I used to be a good writer when I was young(er). At least, so I thought. My writing at school used to get me good marks, and I believe that I had some talent.
I was also – and this may be related – extremely shy. I had difficulty speaking in public, and by public I mean more than just me. I suppose it’s possible that the two are related; I was expressing myself on paper, where no-one could ‘see’ me.
Then when I got into my final year of school, and later at university, I began to do public speaking. Through my training at Toastmasters, I became quite the little speaker. I also began to become involved in societies and student governance, and began doing training workshops and seminars.
But I stopped writing. I don’t think I wrote a single thing the whole time I was studying. Not even a letter.
Now that I have been trying to get back into writing, I find it very difficult. Much harder than it ever was before; and here’s why I think this is.
I have become a very good speaker, and discussion group leader. All my public speaking experience, and years as a bible-study leader, have given me one very important talent: Reading the audience and adapting to their needs. If they are going to sleep, you need to liven things up. If they look confused, you need to clarify that. I use gestures, dramatic pauses, and voice modulation to get my message across, and adapt it as needed.
You can’t do that when writing. You need to put all your faith into your words. There is no facial expression or tone of voice to show what you mean, your words have to speak for themselves; and it’s scary. I don’t get to see what the reader is thinking, and change tack. I need to decide in advance what the reader will feel, and make sure that my next line is the perfect one to deliver… without getting to change it, or recover if I make a mistake.
And the punctuation rules. Don’t get me started on that. I have spent 15 years learning how to use dramatic pauses and vocal variety to augment my words. Now I need to learn to do it with colons and parentheses; and I can’t even spell parentheses properly. 🙂 My punctuation needs to add to the story flow, and make it visually pleasing. Since when did I have to even think about that? Suddenly I need to worry about whether a clause is independent or not, whether I am committing a comma splice in cold-blood, and whether ‘cold-blood’ is spelled with a hypen or not. (Seriously, does anyone know?)
It’s a whole new world, and I feel like I am entering it 20 years too late. At least I know that a preposition is something not to end a sentence with.