May 4

Step 1: Engage Brain

While structuring and organizing a new business venture (which I will be posting about soon), I have re-discovered something about writing and thinking: in order to write well, you need to engage your brain.

OK, OK, so it’s not that profound; it’s not a “stop the presses!” moment. I never said it was. But it has struck me anew just how little we (I should say “I,” but I’m hoping you relate to this) really think deeply about the problems, possibilities and issues of our daily lives.

Part of the reason for this is surely that thinking—pondering, musing, analyzing—is hard work, and we (and here I really should say “I”) are mentally lazy. Deep down, we would really like to just have the words flow without thought, wouldn’t we? The problem is, words without thought tend to be shallow, hackneyed clichés that fail to communicate well. Remember what the poet Sheridan said: “Easy writing’s vile hard reading.”

Another reason we do less deep thinking today is our distraction-prone culture. Social media is often cited as the main culprit, but there are plenty of other factors that deserve blame: postmodernism’s muddling of fact and opinion; our love for sound bites and talking points over reasoned discourse; and the proliferation of more and more sources of information—and disinformation.

So how do we overcome distractions and our natural inclination to avoid the hard work of deep thinking? Ironically, I have made a second re-discovery about thinking and writing, the flip side of the first: a great way to engage your brain is to write!

A central principle of communication is that language (spoken and written) is inseparable from conceptual thought. We think in words far more than we may realize, and all our writing is a product of our thought processes. So when you decide to do deep thinking, have a notepad and pen handy, and write out your thoughts. (Yes, you could tap it out on a keyboard, but it makes you more vulnerable to some of those cultural distractions.)

Are the words that I write down while thinking deeply going to be read by anyone else? Maybe not, but write as if they are. When you work to make your written thoughts understandable to a stranger, you will find that it creates new patterns of thinking, and helps you avoid shallow reasoning and cliché-ridden mental habits.

As I’ve been thinking (and writing) deeply about my new business, I am seeing previously ignored details that I can now deal with and potential pitfalls that I can now avoid. Because I have written down my thoughts as if explaining them to a stranger, I have been able to use these notes as a source for promotional/marketing copy for my company. Nothing gets wasted.

I encourage you to make a regular habit of deep thinking, accompanied by careful writing; it will lead to freshness of thought and clarity of expression. And if the notes you make from your great and profound ideas result in publishable text, all the better!

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Posted May 4, 2017 by Dave Fessenden in category "Uncategorized


  1. By Mrs. Phillips on

    I first became aware of you, a neighboring south central PA wordsmith, in Marlene Bagnull’s Christian Writers Conference schedule. Although I will not be attending the conference, I am intrigued by the title of the class you are teaching, “The Bible Is NOT A Quote Book”. On the contrary, I have found as a lover of poetry, that mixing phrases and words from various versions, can engage my brain much like Shakespeare who rewrote many older plays into lyrical masterpieces. If you reply, I shall also share with you the reasoning behind my amusement upon first sight of your title about the bombing of the speakeasy.

  2. By Dave Fessenden (Post author) on

    Hello, Mrs. Phillips,

    I am glad you are intrigued by the title of the workshop, “The Bible is NOT a quote book.” Certainly, I would agree that there are a lot of quotable passages in the Bible. The point I make in the workshop is that a Christian writer (especially nonfiction, and especially with spiritual themes) should not simply write whatever they want, and then crack open the Bible to find a verse (perhaps out of context) that seems to fit what they want to teach the reader. Instead the writer’s spiritual teaching should grow out of a deep familiarity with Scripture. I am seeking to ward off the “proof-texting” that appears far too often in devotional material, Christian living books, and other Christian writing. In other words, don’t take your own ideas and then try to find justification for them in the Bible; read the Bible with an open humble mind and learn from it, then take what you’ve learned and write about that. —Dave

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