August 14, 2006
Liz published this at 9:32 am
I Can Think Writing
My IT husband wanted to know what I knew about writing. We talked quite a while. I told him that writing is written conversation about organized thinking.
As he does often, IT man gave his response in quotable form.
I can think writing, but I don’t know how to write it.
I could have answered, “Write as you talk.” It’s well known advice, but talking isn’t at all like writing. Really. That is a myth and I’m myth busting it now. So what does it mean to write as you talk?
Why Talking Isn’t Like Writing
Talking is a road trip with a loose destination. We don’t plan many conversations. We start them and see how they happen. Rarely does a great conversation stay on one interstate highway. Conversations are filled with sidetrips, tangents, and interruptions.
Ideas flow freely and change often in conversation. Sometimes points never get fully discussed or completed. Sometimes we lose track of what we’re saying. Sometimes a new idea becomes more interesting, and we change the conversation to go there instead.
Talking is almost defined by feedback. The people we talk to, talk back, while we’re still talking. They respond to what we’re saying. They let us know when our message isn’t clear, when our sentences have rambled into a forest, when our ideas have gone off on a tangent.
If our message comes out incorrectly, we merely restate it and bring the listener back to the correct information.
Conversation has lulls and uhs and ums. Conversation has acceptable errors in usage that wouldn’t be acceptable in writing.
Conversation is like dancing. It’s filled with give and take. People can follow conversation because they are part of it when it is happening.
Conversation is many things. Organized is not one of them.
What Write as You Talk Really Means
Writing is a planned road trip with a purpose to share information, to entertain, to teach or persuade, or tell a story. Write as you talk really means have a conversational writing voice. If you start as you talk, take a few minutes to make it work for readers. Here’s how to do that.
Write with a plan for what you want to talk about OR talk about what you want and then organize it. An outline is good — main ideas and details that tell more about them. Readers nead a clearer path than the people you talk to.
Add more detail than you would when you talk. Readers don’t have a chance to ask you for clarification or for something that they might be missing.
Take out tangents and unrelated information. Readers think what you write is about the subject you’ve chosen. If you do write a tangent, let them know that you’re leaving your writing plan for side trip.
Look through what you wrote for ambiguous words, slang, and phrases only you would know. Readers can’t stop in the middle to ask what you mean by them.
The words as print issues are obvious. No lectures from this writer who is far from perfect at them.
Read your writing aloud and listen to the words. Though it seems counterintuitive, that is one way to get from the writer’s role into the reader’s role quickly, by changing which of the five senses you use. Listen to the words as if someone you don’t know is talking to you. Does the writer sound intelligent? Do the words make sentence? Does any part leave you confused?
The goal is a conversational voice with the organization a reader can follow, because on this road trip the reader is in another car not the same car as yours. That’s why writing needs more structure than conversation does. We can’t have readers getting lost all over the Internet!
What can you add to help me bust the “write as you talk” myth?
–ME “Liz” Strauss
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