“For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.”
Rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling aside, writing and speaking are different animals, and taming them requires a different skill set. Here is where I rejoice that this blog is not about speaking. Writing requires only control over a keyboard and as poorly as I do that, I’m better at it than controlling my tongue.
Both writing and speaking communicate thought in a manner that is meant to be understood by others. I have done both professionally with varying degrees of success. I’ll take writing over speaking every time.
Writing is generally more formal, at least the final product is supposed to be that way. I’m what writers call a Pantser, that is, I write by the seat of my pants beginning without much more than a plot and maybe a character and letting the story go where it will. Even so, my writing is planned to a degree speech cannot be.
There is time to think, try out different word choices, reflect on whether you have stayed on topic, and the written word does not stray from the final script. I have spoken in public from very detailed notes with a very specific plan of where I wish to take the audience—it is not the same. Words get altered mid-speech, get mispronounced, stumbled over, and invariably rabbit holes open beneath your feet.
Writing is more linear. In writing a story, you move from Once upon a time to The End. Whatever does not move the story along this path meets the Delete key. That doesn’t mean you don’t write it. However, if you’ve done your job well, only the spirit of those words haunts the final draft.
I get as emotionally involved in my writing as I do my public speaking. When writing, I feel just as angry, passionate, or sarcastic. The difference is that writing is more temperate. There is an opportunity to edit and revise, not to alter the truth, but to tell it softly with greater consideration and compassion than I might in the moment.
A word fitly spoken may be as apples of gold in pictures of silver, but that is not always my first spoken word. There is time to revise printed words. That first draft is never going to see the light of day. A speech can be carefully crafted, rehearsed, and planned, but once you open your mouth there is always the danger of going off script and, for me, reading is not public speaking.
Writing is easier to defend. The words are not subject to ears that hear something different than the words spoken. I have had people come up to me after speaking to tell me to my great surprise, “You said xyz.” I have never had that happen with anything I’ve written.
I’m no Paul, but I have experienced the disconnect he talked about between my writing and my in-the-flesh persona. I’ve written 50,000+ word novels in a month and spoken half that number in the same thirty days. Most of the time, I never know what to say in conversation and so say nothing at all. When I do speak in conversation my voice is barely audible.
However, speaking in public, I can project my voice to reach the back of the room and so rarely use a microphone. A friend once commented when you step behind a pulpit, “you’re like a whole different person”. I will add that does not mean better, more exciting, or less grumpy, just different.
I used to write my books and blogs in longhand in composition books and notebooks, then type them into the computer until the day I learned to cut/copy and paste. I suppose if speech ever advances to include those features and a Delete button, I might do more of it. For now, I’m happy to simply thank God that I’m a writer.