Is Writing Unnatural?

Today I came across two blog posts that pointed out that we haven’t been writing for long. That reading and writing as the main form of communication between two people, is actually quite new.

Talking face to face was the main form of talking to each other for a very long time. If I wanted to tell you a story, I just did. I didn’t publish a novel. If I wanted to convince you that my ideas were the best, I told you about them – I didn’t write a book (or a blog post, for that matter).

And maybe that’s why video has become the medium where anything goes. Because although we don’t get the chance to reply, we listen or watch (or both) someone else, not the letters that represent their thoughts. I’ve been wanting to create videos for a while but the perceived technical perfection they require keeps putting me off (glad to see I’m not alone in shying away from this medium, that’s where the first article I was referring to earlier comes in.)

Two days ago, I did it. I created my first video made to share an event with you. I could have written about it, but in this case, video was more appropriate and more fun. So I suppressed the voices in my head that said “The background is going to look terrible, like it was shot in your front room (which it was!), the lighting is going to change as the sun dips in and out of the clouds and the sound… you won’t be able to cope with the terrible sound!” and filmed myself unboxing the Blue Nessie. Context is everything. Have a look.

Now back to the original subject of this post. After reading the HBR’s blog post Does Cheap Online Video Trump Text, which makes the argument that writing is a relatively new thing for us humans, I then came across Oliver Burkman’s article “How to Thing About Writing“.

I came across the article on Twitter and clicked through because this particular subject had been on my mind earlier on in the day, as a possible blog post. In the first paragraph, Burkman, never one to be swept away by popular opinion and fads, tells us why all the advice we’ve been getting about writing is useless. Then, in the second paragraph, wham! He echoes the HBR article: “Writing is cognitevely unnatural,” he says, quoting Steven Pinker.

And it is. It’s true. Well, it’s true in a sense. For me. I’ve realised that I write for myself. Oh, I know that now I’m talking to you, but in the process, I’m streamlining my own thoughts, I’m seeking clarity (if not always finding it!), I’m listing my ideas, one by one.

In doing that, I hope to be doing what Burkman reckons is the reason for writing with an audience in mind: “to help readers discern something you know they’d be able to see, if only they were looking in the right place”.

I do love how Burkman ends his Guardian article:

“The reader wants to see, your job is to do the pointing.”

But before you do that, you need to be sure that you yourself, are facing the right way. 

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