Barbara Ehrenreich on Writing to Think

Journalist and author Barbara Ehrenreich. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

In Typing Practice, an excerpt from her book, Living with a Wild God, Barbara Ehrenreich reflects on keeping a notebook to make sense of growing up female in a dysfunctional family. The lessons she learned offer some hope for these trying times: “But there is another possible response to the unknown and potentially menacing, and that is thinking.” Granta has an excerpt:

I had discovered that writing – with whatever instrument – was a powerful aid to thinking, and thinking was what I now resolved to do. You can think without writing, of course, as most people do and have done throughout history, but if you can condense today’s thought into a few symbols preserved on a surface of some kind – paper or silicon – you don’t have to rethink it tomorrow. You can even give it a name like ‘yesterday’s thought’ or ‘the meaning of life’ and carry it along in your pocket like a token that can be traded in for ever greater abstractions. The reason I eventually became a writer is that writing makes thinking easier, and even as a verbally underdeveloped fourteen-year-old I knew that if I wanted to understand ‘the situation,’ thinking was what I had to do.

But there is another possible response to the unknown and potentially menacing, and that is thinking.

So this was the mental procedure, which even a little girl could learn: First, size up the situation. Make sure you have all the facts, and nothing but the facts – no folklore, no conventional wisdom, no lazy assumptions. Then examine the facts for patterns and connections. Make a prediction. See if it works. And if it doesn’t work, start all over again.

Read the excerpt