December 5

What if you think better while talking?

    When I was teaching Sociology at a small college, there was one student who often made smart, insightful comments during class discussion, but when it came time to write a paper, his written words came out jumbled and confused. I could hardly believe that the mess of a paper came from the same student who so often seemed on top of the material during class.

    I’ll admit that while I was a student, in high school and through graduate school, most of my professors regarded me as a good writer. Writing is the way that I think and process material, so I unknowingly developed an assumption that good thinking effortlessly manifests itself in good writing.

    I’d go so far as to say that a lot of academics and writers have the same assumption. If you can think clearly and logically, then you’ll be able to write clearly, as well.

    But my verbally acute college student’s poor writing flew right in the face of my assumption. I began to realize that, truly, some people think and process through material better verbally. Some writers think better while talking, not while writing.

    13-12-05 talking

    Clear thinking can come from either writing or talking

    What I’m suggesting is that if you struggle with writing clearly, it does not mean that your thinking is unclear. It may mean that you process your thoughts best verbally.

    Rather than beating your head against a wall (or your fists against a laptop keyboard), try leaning into your strength. Start paying attention to how you think.

    When you start to think through complicated ideas, do you mumble phrases and ideas to yourself?

    Do you reach new levels of clarity when you have meetings with a colleague?

    After writing a draft, do you often feel like you made no sense at all?

    I would suggest that maybe you are a verbal processor. Perhaps you gain clarity of thought through speech, more so than writing.

    If you are a verbal processor, try these things:

    1. Don’t be shy about talking to yourself. Set out a recorder and just start talking about your project. If you feel like you are actually getting somewhere, transcribe the tape. Heck, hire a transcriber in the Philippines for cheap. They’ll email you a print out of your recording. There’s a piece of your first draft, right there.
    2. Schedule regular conversations with someone to talk about your writing project. A phone call to an old grad school friend or a Skype conversation with an editor just might do wonders for your writing. Talk through the parts of the project that are causing friction. Either ask the person on the other end of the line to take notes for you or you take notes yourself as you talk. Or record the conversation and get it transcribed.

      Some of my clients say their favorite part of working with me is our regular Skype conversations. The funny thing is, I just listen, take notes, and ask questions. Then, I incorporate their words, often verbatim, into their writing. Perhaps this could work for you, too.

    3. When you start to write, make a habit of explaining (out loud) to yourself what you’re about to write just before you start writing. The mere act of speaking will solidify your main points and give you words before you set fingers to the keyboard.

    What do you think? Are you a verbal processor? Do you have other tips for people who can speak with clarity but whose writing comes out unclear? Leave a comment below!


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