Write like you talk?

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We’re often told to “write like you talk”. Talk to the reader, on paper, as if you’re having a personal conversation. Use simple words and short sentences, to make your message clear and easy to understand.

But spoken communication is disjointed and repetitive. Our meaning is often ambiguous. We use gestures, pauses, facial expressions, and other cues, to provide context and clarity to our message. When we sense that the listener isn’t following us, we can repeat the thought with different words and examples. We can make sure they understand before we continue.

We can’t do this in writing, however, so if you write literally like you talk, your writing will be harder to understand, not easier.

Instead of “write like you talk,” the mantra should be, “write the first draft like you talk.”

When you edit that draft, change the order of your ideas so they flow more logically. Choose more descriptive words. Tighten sentences. Tell a story instead of piling on the facts.

Do another pass, to make the draft even clearer. Depending on your audience, consider adding (or adding back) slang, cliches, and buzz words, and using visual devices to mimic the spoken word.

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Make the words look good on the page. Then, read the draft out loud, to hear what your reader will hear in their head when they read it.

Listen to the sound of the words and their cadence. Pay attention to the images they conjure and the emotions they invoke.

CS Lewis said, “Write with the ear, not the eye.” Make sure your words not only say what you mean, make sure they sound good.

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