I often recommend that when you are confused in your thinking on some issue, you need to take multiple passes, first to gather information, then to test your thinking.
The simplest test is to ask about each sentence, “is that literally true?” By asking this question, you often find that there are misstatements, and sometimes even whoppers in your thinking on paper. This happens for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes the statements reflect old information that is out of date. Sometimes you inadvertently dropped the context.
I think people are often surprised to discover that the ideas that flit through their head can be mistaken. This is one of the reasons thinking on paper is so powerful — it helps you be objective about those ideas. It helps you check their veracity.
Here’s another question you should ask of each statement in your thinking on paper, which can often help you be more objective in your thinking: “Does this idea follow from the previous one?” Or to put it technically, “is this logical?” Or to put it sarcastically, “who cares?”
In an ideal thinking process, every thought follows logically from the preceding. And certainly, when you think, you have the general intention to be logical. (Even if you use an alogical process like freewriting or brainstorming as part of your thinking process, you eventually come back and consider the ideas logically.)
However, when you read over your thinking on paper, you will often find that the actual sequence of thoughts does not follow a logical sequence. For example, you might ask the question, “What’s the first step on the writing project?” and the answer that comes up is, “I really don’t feel like writing.”
Now, I hope you see this is not a *logical* answer to the question. It does not provide the requested information. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad answer. On the contrary, it’s important information that you will need to use to help you decide whether writing really is your priority, and if it is, this information is a lead to figuring out how to motivate yourself to do the work.
Usually you catch this kind of thing immediately as you’re thinking. When that spurious thought comes out, you might immediately regroup, and set your purpose to clarifying your goal and your motivation. Or write to yourself, “yeah, sure, but what’s the first step?”
But…sometimes you don’t notice it. You wind up going off on a tangent or wandering in your thinking. Or sometimes it’s a little too hard, and you are implicitly switching to “freewriting.” That’s okay. That’s why there’s a checking pass.
If you’re confused, or stuck, take that second pass, look over what you wrote with a fishy eye, and ask of every sentence, “does that follow?” or “why is that here?”
If it follows, fine. Go on. If it doesn’t, ask yourself about the missing link. There are some skipped steps here — what are they? Articulating the missing connections may be the key to getting unconfused, unstuck, and clear.
The subconscious can only be logical when the information stored there has been stored logically. Sometimes when you are thinking, you are accessing information that hasn’t yet been logically organized. That’s okay — accept it in its disorganized form, then take an extra step to work out the logic.
To be objective is to be self-consciously logical. When you use thinking on paper, you give yourself the support you need to check your own logic.