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Writing Within Two Systems

About a week ago, Joe Bunting ( put up a prompt on Writing Fast and Slow.

I’ve certainly heard of the two sides of the creative mind, but when it comes to writing, I thought Joe put it really well. He refers to them as “systems” (which he gets from Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow). Here’s some of what he had to say:

Creativity is about bringing several different ideas into a single thought, and this is where System 1 thrives. While System 2 is a focused, precise engineer, solving any problem set before her, System 1 is a fun, spontaneous artist splashing paint on the walls and making messes.


… let each system do what it does best. Keep System 2 out of the writing room, which can be reserved for making messes. Then bring System 2 back in for cleanup.

Because it turns out that System 2 is a much better editor than System 1. It will spot your typos and errors in logic. It will clean up your copy and make sure your writing is readable. System 2 may not be very creative, but it will certainly keep you from looking like a fool.

One of the biggest temptations for writers is to start in System 1 and then get caught up in editing and perfecting before they finish. I know this happens to me almost every time I write. This tends to result in unfinished work.

Joe went on to offer 5 suggestions to help keep writers from dipping into system 2 too soon (for a full explanation of each step be sure to jump over to his post):

1. Smile
2. Write What You Know
3. Keep Your Pen Moving
4. Don’t Overthink
5. Find Your Writing Workspace

Every post Joe publishes comes with a 15-minute writing prompt. With the two systems in mind, he encouraged the following prompt:

Free write for fifteen minutes using the words orange, sweat, coin, and elm.

As you write, try to stay in System 1 using the tips above. When your time is up, edit your writing using System 2.

I decided to try my patience and knee-jerk addiction to editing before completion. Click the link below titled “Orange, Sweat, Coin, Elm.” On the left is me free-writing within System 1 for 17 minutes. To the right of it is me editing and re-writing within System 2. It was fun to watch how the story evolved between the systems when I kept myself dedicated. The story is simple stream of consciousness. I encourage you to give System 1 and System 2 a try, and I’d love to hear what you went through and how you saw your story change. Cheers!

Orange, Sweat, Coin, Elm


  1. katrinathomas katrinathomas April 2, 2014

    It’s not too surprising that i like the first one better. Maybe surprising to you, who bathes in excessively editing, but the raw simplicity and imagery of System 1 brought joy and excitement that System 2 just can’t compete with. Sure, part of that is because the “surprise” is gone, after already reading the first one, but there’s also something about the tempo of the first that is more attractive to me. Either way, great post(s)! Thank you Aaron. I love your ability to capture stories in such an engaging way. I felt like I was right there with you, back at age 12.

    • Aaron Aaron Post author | April 3, 2014

      haha, “bathes in excessively editing.” I like that. It’s too true.

      I see what you’re saying with the rawness. I think what’s attractive about it is honesty. But, sometimes that “rawness” can just come across as haphazard. That’s my thought anyway.

      Also, I’d agree about the “surprise” being gone after having read the first one. I can certainly see how that would dull the effect of the second. In retrospect, maybe I should have made these into two separate posts. Thanks, Kat!

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