Why I write

I started writing daily when I was 16. Most of the writings were just dumping my thoughts so that my brain can be less burdened by them. It is the exact reason why computers have hard disks in addition to RAM. Writing thoughts down is simply a much less costly way to store them than holding them in the mind. It was only until recently that I started to write down my thoughts on my blog and I would like to share why.

As Francis Bacon said, writing makes an exact man. Putting pen to paper helps, but the benefits are multiplied when the work is shared with others. My writing is noticeably more biased and flawed in my journal than in my blog. When I write for my blog, I had to think about how others may critique my work and I would try to avoid glaring errors as much as possible. In this process, I achieved a more neutral argument that becomes more convincing even to myself. This increased level of clarity means I can live happier – the same type of happiness when you wiped away the raindrops on your glass and finally see the world as it is.

In this regard, writing also helps us to learn. As Feynman said, if you could not explain an idea to a twelve-year-old, it means that you have not really understood the idea. An analogy to computers here may help (you may skip to the next paragraph if it is too technical). If we were computers, each of us would be running a different operating system from others. In computers, the software can be transferred in semi English scripts but the machines process in binary digits. It is similar for us: ideas are transferred in languages understood by humans but not really the languages that our brains use, which communicates within itself using neurotransmitters between neurons. In order to use any scripts on a computer, the compilation must be done. The compilation is usually not a big problem for computers due to the limited number of operating systems available. But for us humans with unique operating systems modified by our education, families, and experiences, we will never know if compilation has been done correctly unless we test the output. Here is the value of writing – we can read others’ ideas, remember them (download the source code) and compile them (practice them), but until we write our thinking out (generate compilation log/bug report), we will hardly know the flaws in our thinking. It is not just for self-interest, either. The writer may have a very different operating system from you, and by writing out how you compiled their source code, you help so many people to learn, as they may share similar operating systems to yours.

Furthermore, writing can help reduce trifling communications. Unlike talking, whatever is written can be skimmed, read, and reused countless times. This is frankly one of the greatest inventions of humanity because it allows ideas to spread like a pandemic. Speaking of which is probably the reason why most of us are alive. Imagine a world where diseases spread faster than the information about it. Most of the population will probably be killed by the time they know about it. It is thus a bit puzzling to see that so many of us are solely relying on primitive ways of one-to-one communication. I am not denying the need for private communications and the benefits it brings to interpersonal bonding, but it is indeed a pity if someone has great ideas that only get reiterated at dining tables. One of the baffling memories of any encounters is to be bombarded with the same questions repeatedly. For busier people among us may, for this reason, avoid such social occasions and ghost such private inquiries in whatever forms they may be. It will be a blessing for both the masters and the curious minds if this message is delivered to unsolicited visitors: “My thoughts and experiences have been discussed in depth in these articles. I will be happy to discuss them (probably to a bigger audience) if you could kindly send the questions over. Private communications are welcome but perhaps best conducted at breakouts in the events that I attend. Here is a list of them…”. The person who has done it really well is Jane McGonigal.*

One potential downside of writing is this: our ideas may (or will) change and we may not want to be held accountable to our past selves. This was one fear of mine. However, I realized that the important line to draw is not to be offensive in any form of communication, regardless of whether they will be documented. Other than that, there is no need and no way to try to please everyone and avoid judgment. Communication is the primary objective. Being stereotypically labeled by some may simply be an inevitable cost. As long as we document our thoughts and remain open, we can find a like-minded community and that is what matters. The cost of remaining in our shells can be too high.

Another fear that some people may empathize with is the fear of being unoriginal. What if we are just rehashing someone else’s ideas? What if the thoughts have been summarized so well by other people and my writing is just a waste of both the readers’ and my own time? First of all, there may not be that many original ideas after all. there are 7 billion people on this planet, with billions died and trillions to come. Our human condition, however, stays largely the same. What troubled our ancestors 5000 years ago are still troubling us at this age, despite the vast improvement of our livelihood. So yes, I will not be surprised if my ideas have been expressed in one form or another. but the point here is that you are unique. The experience you went through (and your operating system) is unique. Trust me, people will want to see the thoughts and reflections behind our self-marketing.

So, go and share your thoughts with the world. I will be delighted to see you share them in the comments below (or via private messaging).

*Nevertheless, there is a huge amount of value in private communication besides interpersonal bonding, but I will leave that to a future article.

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Tim
Computational Biologist & Medical Student

Personalizing medicine

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