WWN9: Write not like you talk

Yeah awright bruv…

This week I posted the following tweet about conversational writing:

And predictably, I got all the usual nitwit comments saying “yeah, write like you talk”

Get. Out.


I see that advice everywhere online, but it’s dreadful.

I mean, sure, do that. If you want to sound like a dumbass who can’t write…

…you don’t?


Keep reading…

…until right after this brief word from our sponsor this week, which is yours truly.

Because I have a double deadline for you. My course Speed Daemon Secrets is universally acknowledged to be woefully underpriced.

So at the end of June it goes up substantially in price (around 30% or so).

AND this Saturday I’m sending out a bonus video on burnout which will only go to people who are buyers and subscribers in good standing to Carran’s Cabin (which you’ll automatically enter when you purchase) as of Friday midnight EDT.

But back to the problem with writing like you talk, which is, dear reader, that…

You talk like an idiot.

Don't believe me?


Grab a recorder and transcribe ten minutes of your conversation one day. Read it back. Sound like it would make good writing?

Thought not.

Most people talk like an idiot.

Now, there are exceptions. There are extemporaneous speakers who are incredibly gifts in natural oratory. They're persuasive, powerful, eloquent. All off the tip of their silver tongues.

I’m thinking of guys like the late Christopher Hitchens. Or like Sinclair Ferguson. Just to pick two people on vastly different ends of the spectrum...

But wildly different belief systems aside, there’s something that all those people with the silver tongues have in common.

They write a lot. And almost everything they say is something they've written about before.

They don’t write like they talk.

They talk like they write!

But there's a broader problem that even the most eloquent speaker can be trapped in, which is that writing and speaking are completely different media.

There’s some overlap, sure.

After all, both are communication of ideas through the medium of words. So there’s some similarity.

But when you're speaking, whether prepared or extemporaneous, you have to factor in the reality of the medium. You have to understand the experience of consumption in your chosen medium.

Because there’s a huge difference in how people consume speech versus text.

With written text, people can stop and think, then continue. They can fly over parts of it, glance back to check something, stop to mull over a complex idea. They move at their own speed as they go. They even set their own direction, skipping over and circling back as required.

In speech? They move forward at the speed you speak at and they have no choice (unless it's recorded).

Believe me, it’s agonising as a Scotsman listening to Americans whoooo taaaaaalk sooooooo sloooooooooooooowly y’aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall.

Putting yous’uns on two times speed just brings you up to our normal.

But cross-atlantic joshing aside, the difference changes how you communicate.

Writing can afford to be be more concise, more stripped back. Speech needs to circle, reinforce ideas, build in pauses etc.

That’s only the START of the problems though. You have to consider the effect of intonation as well.

After all if you were to transcribe speaking it would look like this notice what's different there is no punctuation.

But when we write, we need to parse the intonation into sentences. Add commas for pauses, full stops for longer ones, space, question marks etc.

If you were to transcribe speaking and update it for the written word, it would look like this. Notice what's different? There is punctuation, we've made choices for tone and effect that shape how the reader reads it.

I could have done that last paragraph like this:

If you were to transcribe speaking and update it for the written word? It would look like this. Notice what's different, there is punctuation. We've made choices for tone and effect that shape how the reader reads it.

Does it read differently?

You bet.

These are nuances you'd miss if you "write like you talk" instead of thinking about the medium.

The effect of intonation is only the start because we also need the emotion of communication. Now, it’s not surprising that people miss this.

After all, most of the CrapGPT dorks who plague social media have no idea how to communicate in human.

And because they have no emotions in real life, they fail to realise that in writing

You really do have no emotions!

None that the reader can hear anyway. They can't see your face, read your body language, listen to your tone, pick up on all the tiny signals that the human brain is designed to capture.

They just see words.

If you try and write like you talk, you'll miss all those emotions from your prose, because all you’re doing is taking speech and flattening it. You’re not considering all you’re missing (tone, body language, facial expressions, volume etc.) and replacing it with alternatives (word choice, sentence structures etc.) that convey the same on the page.

You’re simplifying it so much that you're missing the rich tone that words can give you.

There's a difference in choosing furious over angry over raging. And sure, when I'm talking I might say "Yeah I was raging" and mean I was mildly annoyed. But the person I’m talking to will hear the tone and see the slight smile on my face, and realise what I meant.

In prose you don’t have all that extra detail, and to just strip it out by “writing like you talk” is failing to communicate.

For all those reasons, I never "write like I talk" for the reasons above.

But when I'm writing these newsletters I do write conversationally.

It's how I would talk if I was smarter, you were paying more attention, we all had perfect recollection, there were no distractions etc.

No, it's not "how I would talk", but…

…it sounds like I could be saying it to you.

It flows. It's not formal and stuffy. I don't use fifty-seven words when one would do. I use contractions, like in the tweet that started this whole rant.

But despite all that, it's a lot more trimmed down than any conversation, even a written speech.

There are no overdeveloped transitions, filler words, memory-aids etc.

The vocabulary is higher, the inflections of tone are conveyed in the cadence of the words, not in my voice. Energy has to be edited onto the page instead of just raising and lowering my voice, or speed of speech. Emotion has to be created with word choice, language and structure.

It's a different medium, with different tools.

Treat it like that.

And until next time may your pipe inspire many rich conversations and much richer writing.


James Carran, Craftsman Writer

P.s. I’d be remiss not to mention that one of the best ways to write conversationally is to write quickly. Something that you can learn to do here. Remember to purchase by Friday midnight EDT to get the burnout bonus.


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