I’m not a great writer and it’s not likely that I will ever be one.
Okay, getting over that, I’m also not a great speaker and it’s not likely that I will ever be one.
I’ve had my rare great moments in both writing and speaking where I’ve written or spoken something uniquely insightful and powerful. In those instances, I wrote or spoke better than what I (and my audience) expected and we were all enthralled (and surprised). People actually quoted me afterwards, and I was proud and ecstatic.
For the most part, however, I’m usually crossing the finish line with a rousing “good enough, and sometimes better than good” rating for writing and speaking.
I do want to be better. I’d like to write something that’s particularly well-written and memorable, and I would like to say something where people treasure the words. In general, I want to be an effective and appreciated communicator.
In my last blog, I quoted Ursula Guin with excerpts that described words as powerful. Her point concerned good conversations being powerful and special, but it extends to writing as well. She was a brilliant writer and was internationally recognized for her stories, book, poems, essays, and criticisms. And speeches, as well.
Oh, to be able to write and speak like that!
Okay, so having decided to be a better writer and a better speaker (and a better conversationalist as a result), here’s what I think I need to do: conscious practice.
I want to be a writer? Write; write a lot. I want to be a speaker? Speak; have great conversations when I can. But as I am doing both, I need to be constantly reading what I write: paying attention to vocabulary, grammar, clarity, pace, and sentence structure; is what I just wrote really understandable and does it, at the same, evoke the emotion that I want? I need to be constantly listening to myself as I talk to people, or formally give a speech: am I saying things correctly, succinctly, using words that my audience uses, in a way that they hear what I want them to hear, and have I made them care about what I’m saying?
I need to be as conscious of me as my readers or listeners are conscious of me.
Tony Hillerman said that you have to write a million words before you’re ready to write your own stories. That’s why he suggested everyone should write for a newspaper, with guidelines, schedules, word counts, column lengths, and instant review. It forces you not just to write, but to be extremely conscious of what you’re writing and how you’re writing it. And it forces you to write a lot.
I had a friend who was a minister and also a member of Toastmasters, the organization that revers speaking as a craft. I asked him why he did both; seems like he’d get tired of talking. His reaction was the opposite: Toastmasters was a wonderful way to speech, get feedback on his speaking, and to improve. Speaking from a pulpit, he said, is always a once-sided activity. He might get compliments or criticisms, but they were typically with regard to the content; comments were marginal when it came to helping him speak better.
My current focus is to be precise. I would be happy to naturally produce top-notch colorful and entertaining prose, but if I can develop my writing enough to say something simply in a straightforward manner and be correct with the words that I use so that my readers see in their minds what I see in my mind, that’s a pretty good accomplishment. On that foundation, I can develop a richer vocabulary, better sentence structure, more crafty ways to say things, and create a more powerful delivery.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.