Unlike many of my family members, I don’t have a musical bone in my body. If you sat me in front of a piano, we’d both regret it almost immediately. I can hear music in my head, and compose a melody if pressed, but music isn’t an innate skill I’ve been immersed in since literally the moment I was born. Language and communication, on the other hand, is one of the foundational functions of humanity.
As I mention in my tweet, nearly everyone has the basic tools to communicate and write. (According to Our World In Data
, worldwide literacy of those 15yo+ is 85%, with fluctuations based on region, community, resources, etc.) From birth, we’re taught the mechanics of language—spoken, written, non-verbal, and everything inbetween. We intuitively understand each other as we speak and have a conversation.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve conducted a lot of Zoom and telephone interviews as I’ve reported on gaming and SFF. Those interviews are fascinating in the moment, but when I transcribe them, they’re full of half-formed ideas, ums, ahs, tangents, sentences that trail off into nowhere, and everything else that’s inherent to conversational English. Reading it is a vastly different experience than being there in the moment speaking to those people.
Unlike musical ability, we all have an innate and experienced voice in our head, and, most of the time, we think we sound pretty great. This biases us towards our writing in a way that non-writers have difficulty evaluating.
In my experience, those who undervalue writing the most are often the most likely to misevaluate their own writing. It’s “easy” to them because we can all speak and communicate, and their writing often comes across as conversational, unstructured, and exceptionally “voice-y” because they’re mimicking the way they talk. This creates a positive feedback loop when they’re evaluating their writing. It’s writing that centres the writer, not the reader. They could read it back a hundred times and think it sounds great, because it’s authentic to the voice in their head. This causes the majority of people to undervalue writing, and supports their belief that “anyone can write.”
It was a common refrain when I worked at a creative agency. Budgets almost never accounted for copy—it was usually written by some random person along the client chain of command, never proofed, and almost certainly of much lower quality than the rest of the website. At almost all of my jobs, my experience as a writer has been discovered, and, despite my official role as a technical web developer, I often end up writing reports, magazine articles, client communications, copy, etc., without the appropriate job title or compensation, because (though nobody wants to pay for it) good writing makes a huge difference.
To Michel’s point, good writing’s valuable because the writer has experience turning the thoughts in our heads into literate, finely crafted non-verbal communication. Good writers excel at executing on great ideas. It’s a skill that writers develop by stepping away from the conversational voice in their head, which typically dominates the communication methods of non-writers, and focusing on the technical craft inherent to written communication.
“Anyone can write” is vastly different than “Anyone can write well,” and we need to change the perception of writing’s value by recognizing that verbal and written communication (and all forms of non-verbal communication) operate by vastly different rules, and that good writing is the result of rigorous experience, training, practice, and talent.