Critical Things You Should Be Writing (But Probably Aren’t)

people talking and writing

As the world grows more commercial, there’s an increasing tendency to label only certain types of writing as valuable: People encourage others to write books nearly as a right of passage. Professionals apparently aren’t professional at all unless they publish papers or articles. News headlines still capture our attention. No one wants to be without a collection of life hacks, self-help, or how-to pieces. Yet, there are other critical things you should be writing. If you’re not working on those areas, you’re missing out.

1. A journal

Memoirs and journals are not the same thing. A memoir is your story told with a particular angle or spin you want. You get to pick and choose which parts to include and which to toss in the trash. You also write it in hindsight. But a journal is one of the critical things you should be writing because it is bigger and more raw. You write in the moment without caring how things tie together and give your honest thoughts or perception of events. And so it is much better at revealing who you are. It often can help you sort out what you’re feeling and aid in decision-making. You can look back on it not only as a memory aid, but as evidence of your growth or change. Many people swear by journaling as a way to organize themselves and control stress, too.

2. Letters

Although lots of writers have focused on writing thank you notes, traditional letters are equally important. They take longer to write than digital options like email, and that’s kind of the point. Since you can’t just autocorrect or bulk delete, they show the recipient that you’re willing to slow down and really think about what you’re putting on the paper. Everyone likes to feel remembered. A simple letter, sent even when someone hasn’t done anything for you, conveys the message you haven’t forgotten them. Unlike digital messages, traditional letters also are something people can keep to remember a relationship even in the most remote situations. They don’t require any account keeping and physically can last for decades or even centuries.

3. Family stories

What happened when Grandpa flew with the Allies into Germany in WWII? Why did Aunt Elaine always plant morning glories? Did Dad really hide the neighbor’s combine in the grove for a laugh? You never know unless you ask. Being able to share those stories helps those you love to feel more significant. Writing it all down can help you appreciate who they are as people and how they connect to you. It also leaves a legacy. Plus, their stories can help you make sense of different times, circumstances, and your own current difficulties.

4. Recipes

Can you buy a cookbook in about two seconds? Sure. It might not even cost you more than $1 if you go used or digital. But meals the way your family did them, that little dash of this or that or a personal technique from your grandma, those are what make dishes taste like home and be so insanely comforting. They can’t be bought. As with family stories, once people are gone, they can’t ever share those tastes with you again. So whether it’s jam, cinnamon bread, goat cheese frittatas, or a good old-fashioned jambalaya, write it out and pass it down.

5. A goal breakdown/schedule

People fail to achieve goals for all kinds of reasons, including a lack of good support. But much of the time, people fail because they set a target without identifying the specific path they need to walk. Even if they know the broad steps necessary, they do not break those steps down into scheduled task items (e.g., find an agent = send out 4 queries every Saturday between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m.). Writing a goal breakdown will help you see just how easy or complex an objective is. It also will let you gather and use resources well. It offers a better sense of progress so you can stay motivated.

6. A got-it-done list

You probably pay crazy attention to your to-do list. It’s there to keep you on track and productive. But a got-it-done list is one of the critical things you should be writing because it’s meant to help you reflect on what you’ve accomplished, regardless of whether the accomplishments are what you set out to do or not. You write the list at the end of the day. You can use it to combat the feeling like you didn’t do enough or somehow wasted your time. It’s all about keeping your day in perspective so you can rest easy without guilt. That way, it’s easier to start again fresh the next day.

All writing is important. But honing in on these half a dozen critical things you should be writing can help you see your life or circumstances with fresh eyes. These niches can relieve stress and strengthen relationships. They also can ensure you take the right actions at the right time for what you want. So if all you write are cover letters or chat messages, spice it up. You might be surprised at how you feel about what comes out of your pen.