Writing vs. Talking

What I’ve always hated about writing, long as I can remember, is sitting down in front of a computer, facing an empty screen, and having to type. I just freeze up—it’s the most excruciating experience. In that situation my subconscious mind calls up  the idea of every great piece of writing that was ever written  and my standards are so high–okay, my perfectionism can get so overblown– that it’s like my fingers physically won’t let my brain type anything they fear might not be the exact truth, whether factually or emotionally. You have no idea how hard it was to write a book like that. Some days I thought I wasn’t going to make it.

But there’s something I’ve always loved, by contrast, about just sitting quietly and talking one-on-one with a close friend. In that context my heart understands perfection is neither possible nor desirable and the only really important thing is to exchange enough imperfect ideas for us to connect. In those moments I know that if we just give it time and effort, together, the truth will  emerge and it will be beautiful enough. Fortunately, I was able to get the vast majority of my book written in this mode of open conversation rather than my defensive typing. But the logistical contortions I needed to make that happen were exhausting, and part of why you haven’t seen more writing from me since. I mean, I’ve continued to think, obviously–actually my own thinking on humanism and religion has evolved a lot in the past 2, 3 years. But I wouldn’t be satisfied to show you writing about it written in my typing mode, and what I needed to do to produce writing in my conversation mode has been too exhausting most of the time.

Now I hope this doesn’t sound like just a PSA after all that confession, but today I got a new laptop and installed Dragon Dictate–and I’m dictating this update to you. It feels so freaking good. “Look, no hands!” No hands that, when typing, feel stretched out between us, like I’m in zombie stance, or trying to push you away when all I’d really want is for you to draw nearer so we could talk.

I’m amazed that one little technological intervention can make me feel like a different person. But that’s how science and technology work, isn’t it? We could have left ourselves well enough alone at some “spiritually pure” stage of evolution where traveling long distances or curing diseases or growing food reliably were impossible. But we ways to transform our experience and get more out of ourselves. We were rightly dissatisfied with how things were and with our own limitations and with the fact that by themselves, all the prayers in the world can’t improve our physical lot, and sometimes physical circumstances make a difference. Now I’m getting grandiose about it. The point is I’m just enjoying the act of writing again for the 1st time in so long I can’t even remember. I’m realizing how much there is for us to talk about, about humanism. There’s so much going on in the world that needs to be seen more through a humanist lens–seen and discussed–with passion, with positivity, without Pollyannishness. For one thing, we in humanist and secular circles (and progressive, intellectual circles in general) spend so much energy talking about what needs to be improved in the political world, or what needs to be improved about the beliefs of others–both important topics, by the way–that we forget to take the time and the risk to talk about what we want to improve about ourselves.  But we can get more done “out there”  if we our stronger for being able to talk more openly about what’s “in here”.  We just need to have the conversation.  And I’m finally feeling like I can have it with you through this medium.

So, if you wouldn’t mind, and you’ve gotten this far, indulge my sentimentality and forgive my failings and welcome me into the world of blogging, for real this time. I think I might stick around. If you’re here, to talk, I will.

About Greg Epstein

Greg M. Epstein serves as the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, and is author of the New York Times Bestselling book, Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe. A frequently quoted expert on Humanism and community for the nonreligious, Greg’s work has been widely discussed in the national and international media, including the New York Times, CNN, the Boston Globe, and on dozens of radio programs.

  • David Simon

    Shorter AlphaOmega: “If you were a real atheist, you would shut up about it! Also, I have never actually read a vegetarian blog.”

    • Dana Wilson

      Real Atheists speak their minds. Funny how you Christians seem to think you tell can Atheists what to think, do, and believe, and worse, speak for Atheism. Where do you nutty Christians get off?

      You dumb, delusional Xians have not a clue what is an Atheist. Its part of the Christian pathology to “speak” for other people, be able to read minds….and try to control the communication.

      You do realize you are insane, don’t you.

      • David Simon

        You do realize I was sarcastically making fun of AlphaOmega, don’t you?

  • David Simon

    Your pamphlet looks very interesting, but I’m afraid that I don’t understand this language. Do you have an English version?

  • JA

    So does Dragon Dictate pick up nuances of speech and writing, such as adding semicolons (a very underused punctuation mark, IMO) where needed, quotation marks, the actual end of a sentence if speaking several at once or paragraph breaks, or do all of these have to be added in by hand?

    Asking because I’m kind of in the same boat as you; talking is easy, but as soon as I sit down to write, my fingers refuse to move.

  • zeggman

    Well, Chris, as I write this it’s been 11 months since you posted your review here. How’s your improved treatment of the topic coming along? Final proofs?

  • Dana Wilson

    Talk to yourself, through your fingers. Don’t think or plan what to say, just start talking about a subject, and it will come to you. You can always correct the grammar and style later.

  • Dana Wilson

    The reason Atheists speak, is because Christians etc. seem to feel the need to speak for Atheists, and tell the rest of the world what Atheists believe and think. Secondly, there is a vile and evil movement among Christians to “take the US back for Jesus,” meaning, create a Christian police state by taking over schools, the media, the GOP/tea party, and getting elected to government. I simply hate the ground Odumbo walks on,, his religion is himself, but a Christian police state scares me even more.

  • Dana Wilson

    Christian books go like this:
    1) there is a god because we said so
    2) the bible says there is a god
    3) god explains everything, and why we are here
    4) if you don’t believe in god/jesus you are going to go to hell to suffer for ever and ever.
    5) Jesus, some crazy guy, if he existed at all, committed suicide so you could be forgiven of your real and imaginary sins.

    That’s it…the sum total of all christian books, and I dare say….boring.

  • gentle_atheist

    Greg, I read your book this summer and for was so very relieved that it was so positive. I am fatigued and saddened that so many blogs and books by atheists focus on what makes them angry. I am ready for the next step and find you are already there…good for us all!

    Thanks for being able to find in yourself the capacity to write in spite of it not being your favorite. I live in the Bible Belt and am getting the courage to publish a book on my experiences as an atheist here who has been closeted. I need some air and am ready to come out…

    Please keep writing…you and Chris Stedman are the first and only authors who have spoken in a way that has inspired me. We need that voice. It, not the voice of anger, will grow the movement, I have no doubt!

  • gentle_atheist

    I could tell you story upon story of Christian people who have made comments to my friends and family such as, “Huh, you’re a Jew, Atheist, etc? I never would have guessed…you’re so nice!”

    Good Sir, until hurtful comments of surprise like that don’t happen on a regular basis, writers like Greg Epstein will no doubt find it necessary to educate the population to a fascinating reality: Folks who don’t believe in God, or at least in a given person’s god, may actually be nice, decent and kind people.

    Good without God seems to me a title born of the sad truth of judgment in us, rather than of his reliance on a god.

  • Y. A. Warren

    So, you got a voice recognition way to write true to you conversational voice, but you still stopped blogging. Did you feel less energized because you were still talking to yourself? How about recording you and someone in discussion for your blogs?

  • Andy
  • http://www.klrich.net KLRich1

    I would like to invite you to read my new book, “The First Black Friday: The Crucifixion of Christ” by K L Rich on Amazon.com. It took the love of a Father to send His son down to earth to suffer at the hands of an evil world and die for our sins. Jesus having been told what was needed to save mankind, mentally struggled with the mission, but knew that it was necessary to keep man from being eternally lost. It was a horrible day. It was a day of cruelty and torment. It was…The First Black Friday. It will change your life.