One of the Benefits of Writing: Better Reading

Let’s say you come across an interesting and perhaps controversial idea in an article.  If you share the quote on Facebook you’re likely to get a lot of comments about what it omits, or the other side of the idea, or the potential errors and pitfalls.  Even inspirational or thought-provoking little witticisms that do not pretend to convey the whole truth get scrutinized and poked at because of what they leave out.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with pointing out error or missing pieces or potential for misunderstanding, but it does severely limit your ability to take in new ideas.  Good ideas often begin as bad ones, but if you immediately look for what possible problems any idea could have, you’ll stunt the process.

If it’s easy for you to contradict or find flaw in every pithy quote, I submit that you might not be writing enough.  When you aren’t putting your own thoughts into the world often, it’s very easy to play critic and see problems with everyone else’s.  But once you start writing regularly you’ll discover just how hard it is to convey a thought while covering all of your bases.  You’ll find the very tough trade-off between making sure you’re not misunderstood and not going on and on forever or being so full of exceptions that you never communicate the rule.  Of course every sentence is not the whole truth of the matter.  Of course there are exceptions.  But if you want to write and think well, you can’t spend all your time listing them.

After writing a lot you’ll stop looking for perfection in the writing of others.  You’ll get better at the practice of charitable interpretation, where you assume the author is intelligent and has thought of your objection but chose to write what they did anyway.  See if you can discover why.  They must have assumed what they wrote was worth the risk of misunderstanding.  Why?  Writing opens your mind and creates a kind of empathy with other writers.  You know they face the same limitations you do, and you can more easily see the core value in their communication over and above any flaws or omissions.

The more you create, the harder it will be to simply sit on the sidelines and be a critic.