People Who Talk Well Often Don’t Write Well

By Jack Limpert

As a longtime magazine editor I crossed paths with thousands of would-be writers. They wanted to talk about the stories they’d write and at first I tended to think that people who talked well also wrote well.

That assumption was a trap that resulted in many headaches and kill fees. Finally I learned to listen and then say, “That sounds interesting but send me a note with more on the story and how you want to do it.” It wasn’t perfect but seeing something in writing did help identify a surprising number of good talkers who were flat and uninteresting writers.

The reverse sometimes was true: One of the most thoughtful writers I worked with had a scientific background and was so inarticulate that when another editor and I first talked with him we almost wrote him off. Then it dawned on us that, yes, he was operating on a different level than we were—he was a lot smarter. He just wasn’t a talker.

It was almost as if talking and writing used different parts of the brain. The divide became clearer when I read the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.

He has two ways of thinking: Fast thinking operates automatically and quickly, with little or no mental effort. Slow thinking gives attention to what Kahneman calls effortful mental activities—the kind of thinking that creates great stories—and can override the emotional impulses of thinking fast.

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