I’m sitting in the backseat listening to them talk. They’re having a lively conversation.
It makes me think of a story, something from my own life. “Hey guys,” I say.
They don’t hear me. They keep on talking. They’re doing their own thing.
I lean back in my seat and pull out my phone. Jot down quick notes for an essay that I’ll write later.
“Hey guys,” I say again.
This time they stop talking. “Yeah?”
I begin to tell them the story that I wanted to tell them. But I’m about three words in when one of them remembers something they need to tell the other one about our trip.
And that activates them to say something else in return. Before I know it, they’re on another conversational tangent.
I get it. It’s mostly operational. Practical discussion related to our day out. I stare out the car window and watch the scenery go by. As they chat back and forth, I start typing that essay into my phone.
When I get home from our trip, I go to work. After I tackle the more pressing deadlines, I open up the draft I started in the car. It’s practically done. A few more edits, and it’s ready. I schedule it for a week in the future.
I work on a few other posts. And then I pivot and work on book projects. When I feel myself starting to nod off, I shut down my computer and go to bed.
Writing’s a Different Kind of Process
A week later, the post hits the website. It does well. The readers really seem to like it and find it useful (which is always nice). And I can’t help but notice that one of the people who like it is one of my companions from that car trip.
The next time we hang out, they want to talk about that story. “I had no idea that happened to you,” they say. “That’s wild. Why didn’t you ever tell me about that?”
I smile. “Writing’s a different kind of process than talking in person,” I say after a second.
Talking Is a More Collaborative Medium
It’s something that’s plagued me my whole life: I can be very long-winded. I want to tell stories that have complicated themes. And while I’ve been trying in recent years to get to the freaking point more quickly, spoken communication is still at a disadvantage for conveying complex one-sided thoughts. It’s more of a collaborative medium. A problem space where you’re working together and creating a mutual understanding.
This can absolutely be wonderful in the right circumstances, but in other ones, it can be deeply frustrating.
I’m always floored by people who are good listeners. Who can sit patiently and internally process a paragraph or two of audial communication without interrupting. Who listen to understand what the other person is saying rather than getting lost in thought trying to figure out what they’re going to say next in response. (Or how they’ll find the best opportunity to pop in and interrupt.)
It was nonexistent in the house I grew up in. The parent I spent the most time with was an anxious introvert who also had the unfortunate quality of being terrified of silences. She chatted to fill them. And when you replied to her, she rarely listened to what you said, always ready to fill the next silence.
I’m a sucker for a good listener. Honestly, I’m not always the best at it myself.
So I’ve learned to go into spoken conversations without the expectation that I’m going to have the opportunity to deliver monologues. To say anything long or complicated without being interrupted.
I’ve discovered that’s what writing is for: It’s an opportunity to tell a story from start to finish.