Back in 1995, as the world was beginning to wake up to the potential of the World Wide Web, I sat in a high school computer lab. Rather than spending lunch outside, I would bake in the glow of that RGB screen.
It was heaven — far better than listening to the honk and hiss of our dial-up modem at home.
I spent endless hours in Dos typing commands to download games by FTP.
I found chat rooms to troll.
A friend turned me onto Mozilla to explore digital content on Yahoo’s index rather than using command prompts. So, I began keeping a little blue notebook of HTML tags and read geeky mags about web design.
I would spend hours designing 3D images pixel-by-pixel in Microsoft Paint while my parents begged me to go outside.
Then, I would meticulously slice and code them into web pages.
Our high school — Aberdeen High School in Aberdeen, MS — was one of the first schools in the nation to have a school website. That attracted a modest level of attention — particularly that of CNN.
It was exciting. CNN came to our school and asked to interview the President and Vice President of the computer club. I was the Veep-in-geek and happily answered their questions. Then, I waited excitedly to see myself on the evening news.
My parents still have a VHS somewhere of the broadcast.
Although I don’t remember much about the broadcast, I do remember one thing. Etched in my mind like an ancient painting — my misuse of the phrase “per se.” How does someone misuse that phrase?
You see, as a geeky loner who preferred tech over people, I also spent a lot of time writing. If I was sad, I wrote poems. If I was excited, I wrote poems. If I was angry, I wrote poems. I have books of melodramatic, very bad poetry from my youth, but poetry that drove me to experiment with new rhythms and structure for my words.
I loved writing as much as I enjoyed coding.
And that was the problem. I cared so much about words, but I misused one on national television. I swore it would never happen again.
As I began my professional career, I took pride in my eloquence.
Through writing, I became adept at presentations, despite my disabling fear of public speaking.
Through writing, I became effective at communication in meetings.
Through writing, I became effective at dreaming up and predicting outcomes on major projects.
But, when I hit 35-years-old, something changed. Most of my friends would say they didn’t observe a difference. But, it was there.
I would find myself in a conversation reaching for a word I couldn’t find, as if someone stole it from my sentence and hid it in a cupboard.
I would find myself in a deep debate, reaching for an argument and finding a fuzzy brain instead.
It was as if I could feel my usually-nimble wit decaying.
I was frustrated.
I thought it was diet. It wasn’t.
I thought it was lack of sleep. It wasn’t.
I even began to wonder if I might be developing some sort of neurological issue.
Then, something happened. A friend (thank you Lauren Zoucha) who knew my capability in writing, mentioned that I wasn’t doing it much. She suggested that I write a book or at least start writing again.
I’m too busy, I protested. I can’t find time to write a book.
Maybe, but you could write something.
It took months before I would realize the significance of that conversation and how right she was.
In a moment of inspiration, I began a blog — this blog. I didn’t overthink it. The title came from 2 minutes in the shower. The logo was a 45-minute exercise in intentional limits. My first post was the first thing that came to my mind that I could write in 45 minutes or less.
My writing led to a renewed desire for reading — or listening, rather. I queued up my Audible account to catch up on my backlog of titles. But, I’m always fighting time. What could I do to speed up my book reading? I’ve often practiced speed reading. What if I could do that while listening?
I started listening to my audio books at 1.5x speed. I had to listen closer, but I was listening faster.
Weeks later, something occurred to me. I wasn’t reaching for words anymore.
My thinking was sharper — my memory clearer.
I was engaging in meetings with more enthusiasm. My wit was sharper when exchanging playful barbs with my team. I was more focused on essential things.
I was talking faster. That was strange. I’m a pretty deliberate speaker.
Was it enthusiasm? Was it renewed energy? Was it because my brain was listening to audio books at 1.5x speed which was affecting my speech?
But, I believe me most profound thing is — I renewed consistent writing.
In fact, researchers confirm the benefits.
Expressive writing has been linked to improved mood, well-being, and reduced stress levels. Research also suggests that those who write about what is happening in their lives overcome tough moments faster.
In emotional intelligence and in hard sciences, writing has been shown to help people communicate highly complex ideas more effectively.
People who reflect on the good things in their life once a week by writing them down tend to be more positive about their situations and have higher motivation.
Writing gives life to ideas and gets them out of your head.
Knowledge also sticks better when it is re-written in your own words.
For these reasons, I flinch when I hear someone say, “I’m not a great writer.” As if it’s a defense for never writing.
They rarely have issues talking.
Writing is like having a conversation. Sometimes you’re talking to others. Sometimes you’re talking to yourself.
When I write, I hear my voice in my head. When I edit, I like to read aloud as if I was speaking to someone.
In the end, the benefits of writing are clear. It helps clear the cobwebs in your neural pathways. It activates parts of your brain that aren’t exercised as often.
So, while I would say there is a difference between good writing and bad writing. I do not believe there is such a thing as right writing or wrong writing. There is only writing.
The pain in the ask is — are you writing?