When Writers Speak

Some people are eloquent speakers as well as prolific writers. A true talent. On the other hand, I have observed many more who speak well but cannot seem to put their thoughts to writing as eloquently. I belong to another camp, those that can’t seem to get the right words out of their mouth as well as they can print it out on paper.

I always thought maybe it was just me, but seems that I am not alone in my inability to converse as well as I write. You can blame it on cranial wiring, but it is heartening to read this article and find out that this trait is symptomatic in many people-no less in wonderful writers. I accept that I’m very far from being a Nabokov or NYT columnist, but this article is the first I’ve come across on the topic. I presume putting your thoughts on paper helps you structure your thoughts in a more linear manner than does expressing them through speech.

Here is an excerpt:

………Like most writers, I seem to be smarter in print than in person. In fact, I am smarter when I’m writing. I don’t claim this merely because there is usually no one around to observe the false starts and groan-inducing sentences that make a mockery of my presumed intelligence, but because when the work is going well, I’m expressing opinions that I’ve never uttered in conversation and that otherwise might never occur to me. Nor am I the first to have this thought, which, naturally, occurred to me while composing. According to Edgar Allan Poe, writing in Graham’s Magazine, “Some Frenchman — possibly Montaigne — says: ‘People talk about thinking, but for my part I never think except when I sit down to write.” I can’t find these words in my copy of Montaigne, but I agree with the thought, whoever might have formed it. And it’s not because writing helps me to organize my ideas or reveals how I feel about something, but because it actually creates thought or, at least supplies a Petri dish for its genesis.

The Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, however, isn’t so sure. In an e-mail exchange, Pinker sensibly points out that thinking precedes writing and that the reason we sound smarter when writing is because we deliberately set out to be clear and precise, a luxury not usually afforded us in conversation.

Read the full article by Arthur Krystal on the New York Times.