Write Like You Talk

Some good advice for writing, and communication in general, that I’d forgotten until reminded last night. It’s a similar sentiment to the John McWhorter talk I linked to a while back. The odd nature of writing like we think an academic should, thus obfuscating ideas in a way that we wouldn’t in spoken language.

Case in point. That last sentence came out as I think I would ‘naturally’ write it. But no way would I ever say ‘thus’ out loud! I do say ‘obfuscate’ though, sometimes, as I find it hard to pronounce. But then like, there is a sort of balance isn’t there, because I reckon if we literally write exactly as we talk that it could be hard to read without the audible intonation and stuff of a the speaker, or without knowing them personally and how they normally talk.

Case in point again. That last sentence written verbatim as I thought it out loud, as it were. It’s clunky to read and – perhaps only because we’re trained to think so – comes across as slightly dense and unconsidered. Adding the ‘likes’ and ‘sort of’ and missing the question mark of my lazy rhetorical asking of “there is a sort of balance isn’t there”. 

Now I’m reminded of quotes like “If I had more time I would have written you a shorter letter” often credited to Winston Churchill, and “If it is a ten minute speech then it takes me all of two weeks to prepare. If I can talk as long as I want to, it takes no preparation at all.” Paraphrased from Woodrow Wilson. Note also at the end of Paul Graham’s essay that he gives thanks to Patrick Collison and Jessica Livingston for reading his early drafts. While he writes like he talks, it still takes time and la labour to craft and edit. 

Before I publish a new essay, I read it out loud and fix everything that doesn’t sound like conversation. I even fix bits that are phonetically awkward; I don’t know if that’s necessary, but it doesn’t cost much.

If I weren’t writing in a cafe I’d try the same. I think. Or maybe that’s another think I’m writing that I wouldn’t normally say. Crikey, are we all a bit split personality in written and spoken word? 

Write Like You Talk