At the start of Breaking Bad Walter is faced with a tricky situation. He managed to escape a murder attempt from a drug dealer and captured him in the process. But what to do now? Walter doesn’t want to kill anyone, but just letting this person go might not be a good idea either.
So Walter writes a list with the points in favour of “let him live” and “kill him”.
The reason Walter wrote a list is because he wasn’t sure what to think and wanted to order his thoughts.
For me this is the greatest value in writing things down. While I’ve published very little of it, I’ve written about 100 articles in the last few years on a wide range of topics. I never seem to quite get around to finishing them, although I hope I will do in the future (this article has been in “draft” for over a year!) The primary reason isn’t for other people to read what I write, it’s to order and articulate my own thoughts.
A second reason is that writing is a hugely important skill. It’s the process of conveying an idea of head A to head B. Too often do I see people – including myself – explain their thoughts poorly, causing confusion and unnecessarily long discussions at best, and getting dismissed because of the poor explanation/writing at worst.
It’s a skill, and like all skills it needs practice to improve. Musicians don’t learn their skills by giving concerts, they learn by practising at home. And that’s what my 100 unpublished drafts are: practice. I’ll probably publish a bunch of them (…eventually…), but I won’t publish all. Sometimes it turned out that I was just wrong, or it turns out that the matter is more complex than I thought, or I just lose interest. That’s okay; it was still good practice, and in the process I usually manage to learn more about the topic at hand.
This is also the reason I answer questions on Stack Overflow and its sister sites. When I started on the Vi and Vim site I didn’t actually know all that much about Vim; I learned much of it by researching and answering questions from other users.