, your problem probably isn't well-stated.
And yet we plow ahead anyway, working off of half-defined, barely describable, unwritten problems. That's not leadership; it's reaction.
We either direct action through well-crafted sentences, or we allow life to unfold around us through unarticulated reactivity. Which brings me to the topic of today's post: the case for starting and maintaining a consistent writing practice.
Writing long-form prose—be it journaling, blog posts, essays, or client reports—deepens our creative capacity for insight. It also sharpens leadership capability, by improving our means of articulating complex problems and ideas—first to ourselves, and then to those around us.
Said another way, a consistent writing practice gives us the skills to articulate thought. And the ability to articulate our thoughts is the foundation for both creative insight and leadership.