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Two key passages:

  > Having good ideas is most of writing well.
Disagreed. Written style matters, and whenever it doesn't matter, neither would it matter in spoken form. Your writing style happens to be lean, concise, reduced. But that doesn't just happen -- or are all your essays first drafts? Would they work as well in flowery prose?

  > (...) it was a revelation to me how much less ideas mattered
  > in speaking than writing.
Disagreed. I think I've got a grasp on your basic point: that the effective or required ratio of flashiness to content is invariably higher in talks than it is in essays. In the general case, that is of course not true; flashy but relatively superficial essays evidently exist, and (as you admit) academic talks can exhibit remarkable SNRs. But I'd go further and say that your rule of thumb rarely if ever applies in a meaningful way. Rhetorics are crucial in both media, and communication of ideas isn't the sole purpose of verbal interaction -- be it written or spoken.

What you're suggesting may apply to your personal approach to writing and speaking. As you mention, you feel much more comfortable expressing your thoughts as essays. That's great. There's absolutely no further conclusion we can draw from that.

See what a useful exercise it is to look at the actual sentences I wrote? Gone are the claims that I consider the extra things you can do in a talk "mere baggage" (I said the opposite in the last paragraph) and that "essays are baggage-free" (I said the opposite in the 8th paragraph). Now all I'm being accused of is claiming that having good ideas is most of writing well, and that it is a smaller component of speaking well than writing well.

Frankly these seem such commonplace claims that I think more people would accuse me of wasting the reader's time with platitudes than saying things that are false.

For the sake of completeness I'll defend them anyway:

1. You can't explain something clearly if you don't understand it yourself. Your writing may be fine at the phonetic level, but you won't for example be able to use any metaphors. Your audience will feel like they're being driven in a Ferrari over ploughed fields.

2. Who is generally considered to be better able to cause people to believe mistaken ideas, speakers or writers? When you imagine a demagogue, for example, do you imagine someone speaking before an audience or sitting at a desk writing?

For those that did not catch it: #1 used a metaphor to prove the point that using metaphors is not superfluous. golf clap :) The question is: did the metaphor take away from the point? Absolutely not. In fact, it helped to solidify it.


You're both right and talking passed each other. Writing and speaking both have their flourishes. Writing has constructs and techniques that are not strictly necessary just as oration does. There are also factors besides the content that affect the results of both mediums: writing something in my notebook does not have the same effect as posting it to my blog. So, as far as the tools available, writing and speaking are on the same level for recording and sharing ideas.

However, people are more susceptible to spoken word. There is a reason that poetry is read aloud. This can be used for good or evil but it does encourage people to spend more time preparing for the "flourishes" of speaking than the content.

I don't think anyone in this thread fundamentally disagrees with those statements :)

Are those really commonplaces? Because they are both false. Having good ideas is equally important for speaking and writing well. And you can be snowed in multiple media.

Your #1, at least, applies to both speaking and writing. In fact I'd think it applies more to speaking. Think of teachers and lecturers who can explain things with analogies on the fly, vs. those who just repeat things at the same level.

Why is it 'of course not true'? pg's stance seems the far less controversial one than yours to be honest.

I think it is far rarer to see a flashy writer than a flashy speaker. Malcolm Gladwell is the only one that springs to mind. I think it's actually very hard to pull off as a writer.

This is precisely because of the 'other channels' you mentioned. It's very easy to spot someone trying to pander in writing, where in a crowd you get swept up in the general agreement of the crowd, it's an effective tactic that you often can't pull off in writing.

Tom Robbins. Everyone seems to think he's a genius, but I can't get past the sense that he's a show-off.

OTOH people who like him tend not to like Dave Eggers, and vice versa. I personally love Dave Eggers.

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