A couple of readers were kind enough to ask me to elaborate on a point I made in My Last, Best 10 Tips On How To Make It As A Writer, about how talking and writing are “exact opposite uses of the language.” So here’s my case for why, even though it seems like being a good talker would make you a good writer, writing is, in fact, no more like talking than mime is like opera:
Spoken language is very much about maintaining societal mores; it’s about not offending. Speaking to others is how we get along with them, so it’s deeply grounded in ambiguity. The core, formative idea when you’re talking to people—especially in any kind of group setting—is to keep things friendly, to accommodate the thoughts and feelings of others, to be social. Talking is about cooperative give-and-take, sharing, keeping things open-ended in such a way that no one involved in the conversation feels too threatened or challenged.
Talking is about mostly about equivocation, inconclusiveness, changeableness; it’s about an ongoing, manifest, subtly communicated sense of demurral. Talking is about serving and supporting the idea that everyone’s point of view and experience is as valid as everyone else’s. That’s what “being social” means—and talking, of course, is our primary socializing tool.
Talking is about keeping things subjective, about navigating through relativism.
Writing is the exact opposite of that. Writing is about keeping things objective. It’s about assiduous absolutism. It’s about keeping everything unambiguous. Writing is about explicitness, precision, definition, elucidation, clarity. It’s about very purposeful precision, about utter decipherability.
The kind of maniacal, measured exactitude that defines good writing doesn’t in the slightest go well with socializing. It goes with no one ever inviting you anywhere because you always come off like such a conversational Nazi.
Thinking that being a good talker means you’ll be a good writer is like thinking that being a good architect means you’ll be a good shipbuilder. Same basic tools and principles; totally different, and even opposing, intents and results.