We don’t think in five paragraph essays. At least I don’t. We think in small explosions of ideas in a nebulous, non-linear cloud of word pictures. It makes sense in our own minds, but try to communicate those ideas to someone else, and we find that sometimes we don’t have as clear a picture of our own ideas as we thought we did.
Sometimes we can’t find the right words, and sometimes our ideas are so abstract that words just aren’t good enough. For me, I occasionally fumble and hesitate when I I try to explain something in normal conversation. Instead of communicating what’s on my mind clearly and effectively, I discover that I really don’t know what I’m talking about nearly as well as I thought I did.
Writing requires that we take those ambiguous and seemingly random ideas and force them into a logical construct so that others can read them and gain some sort of meaning. The process requires we identify a singular theme unifying our thoughts under one contextual banner. It also requires that we move logically from one idea to the next; otherwise, no one will be able to understand what we’re trying to say. And in the process of writing our thoughts in order to communicate them effectively to others, we actually crystallize them for ourselves.
The process of writing refines our thinking for ourselves just as much as it does for our readers.
The realm of IT is so vast and changing so quickly it requires constant attention to maintain some semblance of understanding. It’s no easy task to wrap your mind around SDN, for example, and immediately come to a settled, definitive conclusion as to its definition, role in modern networking, and the role it will play in coming years. But sit down for a few hours and write a 1200 word piece talking all around the subject and you’ll develop a deeper understanding of SDN than you’ve ever had.
How many times have you heard the term “security best practices” and nodded with understanding while not really knowing what it meant? When I hear or read it, I think of things like centralized authentication, patching servers, anti-virus software, and the policy of least privileges. However, I’ve never really thought through what security best practices really are. I’ve read some articles, heard some people loosely use the term, and I’ve always gone along assuming I knew exactly what it meant. But a recent conversation I had with my students revealed that I had only a vague idea at best.
In order to patch that hole in my understanding, I’ve been reading some whitepapers, blogs and random articles online. However, it’s not until I started to write my own blog post on it that I internalized the concepts.
I know many people struggle with writing and have no fond memories of 11th grade English class. Searching for the right words and where to start can be overwhelming, but the rewards are tremendous.
Writing is difficult but profoundly beneficial.
Write about what a private VLAN is. Explain why you think we should be running layer 3 to the access layer. Analyze the latest SD-WAN solution. Start with an introduction that identifies your theme. Use correct grammar and avoid stream of consciousness style writing. Develop your ideas in the context of your theme and don’t wander off. Write a formal conclusion and tie everything together.
I know it seems like a chore, but the process is incredibly impactful to our thinking. Even if no one ever reads your writing, you’ll have a deeper, clearer, more precise understanding of your own ideas than you otherwise would have.
In short, write something.