There's a book titled, If You Can Talk, You Can Write by Joel Saltzman. He states, When we talk, we tell stories and present ideas -- rarely with much anxiety. But think about writing something and panic sets in. Overcome this crippling response by learning how to "talk" on paper.
The author is addressing a person's anxiety about writing due to a forgetting that writing is a two-step process. Saltzman calls them 1)Finding the gold and, 2)Polishing it. Stephen King says that our first draft is written 1)With the door closed (to others and our inner critic). During the editing/polishing phase we can let our inner critic in and so we view our work 2)With the door open.
Kurt Vonnegut said, This is what I find most encouraging about the writing trades: They allow mediocre people who are patient and industrious to revise their stupidity, to edit themselves into something like intelligence. They also allow lunatics to seem saner than sane.
In my commercial/working life I have to digest a lot of management bullshit speak. All the stuff you read on presenting well says that the actual content of what you are saying when you talk to a person is ('scuse me while I fudge a statistic) somewhat less than 10%... When you're talking you're paying attention to how someone looks, to their body language and their tone of voice far more than to what they actually say.
I think that with writing you don't have any of that extraneous stuff (unless you're a hugely published genre author and people buy you knowing what they're gonna get), and so to come across well you have to be able to have a message, and tailor it to the intended audience.
I think if you have the message and it fits the audience it doesn't matter how "good" the writing is, tabloid newspapers being a prime example - some of the writing is so lame but people just want to be able to feel like they have insider knowledge on celebrity Y's split with celebrity Z; they don't care about how that message is presented.
Likewise when I read some of the stuff in here (no names mentioned) and there is some stuff which I just don't get the message of, it doesn't mean anything to me and I'm guessing it's because I'm not the audience. Sometimes it's because I'm obviously not in the group (there is some cliquey "shit" going on) and sometimes i think my understanding is poor; I read comments by the people whose writing I have come to trust, and I still don't get it. Either way the message fails to get through, but this doesn't mean the writing is bad per se, just bad for me. Can't be all things to all people.
And thanks Teresa, it is a really interesting topic & I will follow avidly to see what people say ;)
Well put Julia.
The spoken word and written word are miles apart in human communication.
Ask any standup comic and they will tell you it's not what you say but how you say it. In writing you lose a huge part of communication such as inflection, pregnant pauses, physical and vocal gesturing and having the luxury of repeatiing when you see their eyes glass over. (I think Donald Harris expressed this better than me.)
You're obviously a fellow peddler and have to be more of a Psych. than a preacher. (If you preach, you lose, if you listen and react, you win.)
In writing, the worlds your oyster, because regardless of your message, you can always find an audience. And your observations about some who spout bilious words that only a clique who understands their own version of 'pig latin' will appreciate.
So what are we saying here? I think we are both saying that writing and speaking are two different forms of communication and thank you for agreeing with me!
This discussion was recommended by one of our 6-ers who read a response I wrote to someone else's blog where I also mentioned the Saltzman book. I think it's a great topic and I completely agree with all of the responses so far.
I've always wondered, though, about the writer who perhaps isn't as skilled at writing as others, but who has a unique perception or an interesting idea. Will an editor go the extra mile to "clean up" a mediocre writer's work if it contains a great idea/story?
There are some very lively interesting characters who aren't the best writers but I love their ideas. Then there are the brilliant BORING individuals who can definitely write. Yawn. I haven't encountered the latter at 6S but you know the type.
I've also seen various "levels" of writing at 6S, and then I've seen some writers grow and evolve into better writers as they receive honest constructive criticism and continue to practice. I would never want to see someone with a passion for writing give up because today they're not the greatest writer in the world. But if a person is serious about writing, he/she has to respect it and strive for that personal best. For those writers who put forth great effort to perfect their work, it's aggravating to observe those who toss out effortless "slop" and get praised for it.
But that said, I will sometimes overlook mistakes here at 6S when the message is gold. I make plenty of mistakes. I'm probably flopping all over the place right now because I'm tired. And if so, the text won't read as well, won't go down as smoothly. But I give credit for the originality of an idea. And not everyone at 6S wants to write professionally. This is not only a community of writers, but also of thinkers and fans of writing.
So to say that writing is as easy as talking is ridiculous. I don't think that was Saltzman's point. I think perfectionism can paralyze a beginning writer, or even an established one. Learning to relax at that first draft, just letting the idea pour out whole - no matter what it looks like - will ensure that it's closer to the shape it had when first conceived in the mind. Trying to manipulate an idea as it's making its way from your head to paper can sometimes interfere with transmission. Then once it's down on paper, hack away, "kill your darlings", as Stephen King says of editing.
Ya'll are wonderful and I can't wait to hear more thoughts on this.
I'm with you, quin. I write much better than I talk/speak. When I'm talking or listening to a person, I'm noticing their earrings, or that several of their hairs are floating up with static electricity; I'm wondering how much time I can allow for the conversation because I have to pick my kids up from school at 2:30pm, then I realize I have to pee and wonder where the closest bathroom is. Plus, the person you're speaking to will interrupt with, "Yea! I know!" or "Do you have the time?"
I also continuously edit my speech which really gets in the way and slows me down.
Rarely does anyone talking/speaking have something of monumental importance to say during your average day. Nothing is prepared. You might call most conversations "raw", but still, they will sound better to the ear than the same conversations would read on paper.
I wouldn't claim to be funnier in print, but at least I can string a sentence together when I write, which I too often fail to do when talking, and added to the boring non-speak is the struggle for vocabulary - can't put the nearest word in italics and hope it'll come to me later!
This is a little off topic, Joseph, but have you submitted to Random House? My New Jersey friend just published her memoir with them. Just wondering.
Yes, you're right about how many of the now-published books were once rejected over and over. A Confederacy of Dunces was published posthumously. The poor author killed himself; his mother continued trying to get the book published. Stephen King said he could have wallpapered his house with rejection slips before he became successful. And then, like you said, there's the sub par drivel. I bought a book recently that was so bad I just chunked it after the third page. It was that bad.
First, let me say I am more than impressed by the responses given here. Overwhelmed better describes my reaction.
I thought, “What can I say that the others, or Teresa herself hasn’t already stated concisely (well, maybe it took more than six sentences) and with which I agree?
So I typed in Writing versus Talking at www.search.com and found a fascinatingly detailed essay by Richard Garlikov, philosopher and photographer. It was presented in three sections: Significant Differences Between Writing and Talking: Why Talking Seems Easier Writing for School Assignments Creative Writing vs Analytic Writing or Writing Fiction vs Non-fiction
And ends with this paragraph:
I titled this essay "Significant Differences Between Writing and Talking: Why Talking Seems Easier" because I do not believe writing actually is more difficult when one has something to say, has an understanding of what the reader needs to have explained, and if one has had practice polishing one's work. Writing only seems or is more difficult because often one is not sure what to say and/or because one is made to write on a subject, or for a purpose, in which one is not interested or does not have sufficient information to know what needs to be said. It is not the writing that is difficult; it is the situation in which one is likely to write or is made to write, without having had sufficient natural practice in writing and polishing one's writing. If one has something one wants to communicate, knows what needs to be communicated to make it clear to the reader, and has had some good practice in writing for understanding and eloquence, writing may actually even be easier than talking because you have more time to think about it, play with it, and shape it.
I include the link to his collection of essays (there are quite a few) if you have the time or inclination to be entertained on various esoteric topics. Richard Garlikov
BTW, that middle section, Writing for School Assignments, has me rethinking why and how I go about evaluating my students' work.
Ahhhh.....study everyone??....Would you mind calling me when you're done?
Let me help you circumvent this journey to the sun.
Make our former Pres., George W.(excluding ghostwriters) your first candidate and I think you will have solved your dilemma.
Interesting question. Once or twice a year, I speak to middle-school students about writing as a career. My message is fairly simple: If you can tell a story, you can write ... but not necessarily well. I begin by telling the story of how I barely escaped the fatal kiss of a black mamba. I then explain some of the tools I just used to keep them wide-eyed. And then I encourage the students to listen to their English teachers, to read and to look for the good and bad in works of fiction or nonfiction. I say to them: Not all of you will be able to tell a good story. And without a command of the English language, even those who can will not be able to write.
To Teresa's question, I'd say: If you can write, you can talk. The reverse ain't necessarily so.
Writing is thought filtered and funnelled through a number of processes to the page. We're building on our combined history with the written word - including the trash - and it's what is left behind when the apparatus for speech has long since gone to ground (particularly since we don't pay much heed these days to our ancestral traditions of story-telling, handed down aurally through centuries and supposedly unembellished). The spoken word lacks that filter, and what Vonnegut is encouraged by - the revision of the self through writing - also leads me to ask: has history (the written parts of it, I mean) been truthfully represented, or is it littered with even more "lunatics" than are already there?
WOW, Alison this is a whole new can of worms. Every meglomaniac in history has resurrected it from the Romans, Popes to Hitler, Stahlin, and George W.
The only safety net to oral history was that most of the time they put it into rhyme so it was easy to remember and hard to change.
Just like the journalistic dictum; verify your source and like a doctors prognosis; get a second opinion.
But that doesn't always work because we are predisposed to believe what we want to believe.
It brings us to the ultimate truth. "Don't confuse me with facts because I already made up my mind!"