According to The Atlantic, you write close to a novel’s worth of emails every year. And that’s just email. With that much time and effort spent on one form of communication, it begs certain questions. “What do you write?” “What is your style?” Even: “Why do you write?” But one question that is less often asked is: “How do you write?” Yes, how. How do you actually go about getting what’s in your head onto paper (or screen)? It may not be as simple as you think (pun intended).
There is a misconception that somehow a 1:1 correlation exists between the mind and the fingers—that what you’re thinking translates fully to what you write. But no such thing exists. Communication starts from the brain, yes, but ideas have to be translated before they can come out.
Consider that when we talk, this happens too. We have ideas in our mind which have to be formulated into words, then the words have to be chained together as sentences, then we have to make sure that what’s in the head actually gets released audibly and understandably. Next, in real-time, we respond to feedback, assessing whether an idea was comprehended, and how it was received. We then add this to our filter as we first formulate, then speak the next idea. It’s a rather complex process for a simple thing—talking.
Writing is similar, but perhaps one more level removed from talking. In the same way that we don’t actually speak like we think, neither do we write like we think. We have to be our own translators. We have to convert brain-speak to human communication. This is the skill of writing.
It’s important to not overstate this. We aren’t all writers, or editors. There is simply too much that needs to be done in a day for us to even pretend to be so. But we are all communicators. That’s a skill that transcends any job, and it’s a skill worth investing in and taking pride in.
So the next email you write, stop for a moment to be conscious that you are writing. Realize that ideas aren’t conveyed just by thinking them; you have to write like you’re writing, not write like you’re thinking. Try talking in your head as you write to remember that what you’re thinking will need some work before it becomes readable. And take advantage of the fact that every time you write, you’re practicing one of the most important skills of life: human communication.
Be sure to check out our next article on a few simple ways to improve your written communication.