The Importance of Writing Your Thoughts Down

Does writing things down make a difference? According to neuroscience, yes. Here’s how!

Rachel Thompson
Nov 7, 2020 · 8 min read

Is your brain full? Mine is. Constantly. When I was in high school, I started having panic attacks because of My Brain is Full Syndrome. I graduated in *cough* 1982 with straight As, little perfectionist that I am, anxious to start college, get it over with, and start my life as a writer.

I was going to be the next Carrie Bradshaw in the city (had it existed at that time). Without all the sex. Or the city. Keep the shoes, though.

Ah, the dreams of the young.

Working my little part-time cashier’s job in suburban Sacramento, one of the many lessons I learned beyond ‘the customer is always right,’ (not true — many customers are downright crazy and all kinds of wrong), and how to ‘face’ a wall (pull everything forward so it looks nice), is what a day planner is all about.

I bought the most straightforward one from the ‘Office’ aisle, and thus began my career as a writer-downer.

Little did I know the huge benefits of writing stuff down and how it would help me all these many years. Working with author clients now, they often tell me how much more efficient they are after the assignments I give them.

Let’s discuss how writing things down works and why.

Thinking About It vs. Writing It Down

Take a moment and close your eyes. Think right now about all the stuff you need to do today. And tomorrow. Count it all out on your fingers. All the tasks.

It becomes overwhelming, doesn’t it?

Now, I want you to take a pen and paper (whatever: a journal, a planner, a scrap of paper that’s lying around) and write down everything you just thought about. Once you’re done, number it all, in whatever order you wrote it. No need to prioritize yet.

Next, I want you to breathe. Take a deep breath in, and see how it feels to have all that stuff out of your head. Good, right? You may choose to use an online digital task tool, planner, or journal — not my first choice, yet I’m becoming more open to it. More on that below.

Why does this work? When we see something, there’s a visual cue to remind us. Okay, so that’s obvious. However, there’s a deeper, neurobiological reason:

Encoding. Encoding is the biological process by which the things we perceive travel to our brain’s hippocampus where they’re analyzed. From there, decisions are made about what gets stored in our long-term memory and, in turn, what gets discarded.

Writing improves that encoding process. In other words, when you write it down it has a much greater chance of being remembered. (Source: Forbes)

This is why you may have more luck using a physical planner than an online tool. Your mileage may vary, of course. Habit also has a lot to do with this.

You Become More Efficient

When you force yourself to get in the habit of writing down your thoughts or tasks, you learn how to prioritize, whether that’s your time or your goals.

Writing things down doesn’t just help you remember, it makes your mind more efficient by helping you focus on the truly important stuff.

Focus. That’s what writing your thoughts down is all about. Filtering out the excess noise so you know where you need to focus your attention. In other words, the physical act of writing brings the information to the forefront of your brain and triggers a collection of cells in the base of your brain known as the reticular activating system or RAS to pay close attention. (Source: NeuroRelay)

As writers who lead busy lives, we have limited time. Creating a writing plan, or blogging calendar, are excellent ways to focus our time and attention, and we become much more efficient with the time we do have. Writing down your emotions or what’s stressing you out is also extremely helpful psychologically:

According to the American Medical Association, stress is the basic cause of more than 60% of all human illness and disease. Fortunately, writing things down is one way to help significantly reduce all of that. (Source: ProductiveAndFree)

Want to learn how to be a more productive writer? Read more here:

Example: creating a blogging calendar is one of the best tools I use to manage my writing time. I know exactly what I’ll be writing about for the next few months, on which days I’m going to write, about which topic, and when I’ll submit to which publication here on Medium.

I create these calendars for my clients and share my own with my assistants for accountability. I even have my writing and blogging workshop participants share their calendars with me so I can send them reminders.

Want to learn more about creating an efficient and easy blogging calendar? Read more here:

Record Your Thoughts, Feelings, Tasks, Ideas

Some writers aren’t sure what exactly to write down, and consider writing down their thoughts or plans a chore, or are afraid of ‘doing it wrong,’ so they don’t even start. Change your paradigm.

  • Want to journal yet not keep a task list? Fine, do that.
  • Want to keep a task list yet not journal? Cool.
  • Want to create a calendar and nothing else? Go for it.

We’re adults. So, adult. Make a decision about how to manage your time, focus, and do it. If you want to keep a day-planner for tasks and a journal for your writing ideas, great. That’s what I do. I do keep a blogging calendar on Google Calendar digitally for the sole reason that it’s easier to move things around than on a written planner.

However, it’s worth noting that my blog ideas go into my writing ideas notebook first. So it all kind of gels together at some point.

Tech Versus Analog Notes

New versus old. If you’re like my kids (ages 21 and 15), everything is online now. My daughter, now a college junior, used to take meticulous, color-coded, handwritten notes for every class. Now she uses her iPad Pro and an app called Good Notes (I am not affiliated with them in any way). The app costs $7.99.

“Good Notes allows you to take beautiful, searchable handwritten notes and effortlessly organize all your documents & notebooks in a single place.”

You can use this app on your computer or tablet, PC or Mac, and it allows you to write, draw, import docs and photos, etc. I’m extremely excited to start using this app for my own journaling, writing, and blog ideas. Here are a few images from my kid so you can see what it looks like in action.

Anya Thompson: “I like the Good Notes app because I can create aesthetically pretty notes that use actual pictures for my art history while also being informative. Also, they have so many tools that are easy to use that other apps don’t have, like text-lasso and quick-shape.”

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Photos courtesy of Anya Thompson

Evernote is another option many folks use and like and is helpful for collaborating with partners. They have a free version or a premium version for $7.99. (Again, I have no affiliation with this company.)

Why are these types of apps a good idea? You’re still writing your thoughts and ideas down, and you’re using tech that stimulates your brain while also aiding your memory and creativity processes. Plus, you’re saving a lot of paper over your lifetime. A win/win!

Does Writing Things Down Make Us Smarter?

If you’re of a certain age, say over 50, you’re not a computer native. We wrote everything down in school. Computers may have existed, yet not at a personal-use level. That was some kind of wishful, futuristic, Star Trek-type thinking.

Kids who took notes in school were nerds. Yet, we were the nerds everyone wanted to copy off, the ones jocks tried to cheat from, the ones in AP classes. The transition to computers may have been easier for us because we engaged that part of our brain mentioned above. Why?

Higher-level thinking. Creativity and process orientation combined. Studies show that writing by hand makes children smarter, which can only help us later in life. Seriously.

Read more below:

Will Writing Things Down Help My Writing?

What does all this mean? If you start writing down your thoughts, ideas, plans, goals, etc — will it help your writing? I can’t tell you for sure. I can tell you there are many known benefits, according to neuroscience:

  • Writing things down enables a higher level of thinking which leads to more focused action
  • Writing things down encourages daily progress on your tasks and goals
  • Writing things down helps you recognize and process your emotions (YES, so important)
  • Writing things down helps keep you motivated — we often fail to see our progress. This helps so much.
  • Writing things down helps clarify your goals, priorities, and intentions
  • Writing things down helps clear your mind (YES! Big one here. Helpful if you’re anxiety-prone as I am.)
  • Writing things down helps you record everything that has your attention and helps to prioritize. Not everything can be a priority. (Source: ProductiveandFree)

Ultimately, we are writers, and we want our writing to positively affect our readers. Interesting tidbit here:

Scientists have also found that telling a story can plant emotions, thoughts, and ideas into the brain of the listener. In studies at Princeton University, the brain activity of a woman telling a story and her listeners was monitored and as she told her story, her listener’s brain activity went into sync with hers.

This means that writers have the ultimate power to influence others. With a powerful and evocative story, you can activate your reader’s brains and make them feel like they are experiencing it first-hand, influencing the emotions you want them to feel. (Source: NeuroRelay.)

In summary, there are a multitude of reasons writing down our thoughts, ideas, writing plans, and goals can help us not only organize and focus, but also make us better writers. Who doesn’t want that?!

Do you write down your thoughts, goals, and plans? What do you use? Please let me know your thoughts! *Write ’em down!*

To learn more about Twitter, Facebook, book marketing in general, and her books, visit Rachel’s site, or connect with Rachel on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, or join her Street Team!

Join her #BookMarketingChat on Twitter every Wednesday at 6 pm pst/9 pm est. Just type in the hashtag to join the conversation!

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Rachel Thompson

Written by

Author, 6 books. Writer: The Every Day Novelist, PS I Love You, Ninja Writers Pub, Writing Coop. Assault survivor/advocate. Marketer

The Ninja Writers Pub

A good story, well told, can change the world. Ninja Writers are changing the world.

Rachel Thompson

Written by

Author, 6 books. Writer: The Every Day Novelist, PS I Love You, Ninja Writers Pub, Writing Coop. Assault survivor/advocate. Marketer

The Ninja Writers Pub

A good story, well told, can change the world. Ninja Writers are changing the world.

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