Lana and I had dinner at a local café the other evening and the owner, a very nice and friendly fellow, at one point asked us what we did. I said I taught at Xavier University and got the inevitable question: “What do you teach?” “Psychology” I replied, and got the inevitable comment about how I could probably do a whole case study on him. I tried to explain that I was an experimental/research psychologist and not particularly interested in the clinical side of psychology, to which I got the inevitable comment indicating that he had no idea what that meant but I could surely do a case study on him. I just went along from there because it wasn’t worth the effort to try and explain again.
Lana then mentioned that I was also a writer and we got on that topic for a bit. The fellow made a comment about how people think writing is hard but it’s really very easy. He pointed out that people talk all the time and all they have to do to write is put those words down on paper. I didn’t correct him because I know from experience that in such situations people only want corroboration of their viewpoints and they won’t really listen to a counter argument anyway.
The truth is, though, that writing is not nearly as easy as holding a conversation with your friends, even if both forms of communication use words. Saying so is like saying that a Pee Wee football team could play just fine against the New England Patriots because they both use footballs. Here are just some of the ways writing is harder than talking.
1. One must think much more carefully when writing than when talking because there is no immediate feedback on your success, or lack thereof, in communicating your points. If you screw up while talking the other person will let you know, but the person reading your work may not even be in the same country as you are. They can’t ask you a question if they don’t understand your point or if they get lost in your narrative.
2. There is no reactive communication in writing. You can’t let the other person’s reactions to your words dictate or affect what you are going to say. They haven’t seen ‘em yet. You are on your own in constructing your writing.
3. A large part of a spoken conversation depends on emotional cues. There are no emotional cues in writing, although things like ;) and LOL’s and punctuation are a lame attempt at adding such information. It doesn’t work very well. This is why jokes are generally much funnier when told in person than when on the printed page, and why people sometimes take comments much more seriously in written form than was intended by the writer.