Paul Graham “Write as you say!”

Original author: Paul Graham
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Photo of Altamira Cave, Santillana del Mar in Cantabria, Spain.

The easiest way to increase the number of readers of your texts is to use a simple spoken language.

Most people who start writing write in a completely different language, different from the language that they use to communicate, and both the structure of the sentences used and the set of words differ. For example, in colloquial English, no one uses the verb “pen” ( to write with a pen , used as a synonym for the verb “write”). Someone might feel like an idiot if they heard such words in a conversation.

The last straw for me was a statement that I read a couple of days ago:The mercurial Spaniard himself declared: “After Altamira, all is decadence!” (The volatile Spaniard proclaimed: “After Altamira , everything falls into decay!” - approx. English-speaking gentlemen like to use the word “mercurial” as a metaphor for defining something inconsistent, unstable, changeable, since one of the translations of this word is the word “mercury” )

This phrase is from the "History of Ancient Britain"Neil Oliver. I’m a little uneasy, because I used an example from this book, because it was written no worse than many others. But just imagine that you call Picasso the “mercury Spaniard” when talking with a friend. Even the mere mention of such a turn of speech will make anyone raise an eyebrow in surprise. And yet people write whole books like that.

So, written and spoken language are different. Is written language really worse?

If you want people to read and understand what you are writing about, the answer to the question above is yes . Written language is more complicated, which makes it more difficult to digest andrequiring some reading effort. It is also more formal and dry, which sometimes leads to a drift of reader attention. But perhaps the worst thing is that complex sentences and intricate words give the writers a false impression that they speak more than they really are.

In fact, complex sentences are not needed to express complex ideas. When specialists in some difficult to understand topics discuss with each other some individual ideas from this area, they use speech turns not more difficult than when discussing the lunch menu. Of course, they use specific words, but even those are no more than necessary. And in my experience, the more difficult the subject, the less formally experts discuss it. Partly, I think, this is due to the fact that they do not seek to prove something, and partly because complex ideas require less linguistic flexibility.

Unofficial language is a kind of “sportswear” for ideas.

I do not claim that spoken language always works better. Poetry, like most musical texts, can express such things that do not lend themselves to colloquial style. Some writers can successfully use intricate words in prose. There are times when writers do not want to simplify the concept of their texts, but spoken language is almost always better.

It may seem that most people find it difficult to write in spoken language. In this case, perhaps the best solution would be to sketch the first draft in the usual mode and style. Then you need to look at each sentence and ask yourself the question: “Could I put it that way if I spoke with a friend?”If not, imagine what you would say and use this expression instead of the original. After a while, this filter will begin to operate automatically. When you write something unpronounceable, you will hear an imaginary rattle falling on the page, indigestible words.

Before publishing a new essay, I read it out loud and correct everything that does not look like speech. Minor phonetic roughnesses are also corrected. I don’t know if this is necessary, but such edits do not take much effort and time.

Of course, such a trick does not always help. There are texts so far from spoken language that some statements cannot be replaced by others. For such cases, there are more radical solutions. After writing a draft, try to explain to a friend what is written. Then replace the draft with what you just said.

People often tell me that my essays sound like ordinary speech, and the fact that such a fact is awarded a separate commentary shows how rarely anyone succeeds in writing in a conversational style.

If you just try to write in a conversational style, you will already be a cut above the 95% of writers. And this is so easy to do - just do not let the statements be more bulky than when communicating with friends.

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