Stop Talking. Start Writing.
The pen really is mightier.
It wasn't until I turned the paper over to continue writing on the reverse side that I noticed my fingers were sore from writing — that familiar faint bruised feeling I’d get after writing one too many rows of spelling words in elementary school while gripping the pencil too hard. I never dropped the habit of pinching my pencil too hard, but that’s something I rarely think about these days. Every dime I make comes in one way or another from writing words, and yet it’d been months since I’d written more on paper than a store list or an address on a package.
Perhaps I should call myself a typer instead of a writer. I don’t know.
But for an hour, I was an honest-to-goodness writer, scratching words onto paper with a piece of wood and graphite. There’s no undo button other than an eraser, no delete other than the rubbish bin. No cursor to urge you to keep writing. Just your mind and your words, on paper.
I type reviews, op-eds, tutorials, emails, website copy, witty tweets, code, and more. For almost everything else in life I need to say, I talk. That’s how most of us operate.
There’s some things, though, that you just can’t talk though. Things you can never really express yourself correctly about — you know, that advice to a friend you’re not sure how to say correctly, or the message to your sweetheart that you know you’ll say all wrong if you say it. Something you know your boss might consider if it was said correctly, but you’re so fired up about the issue you know you’ll say it wrong if you say it. The tough thing you really need to tell someone that you’ll chicken out of saying if you do it in person. The closing argument with your roommate in which you want to explain yourself without starting another argument — something that’ll never happen if you say it. You know, the messy stuff of life.
That’s what paper was made for. Whenever you can’t say what you mean to say, write it. Get a piece of paper and your favorite writing instrument, and will words onto the page. You’ll have to think carefully, and it’ll take time. That’s good. You’ll get yourself across a lot more clearly. You’ll say exactly what you mean to say.
Perhaps you’ll change your mind while writing. The extra time might make you think through the situation more clearly — and then you’ll be really grateful that you didn’t just txt a quick message with what you wanted to say at first. You might realize your own heated arguments don’t hold much weight when you see them on paper. That’s good. You can always wad the paper up, throw it out, breathe deep, and start over — or drop the whole issue.
Maybe this is the sage advice of a writer that’d only apply to another writer. I don’t know. I’m absolutely not an authority on human behavior and relationships and communications. But I do know that writing works for me.
Whenever there’s a pressing issue that’s just heated or important enough for me to not trust my own mouth, I’ll write a letter. Sometimes — like the time I wrote a heated letter to President Bush on an airplane after a particularly frustrating ordeal with the TSA — I’ll realize that I just needed to get the issue off my mind, and will throw the letter away without ever using it. But it still was good to frame my thoughts about the issue and work through it on paper, even if no other human ever saw it. Other times, I’ll rework the letter until it actually gets you thoughts across, and send it on as intended — and sometimes it gets the desired results, sometimes it doesn’t. The only think I know is that it clears the issue from my head, and I’m far less likely to regret what I said in the future if I wrote it down instead of talking through it. Or hey, even if I do talk through the issue, writing my thoughts down first gives me a far more coherent message when I’m talking.
Next time you can’t figure out how to word something nicely, how to get your point across without sounding aggressive — or without getting talked out of what you were trying to say — try writing. You just might find that it works for you, too.
Originally published in Techinch Magazine Issue 7
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