Many people struggle with all the writing they’re expected to do. If they want their writing to flow like conversation, they should try to write like they talk, pretending to have a conversation with their ideal reader as they write.
They’ll receive at least three benefits. They’ll
1. write faster
2. become easier to understand
3. connect with their readers.
But that’s not all.
People who write like they talk avoid long sentences by inserting a period when they need to take a breath. When they briefly pause, they know it’s time for a comma.
They naturally use connecting words to link their thoughts. They ask questions, make declarations and express emotions. They interact with other people, not keyboards, screens and their own thoughts.
Listen for your voice
I accidentally fell into my write-like-you-speak approach when I was a speech writer for politicians. I would have research notes and a general outline before I’d begin. Then I would pretend to channel the spirit of the politician. I would imagine I could hear him speak as I typed.
More than that, I would visualize the audience. I would build in pauses for these people to respond to jokes, touching stories, alarming statistics and rhetorical questions. My goal was to hear them clapping enthusiastically, better still cheering, when he said “thank you.”
This approach worked well, I discovered, not only for presentations, scripts and other spoken communication, but also for newsletters, announcements, memos, reports and other formal communication that too often sound like they’re on life support.
Love to talk?
The irony is that many people who are uncomfortable writing are great talkers. Even shy people are generally fine chatting one-to-one with people they trust.
We learned language by talking. We gain fluency in new languages by talking. If we are in doubt when writing, we usually go back to what sounds right. Writing like you talk is easier because it comes naturally.
So why do so many people treat writing and conversing like separate functions? The brainwashing began at school and was reinforced at work.
Writing is personal
We were told to be objective and impersonal. We were prohibited from dangling our prepositions or breaking other grammar rules, even the silly ones.
Then we learned the vocabulary of our profession or work culture and foisted it on others. We blasted out the big words and jargon that we’d be embarrassed to use in personal conversation.
Anxious to avoid mistakes and sound proper, we relied on flimsy memory scraps about the important grammar rules.
Worse still, we focused on themselves instead of the reader. Or we kept the reader at a formal arm’s length.
That’s why I recommend anyone who spends time at the keyboard pretend they are talking to their ideal reader as they write.
Sure, you may not be able to talk out loud from your cubicle. But you can pretend or mutter under your breath. Before you know it, your brain will be retrained to process writing more like it processes speech. Your writing will flow.
You’ll probably need to spend more time planning and later checking your draft for mistakes that make you look bad or undermine your clarity. And you’ll need to chop out the fluff words and sentences.
But fortunately, you’ll make up the time through faster writing and better results. By combining the measured reason of thinking-writing with the spontaneity of talking-writing, you can have the best of both worlds.
Of course, writing like you talk may not work for everyone. Writers still need a certain literacy level. People whose parents spoke badly need to find eloquent role models and upgrade their talking first. And some people may be too uptight to have imaginary conversations.
But from the many chatty writers I read on blogs, Facebook and other social media, I know that more people are using a conversational tone. So give it a try.