What lies behind the seemingly silly saying, “How do I know what I think till I see what I say?” is something profound.
Rather than being an excuse for blurting and blustering, what that sentence implies is that thought remains latent in our brains until it is articulated into syllables, words, phrases, clauses, sentences, and paragraphs—growing clearer and fuller as sense shapes up through syntax, even more so through writing than speaking.
The previous sentence, for example, would never have proceeded spontaneously from my mouth in conversation; only through the slower, more meticulous procedure of manual composition could I have fashioned such syntactical complexity. And if some orators exhibit gifts of spontaneous eloquence (more than merely recitation from memory), I suspect their skill derives from the facility they’ve gained by practicing written composition.
While spontaneous speaking is self-expressive, a larger, more complex self can be expressed through written composition, and may never be discovered and realized without writing. In a sense, you “write for your life”—that is, for the enhancement of your life, of who you can become. While most people do not perform self-expressive writing and may think themselves none the worse for it, they simply do not know what they’re missing, alas.
A comparable situation would be singing. Those who have learned to sing and can sing comfortably and skillfully have discovered a joyful mode of expressiveness in language denied to those who can’t. Likewise, some people find that expressive writing comes readily and naturally, while others have less facility and inclination, or patience, for the process. But both singing and writing, I would urge, should be encouraged in the education of children, continuing into adulthood. Otherwise, what will become of one’s self?
My experience tells me there’s more to me than I know; there’s more yet to be revealed or developed (like an image on photographic paper gradually emerging in the developing solution). We have latencies of self, needing to be drawn out, which is literally the meaning of education (e-ducere in Latin). Expressive writing is self-educational: it draws forth from the inchoate shadows of latency a sharper, more coherent image of who we can be.