Writers, do we speak as well as we write?

I was somewhat low spirited this week.

I found myself in classes filled with very intelligent people. So I constantly felt the need to say something super mind-blowing. My pride wanted to prove myself,  to make my mark, as a smart young woman. But in this attempt I only ended up saying something unintelligent, something trite, while others would bring up comments that actually contributed to the discussion. So, while I kept my cool, in my mind I burned with humiliation.

I began to feel a bit…stupid (I sound whiny, but bear with me; I haven’t written this to wallow in self-pity).

I kept wishing that I spoke better, that I could process my thoughts better before speaking. You would think that a writer would be more articulate; but for me, that isn’t the case. When writing, I’m alone in my own thoughts, not conscious of the audience. My mind relaxes and blooms with words. But when I’m with people, I tense up, my mind goes blank, and I blurt out nonsense. I told my mother this on the phone and she said she’d email me her response. The next morning I received an email titled, 14th letter (yah, she has started to track the number of emails she sends me. I think it’s adorable). I translated it from Korean so it’s a bit awkward:

I am looking at your painting which hangs by the dining table.

As I observe this painting—of a lady who sits by the lacy curtain, dressed in a purple gown—I wondered how you managed to paint such a portrait. Was it a creation of the hand, or the mind?

Even your paintings are inspiring, so I got curious as to how much more moving your novel must be, filled with words that have poured out from your heart and soul. 

June, there is no need to trouble yourself for not being as articulate as you desire, because you speak through your writing, you move the heart through your writing.

Thank you for creating so many lovely paintings for me.

-Mom

My mom’s words encouraged me so much. I guess sometimes silence is enough. She helped me realize that I don’t always need to say something intelligent, inspiring, thought-provoking, etc., to prove myself. Because I’ve proved all that I need to prove. My book stands as my personal witness: I do have a voice, I do have strong beliefs and opinions. Isabelle Burwell, in my book The Runaway Courtesan, captures the essence of why I love to write so much:

Because writing is my only means of expressing my mind and heart. You see, I’m never able to say what I wish and am never able to say what I should when I ought. But when I write, everything stored up in me is let out and read by others. That is why I write. So people might read my works and see the woman who I always struggle but fail to be in life.” As if satisfied with her explanation, she smiled triumphantly and played with her necklace. “Yes, that’s it. As diverse as the character of mankind might be, diverse is also the means of communication.

While I  have my own explanation, still, I do wonder. Writing and speaking: both mediums deal with words… If an author has a strong command of the language, naturally, one would expect them to speak well. But it’s a fact that not all writers are eloquent. Why do you think this is the case?  

Speaking of….speaking, here’s a trailer of the movie I want to see BADLY:

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46 Comments

Filed under Thoughts, Writing

46 responses to “Writers, do we speak as well as we write?

  1. Kayleigh

    When you’re writing, you have all the time in the world to get your point across, although now that I think about it, I don’t need a lot of time to write what I think. Hmm. Maybe we writers think/express ourselves better with written words because… Because when we write, we see the words, and we…

    Okay, it’s quarter past 1 in the morning and I’ve got to be up at 6.45, so I’m not making much sense right now.

    But this is a great blog post–I completely understand what you mean.

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    • It’s encouraging to know that I’m understood! haha.

      “now that I think about it, I don’t need a lot of time to write what I think” My exact thought. If it doesn’t take so long for me to write, why does what I say not accord with how easily I write?

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  2. I am the exact same way, and as linguist (or at least, a student of linguistics), I actually have an idea of how/why this happens!

    Although language is mostly contained within one area of the brain, spoken and written language functions are actually separated. There is a case we just looked at in my psycholinguistics class of an amnesiac who lost his ability to transfer short-term memory into long-term memory (like the movie Memento or 50 First Dates). He was hospitalized and would wake up not knowing why he was in the hospital or how he got there.

    But here’s the interesting bit: when given a pad of paper and a pen, the patient was able to write down things that had happened to him since he arrived in the hospital. He was physically unable to say the things that he was able to write.

    The brain is a wonderful mystery!

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    • That’s fascinating! …and very strange. Like Kaleigh mentioned, some of us write without taking the time to think, it just comes out. Yet, I guess even still, words forumalte to be spoken is managed in another part of the brain. That sucks :/ Anyway, thanks for the englightenment

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  3. Noelle Pierce

    I think that writing and speaking are on completely different planes. I like to think I’m proficient in both (God, I hope so, as I’m a college professor!), but both take practice. When it comes to writing, we often have more time to think of the right word and to process our thoughts, but in speaking, this process is shortened considerably. In a social situation, we hear, process, and must respond, which doesn’t always give us as much time to find the perfect word. I use a lot more adverbs in my speech than in my writing (well, now that I know not to use them in writing), and slang, and ums. All of this gets better when I’ve practiced what I’m going to say, rather than impromptu speech.

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  4. Kim

    I had to click on your blog-link on facebook right away because I saw that AWESOME photo of that old-school gentleman. Who is he, June? I want to know. Stat.

    Your Mum is so adorable. I have problems with articulating as well. See, when I try to tell a story to a group of people, all I manage to blurt out is some incomprehensible blabber that dashes story convention (orientation, complication, climax/solution) and ends up being a uninteresting. I get so embarassed.

    I think the answer to this conundrum is to do with the person and what distinguishes writing from chit-chat. Writers are normally introverted and like to sit back, observe, and reflect. I don’t think we have a lot of practice at talking to people too. As well, writers think about things too much. We like to analyze the world, and that takes time.

    Okay, I just scrolled up and read Noelle’s comment. I agree with her completely. College professors are pro.

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    • Heathcliffe!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

      Oh jeez. I’m like you too. I have this great story to tell, but in my attempt to tell it, the greatness of it somehow dies along they way through a jumble of words and ums and likes and uuuhhhhhs.

      And I agree 100% with you that speaking takes practice.

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  5. Your mother is just way too cute. And for some reason, when things are translated from other languages, they always sound much deeper and more thoughtful. Maybe we Americans are just blunt jerks who can’t command language.

    I understand how you feel, though. When I speak, I’m very conscious of the fact that I have a lisp, and because of that I have difficulty enunciating properly. Some of my words come out a little chopped or garbled sometimes. I’m so focused on those problems that it destroys my vocabulary (sometimes even to the point where I’ll use a very simple word wrong) and my means of conveying a point.

    Sometimes I feel in GETTING to that point that I lose it entirely, or I’m taking too long to get there.

    I much prefer text. If I can email instead of talk on the phone, I’ll take that option.

    Articulation is hard. =P

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    • I think lisps are cute 🙂 Ah, but I could feel a bit of your frustration as I was reading your work. And I experienced something of that sort in Korea where I couldn’t communicate because I didn’t know the language enough. I could never say my thought compeltely because I couldn’t say the word properly, or didn’t know the word at all.

      I much prefer email as well to phoning someone! That’s why I’m also so glad that we’re able to text message.

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  6. I`m the exact opposite. I`ve always had no problems with speaking. I used to win speech contests, even going to national competitions. An erotica writer who was interviewing me once complimented that I was very articulate. O.o People tell me that I have a sense of humor.

    But it`s the opposite when I write. I struggle a bit more to get the words out. I feel as if I`m constantly hesitating every time my fingers touch the keyboard. It`s better more me if I don`t have the luxury of being able to pause so that I can have the time to think of what words I want to write down.

    I have no idea what I`m writing =_= If only I had a video camera and a microphone.

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    • I guess the side of your brain where speech is involved is more developed than the writing side of your brain? I know an author who speaks better than he talks. So he wrote his whole story via voice. He had a microphone that he spoke into, and the words are typed out for him.

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  7. I don’t know why writers aren’t always eloquent. I wish I knew, so I could figure out how not to say such stupid things all the time. In any case, your mother sounds like a lovely person and, in that, you are so blessed. And you are blessed with writing talent. Plus, you are obviously bilingual, so there you have it. You have been blessed mightily. Oh, and, by the way, I doubt you ever sound as stupid as you think you do.

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    • Bilingual enough to communicate…but still, I don’t know it well enough to be considered 100% fluent. I still have lots of trouble reading in Korean.

      But thank you for your encouraging words : ) You really don’t know how blessed you are until you take a step back to reflect upon it. So thanks for reminding me that I have no need to feel so low spirited!

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  8. Great post, June…as usual. 🙂

    The painting your mom referred to–is that the same pic you’ve used as an avi? It’s incredible!

    I wish I had an answer for you. I have the same problem, of course, it depends on who (or whom, I should say) I’m around as to whether or not I sound eloquent. Actually, I don’t know that I’ve EVER sounded eloquent, but I have noticed that, as a writer, more often than not, I don’t struggle with finding the right words when talking.

    I know that was absolutely no help to you, whatsoever. Sorry. 😦

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    • Oh no, that’s a photo! haha. I wish that was the one I painted. But the way her head is positioned and where she is seated is somewhat similar. The one I did is a semi-impressionist painting to it’s a bit blurry compared to my avi.

      My main problem is that I have an idea of what I want to say, but when I try to say it, it doesn’t come out right!

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  9. Well, I know I appreciate the backspace button on my keyboard even more because I don’t have it in real life! Writing and speaking do function differently, and your point about mindset is huge–my best friend is a brilliant young woman, but gets so nervous speaking in class or work situations that she often feels like she didn’t express what she meant. Yet, when it’s just the two of us talking, she’s wonderfully articulate.

    When I was in college and majoring in French, we’d often have to have insightful, meaningful conversations about literature–in French. And I was in classes of people way ahead of me in the language, and people who had lived abroad. I learned that just letting go–not worrying if I made a mistake, just speaking to make my point–helped immensely. I probably fouled up the grammar quite a bit, and wasn’t always eloquent, but my classmates complimented me on my fearlessness in speaking up and in the points I raised about the books. Don’t worry about how you’re saying it, just say it–and the rest will follow 🙂

    And your Mom sounds adorable–and she’s spot-on, of course, as mothers tend to be.

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    • “Don’t worry about how you’re saying it, just say it–and the rest will follow” Thanks for telling me this. I should just speak what’s on my mind rather than holding back and over-processing it. And when I do speak, I shouldn’t overanalyzed the effects of my words.

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  10. I was tearing up as I read your mom’s letter. It was so poetic. Now I know where you get your writing-gene from!

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  11. Sharmon Gazaway

    June, I thought your mom’s email was poetic! No fair having such a such a lovely mom and being able to paint, too! (JK) I hear you on the speaking vs. writing. When I get around people I usually talk too much, too fast and come off really flaky. Like Rowenna said, I need a backspace button for conversations. I’ve really tried practicing listening more and speaking less, but I usually have all these thoughts and they come out spewing like a geiser–sheesh. Oh, well, more practice.
    It’s nice to know other writers struggle w/ this too.

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  12. Oh I’m a terrible speaker. I can think of great words on the page but for the most part when I try to talk about stuff it comes out “um,” and “really, really” and “like.”

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  13. You’re not alone. I suspect that it’s the lack of editing available with talking. With writing we can cut and paste, delete, add, change etc. With talking it’s a case of get it right first time or stumble around a lot. 🙂

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  14. A lot of writers, I’ve noticed, either talk very low, slowly and deliberately as if tasting every word, or stutter because so many sentences and statements are fighting for position in your mouth. Just think, when you’re talking, you aren’t listening. Authors LISTEN and observe, and therefore you don’t need to engage in inane conversations all the time. You’re probably the smartest person in the room anyway.:)

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    • “… when you’re talking, you aren’t listening. Authors LISTEN and observe, and therefore you don’t need to engage in inane conversations all the time”

      This was SUCH an enlightening remark! Thank you. And it’s true… writers observe. And to talk all the time means to miss out on the observational moments

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      • Another thing I think is funny, when a kid is quiet…parents/teachers think they are up to some devious activity but with writers, we’re thought of as anti-social! :)Far from the opposite!

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      • Being “anti-social” carries such a negative connotation. But, for writers, I think it’s crucial at times to be anti-social, to be quiet and simply observe. But, of course, balance is essential.

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  15. June, I truly relate so much. It is as if you have read my mind. The spoken word does not come easily to me when in the public realms. I like what you said about silence being enough. That there is no reason for you to have to prove yourself.

    I love what your characters says, as well. She sums it up very nicely.

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  16. I’m a very bad speaker. I can feel the words stop in my throat… I should unblock that chakra, but it’s not easy! 😉
    I definitely feel better when I write… spoken words are more treacherous for me… especially since many people use them to talk about air or something… it’s like they’re scared of silence! 😦
    Happy writing!

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    • Oh my gosh. I agree with you 100%–that to talk non-step makes it seem almost as if the speaker is afraid of the silence. I actually wrote a piece on the fear of silence. And silence CAN be a scary thing in way for someone with low self-esteem. It becomes to them a moment when they believe others will stop to actually think and judge them. Yah, me and my psychological analysis

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  17. June, this post is deja vu for me — my current post is “Why do you choose to write” and that is exactly one of the questions you answered in your own post.

    As for your question about why not all writers are eloquent, writing and public speaking are two entirely different skills, each of which needs to be learned and/or honed separately.

    Your mom’s email was adorable and lovely! My daughter gave me a beautiful little figurine for my birthday once that had this caption underneath it: “A mom gives her daughter wisdom to keep her grounded and wings to help her soar”.

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    • Aww! Your daughter sounds wonderful. I truly do beleive my mother gave me the wings to soar. She is so encouraging that from all that she’s told me, you’d think I would have the ability to conquer the world!

      mother’s are so important in a daughter’s life.

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  18. Your moms sounds so sweet! You must feel so grateful to have her in your life. 🙂

    Two things:

    I believe you said you were in undergrad? Am I correct? Well that is the time when you are supposed to learn how to be more articulate in speaking and debating and discussion, so you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself. Take it as practice, trust me, and I say this with all due respect, most of those discussions do not happen outside of college. So you don’t need to worry, even if you do not end up being good at these, you still will be far better at expressing yourself than others in the outside world.

    That sounds sort of elitist, I guess, but its true, many people do not get college training, so they are not used to processing things critically and speaking their complicated thoughts. Which is to say that you are far better off than you probably think.

    Second, this reminds me of Eat, Pray, Love, where Gilbert decides that she wants to stop being a chatty kathy and take a vow of silence. As soon as she decides this, the ashram she is at asks her to be an escort for new visitors. The job requires her to be who she is, a chatty kathy.

    I think god (pardon me for getting spiritual here) has made us (im including me because i’m the same way too) people who are more quiet, more introverted, more observant, more reflective for a reason. The way we naturally are is the way god wants us to be. He doesn’t want us to resist that.

    Why would he want us to resist our nature? We need to be observant and good at expressing our thoughts in writing because that is what we are meant to do.

    Oh and I think you have noticed that you get more credit for your essays and research papers (expressing your thoughts in writing) than in discussion. So, there. You’re already ahead of others who struggle in this area.

    Ok, i’ve written a lot. But there you have it. You’re doing good my friend. 🙂

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    • Be as spiritual as you wish, as I’m spiritual myself 😀 I really appreciated your comment. And agree 100% with it. We were made with the personalities we possess for a reason.I used to be ashamed of being sensitive but have come to take some pride in it. Sensitivity has been so beneficial to me as a writer. I guess this lack of skill as an orator has an advantage to that as well–and you put it in such a positive way…not “lacking oratory skills” but being a “reflective person”

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  19. Oh man! I understand what you mean. I can NEVER raise my hand up in class because I either have no opinion, insufficient time to think things over, or a fear of speaking in public. And if this occurs during French class, it is far worse because I’d start comparing myself with other (more native) speakers, or comparing my grasp of French with that of English!

    But I believe a lot of this is psychologically-based. The image you instill in others is what you instill in yourself. I think most of the time people won’t undermine your words if you speak confidentially and with authority. This is something I’m working on myself 😀

    By the way, I just suddenly thought this off the top of my head: Do you think telling stories orally would make your speech more organized and eloquent? You get to work with something familiar and dear to your heart, but at the same time can train the elements of speech that don’t crop up in writing. I find that I often have a clearer story plan, or even fix up structural/logical problems, when I retell my stories orally. Also, a simple look from your audience could indicate how interesting and concise your story is 😛

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  20. Your mom is so sweet! I also wish I could express myself completely to others. I’m not sure if I am better at writing than speaking, I think I’ve learned to transfer the same thought process into my speaking process – so it sometimes comes out sounding “analytical” or kind of bland.

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  21. Your post helps me a lot.
    Thank you.

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  22. tab

    I just want to say as well, I am the same way when I speak. I myself, am 50/50 smart /stupid, though! May I add that 99.9% of the world is dyslexic! Which means we are not perfect. Our minds are made to evolve by practicing, rather than dissolve by wasting.

    Liked by 1 person

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