It is an interesting experience, walking around in the world with thoughts exploding inside your head. They flit by as flashes of insight into what passes before your eyes, or sudden connections between what you hear and what you know, or knee-jerk opinions to what’s happening. Thoughts can float up unpredictably, and seem profound and awe-inspiring. And when this happens, of course you want to speak them.
There are times in my life where I feel like I’m going through the world while holding back a torrent of opinions springing to mind. But of course I could never speak them all. In the first place, everyone knows the thoughts that look most profound when they pass through your head tend to be the most trite and overworn phrases when brought out into the light of day. (Think, for example, about the “funny jokes” anyone who’s been a cashier has had to hear a thousand times a day.) Things that seem original often are not original after all, or they are inaccurate, or they don’t make sense to anyone else.
Second, you need someone to say your thoughts to.
The art of conversation can be quite divorced from the way a person’s mind works. Conversation does not necessarily work best if you burst forth with whatever crosses through your head. Whatever crosses through your head tends to be quite self-centered, and not at all calculated to capture the interest of what the other person cares about. And a good conversation includes both parties, so an endless rant on what your brain is involved with never does pass the conversational ball back to your conversation partner.
However, at times, with the right people, you can get into a conversational flow that does parallel the workings of your brain. You find yourself letting out the stream of thoughts, and they interject, and your brain reacts and reformulates and brings out new ideas in response. Nothing seems boring to either one of you, and the conversation winds deeper and deeper into the outworkings of ideas until you end feeling like you’ve gained something valuable and immeasurable from the time spent. These are precious moments, and friends you have these conversations with are precious people. But if these moments are not guaranteed to come up as frequently as your thoughts threaten to spill from your head, what do you do?
This is where writing comes in. I wonder how much of writing is driven by an urge to work out all of one’s thoughts on a subject–an urge to grab the conversational ball and just rant for awhile without caring if anyone else is listening. An article’s worth of words would be quite a lot to say at once, but in written form you have the opportunity to actually say what you think. And if you write well, and edit what you’ve written enough, you may eventually get to the point where your thoughts mean something to other people, and other people will not be bored or confused by reading them.
I sometimes wonder how much of my own writing is driven by this uncontrollable urge.
There’s a couple of advantages to writing instead of talking. In the first place, the biggest thing I’ve noticed after deliberately spending periods of time alone is how much you need to voice your own thoughts to make your thoughts feel real and concrete. You can stand in front of the Mona Lisa by yourself, and if you don’t have someone with you to say even a dull thing like, “Looks small, doesn’t she?” then your brain struggles to process that the experience really happened. Somehow talking about something put that thing in the space between you and another person, and it is no longer an ephemeral experience slipping through your brain without a trace. But, like I said, you can’t always voice your thoughts and share your experience–but the next best thing is writing them down. Writing them down makes them feel more solid and concrete.
The second advantage is similar to another advantage of speaking your thoughts–when you voice your ideas you allow others to work them out and find the flaws in them. A really good discussion will hash out exactly what a person means when he says such-and-such, and can really clarify whether the ideas are worth considering or should be discarded. Writing can have a similar advantage. If your writing can be put out into a space where it can be evaluated, you may get comments and feedback that improve it. This is what most scholarly, academic publishing is about, but it can also be achieved through digital discussions, or through course evaluation if it is submitted through school.
And lastly, if you write and do not publish it too rashly, you can always delete or burn your words if what you said was wrong, or not beneficial to anyone, or something you realize you should not have said.
There’s a couple disadvantages though.
First, if you constantly allow yourself to retreat into written thought, you may never improve your verbal ability. Speaking is not the same as writing, and grabbing attention with your voice is a skill in itself. It can especially be the subtle rules of conversation that allow you to relate to others better than can be difficult to learn without practice.
Second, there is a torrent of written information in the world already, and everyone thinks they can be a writer. If you just add to this torrent, you are not necessarily making the world a better place, and there is also a high likelihood that no one will ever read what you wrote.
These disadvantages are certainly things I should personally keep in mind.
However, when you take into account that you can dive into your interests without boring anyone, while still giving them the option to read your thoughts if they do actually care–and the benefit of having the time to phrase your thoughts correctly–and the permanence that the written word has that a verbal word can never achieve–I believe there’s still a lot to be said for learning to write your opinions instead of merely spewing them. There may yet be many appropriate times and places to spew your opinions, but hopefully you won’t feel compelled to spew them in less ideal circumstances!
So if you find yourself ranting endlessly, and boring your friends, try writing down your thoughts instead!
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