3.3 - Write How You Speak - Own Your Distortion

Someone, somewhere, let this one slip. While I'd like to think they had good intentions, the end result has been nothing short of a disaster. 

“Just write how you talk!” 

The idea being: free yourself from the stiff constraints of writing conventions! When you write how you talk, your audience feels like you are writing directly to them. It’s intimate, it’s awesome, everyone should do it! And since there aren’t so many rules to follow, the writing process is so much easier. Win, win!

Chances are: the easier it is to read, the harder it was to write.

Writing how you talk, or “conversational” style, is the idea that your writing should be as casual as though you were having a very personal conversation with someone. Most new writers worry about sounding dumb. By using a conversational style, you have nothing to worry about - you will definitely sound stupid.

A few problems with the conversational style:
  1. Conversational implies a conversation - a back and forth. With every exchange, context and familiarity with the subject get layered in. 
  2. When you write how you speak, you assume people read how they listen. While the flexibility and capacity of our brain may be infinite, our language processing centers aren’t quite working this way. There has been extensive research on the efficacy of audiobooks and information retention. The short answer: reading is something you do; listening is something that happens to you. 
  3. There is an unwritten bylaw with “conversational style” that deems it acceptable to bypass all manner of editing and proofreading. You may not edit yourself in conversations, so why bother with conversational-style writing?
While conversational style reads easier, it is an intricate style of writing to master. Writing to be read is far different than speaking to someone you think is listening to you. 

Your goal isn’t to be conversational. Chances are, your audience doesn’t want you to be friendly and familiar. They’re here because you can offer them something and you are the end-all, be-all authority on the topic. The conversational style and writing how you talk is a bucket of ice water on the powerful voice you should be taking with your audience. 

One caveat: after pulling out enough of my hair, I’ll eventually allow some clients to use voice-to-text software to get the job done. Voice to text gets the words on the page and sometimes the fastest way to the first draft. Other times, it is an excellent way to show my clients the vast difference between spoken and written language. Voice to text has its place. The machines are getting smarter, and they’re a great tool for getting an idea out of your head and into a place you can work with it.

For the love of all things good, there should be an extensive amount of drafting between what you create when you write how you talk and the copy you give someone to read.

A note on contractions: 

A common thread from the “write how you talk” school of thought is their love of contractions. He’s, we’re, it’s, weren’t, and so on. Some learn that there is no room for contractions in the world of formal writing. Therein, conversational writing (which is, somehow, not formal?) is ripe for contractions! 

Slow your roll.

Contractions have their place in our language. We wouldn’t teach them to our youth otherwise. However, it would do you well to expand your contractions to make sure the right meaning comes across. 

He’s not going.

He’s is the contraction of he is and he has. 

I’m being a bit naughty, aren’t I?

I’m being a bit naughty, are not I? 

I'm being a bit naughty, am I not? 

No, I am not.