Writing is weird. Unlike speaking, it’s not something we do naturally. And unless we train ourselves out of it, that weirdness renders some creative, but wooden and dense prose.
Speaking is a natural act. Every single human being has the ability to do it. And at a very young age. The reason why, says cognitive scientist and linguist Stephen Pinker, is because we have a language instinct.
We master this instinct as we imitate sounds made by mom and dad, brother and sister, nana and popo.
Soon we are forming one word sentences, then two and three words sentences, and, at around age two, we are demanding to put our seat belts on ourselves while “you worry about yourself.”
Writing, however, is another story.
In this 7-minute episode you’ll discover:
- How Pulitzer-prize winning journalist David Leonhardt kicked the wordslaw habit
- Voice-to-text tools that can help you write like you speak
- Quaint quote by Charles Darwin about our lack of instinct to write
- The age of writing
- And more!
A Creative Email Trick for Becoming a Plain Spoken Writer
Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at RainmakerPlatform.com.
Demian Farnworth: Howdy, and you are listening to Rough Draft, your daily dose of essential web writing advice. I am Demian Farnworth. Your host, your muse, your digital recluse, and the Chief Content Writer for Copyblogger Media.
And thank you for sharing the next few minutes of your life with me.
Speaking is a natural act. Every single human being has the ability to do it. And at a very young age. The reason why, says cognitive scientist and linguist Stephen Pinker is because we have a language instinct.
We master this instinct as we imitate sounds made by mom and dad, brother and sister, nana and popo. Soon we are forming one-word sentences, then two and three words sentences, and, at around age two, we are demanding to put our seat belts on ourselves while “you worry about yourself.”
Writing, however, is another story.
The Age of Writing
Man has an indistinctive tendency to speak, as we see in the babble of our young children, whereas no child has an instinctive tendency to bake, brew or write. – Charles Darwin
Because writing is a recent invention (roughly 5,200 years old), it’s not instinctual and has to be encouraged and taught. And for anyone who has learned to write — or teaches young writers — we all know that’s not easy. Writing is hard because it is not natural. And this unnaturalness usually shows up in wobbly, demented prose.
This can be overcome, however, by writing with a conversational tone. In other words, writing like you speak. But the funny thing is … when we sit down to type out a post or book or sales letter … we tighten up, balk, and blame the weather-breakfast-horoscope.
There are several reasons for this.
One, who wouldn’t stall when faced with the reality that, unlike spoken words, written words become permanent public fixtures once we publish them? From that moment onward we face criticism and ridicule.
Not so with speech. It’s transitory nature makes it pretty tempting to pop off whatever is on our mind with little fear for fall out. How often have you, six months or six years down the road, said, “Dang, I wish I’d never said that”?
The other reason we get stiff when we think about writing is that it really is not a natural act. Unlike the act of speaking, where you are face-to-face with another person, when you sit down (or stand up if that’s your thing) to write, you’ve entered the land of make believe: you have to pretend like you are talking to someone when you’re not. We call people who do that, lunatics (eccentric if they have a lot of money in the bank).
And that weirdness renders some creative, but wooden and dense prose. “I have an indispensable attraction with the fabric enveloping your hip region.” You mean you like her skirt?
How Pulitzer-Prize Winning Journalist David Leonhardt Kicked the Wordslaw Habit
Pulitzer-prize winning journalist David Leonhardt (now editor of NY Times’ The Upshot) was no stranger to wordslaw when he began his career. So for several months he wrote all of his rough drafts in Yahoo Mail instead of Microsoft Word and trained himself to be a plain-spoken writer. And it’s probably safe to say he imagined he was in a conversation when he wrote those rough drafts.
Voice-to-Text Tools that Can Help You Write Like You Speak
Of course, instead of writing a rough draft, you could use your phone’s voice memo or software like Dragon Naturally Speaking that turns voice into text. And again, I think the upgraded version of Evernote does this too. You record your voice and it sends it to text.
Again, just pretend you are talking to someone else. That’s really the goal you are after. You don’t have to use email but if it helps, use your email account. Think conversational. Think like you are talking to one person.
By the way, there’s a nice side benefit to this approach. You’ll naturally work in your own voice and style into your prose. When you are not worried about this going public. When it seems this is just a private email that you are going to share between two good friends, your voice and your style will emerge.
And don’t forget to read what you wrote out loud, and maybe even think about running it through the Hemingway App.
Until next time.