How to Write Conversationally

You’ve felt it, right? You’ve sat down to write, you’ve tried really hard to make it interesting, and then you’ve read it back and felt deflated because holy shit, that’s boring.

This was going to be about how to write with personality, but then I realised that before I can do that I need to talk about how to write conversationally, which is a huge part of writing with personality and is a big enough topic for a blog post all of its very own (aww, so grown up). It’s not all there is to it, but if you can’t do this, you can’t write with personality either. So you’ll have to wait till next week to learn how to write with personality, and if you don’t like it you can just suck it.

So, here are a few specific things you can do to learn to write more conversationally:

Use Contractions

This is by far the easiest trick to implement, because it’s so simple and you can easily tell whether you’ve done it or not. I’m guessing you use a lot of contractions when you speak. The only time I don’t use them is when I’m emphasising something. (And sometimes not even then, as I’ve just proved. With the italics. In case you were wondering.)

So your ‘do not’ becomes your ‘don’t’, your ‘I am’ becomes your ‘I’m’, and your ‘there is’ becomes your ‘there’s’. And so on. You get the picture.

Oh, and your ‘should have’ becomes your ‘should’ve’ (not your ‘should of’, grumble grumble).

If you don’t do this, you need to start doing it ASAP. What was the last thing you wrote? Go back and check. Did you use contractions or not? If not, get on the case, you fly young thing.

Write How You Speak

Biggest duh, right? Obviously that’s what conversational writing is: writing how you converse. If you find you have trouble doing this, I recommend writing some personal stream-of-consciousness stuff. Private things that no-one else will ever read. Get something off your chest. Commit to writing something every morning for 30 days, and just see if you don’t notice more of yourself coming through in your writing by the end of it.

Because that’s all talking is, right? Speaking out loud the words you’re thinking? And, well, what I’m suggesting is the written version of that. Easy peaseballs.

Incorporate Your Accent and Common Phrases

When I write, I often include little phrases I say in day-to-day life, and certain pronunciations. For example, I’ll write gonna and ’em instead of ‘going to’ and ‘them’ sometimes, because that’s how I say things.

Ditto on common phrases. I often start my emails with ‘Sup!’ because that’s something I actually say. Admittedly I say it ironically, because what sane middle-class white English girl can actually get away with that shit? (See also: homeslice.) I also say Christ, Jesus, fuck yeah, fuck me, and er, other niceties like that quite a lot. So into my writing they go.

I’m not saying to go all Trainspotting and write something incomprehensible to anyone who’s not familiar with a Scottish accent, but do pay attention to little quirks in the way you speak and try to incorporate them into your writing.

Don’t Write Exactly How You Speak

You can cut out your umms and ahhs, and any rambly sentences that don’t quite get your point across. You don’t have to include it when your train of thought changes halfway through a sentence. By all means, include them on the first draft, but don’t forget to go back and edit them out. (Editing is for winners.)

Having said that, you actually can do all those things. I’m pretty sure if you scoured my blog’s archives, you’d find a bunch of times I’ve used ’em. But you have to be thoughtful about it. If what you’ve written is hard to understand with those bits in, remove them. Always think about how things will read for your audience.

Read it Out Loud

Does it feel like something you would say? Or does it feel fucking weird – like you’re a bit of a douche?

Let’s take it a step further. Instead of just reading it out loud, which you may find still doesn’t give you a feel of whether you’re speaking as you normally would, imagine reading it out to your best friend. To a friend who you feel comfortable talking to about any old shit.

Don’t imagine your mother or your grandfather or your somebody you used to work with, or even a stranger. Because you probably put up barriers when you talk to those people. I mean, you’d never talk to your mum about how that new guy you’re dating OMG knows what he’s doing with his tongue, right? And you definitely wouldn’t talk about it to Pops. You might talk about it to your old co-worker, granted. But chances are if you’re talking to somebody you used to work with, you’re probably friends. See where I’m going with this?

And, oh yeah, definitely don’t imagine you’re talking to a stranger. We probably put the most barriers up when talking to strangers, because we don’t know anything about them. We don’t know if they share our beliefs or if they’ll fly into a rage if we touch on a particular topic. We don’t know if they’ll understand our dry sense or humour.

So I guess what I’m saying is this: imagine you’re talking to a friend you’d be able to talk about your sex life with. If you can do that, you can probably talk openly and honestly to them, so your true personality will come through. Not your ‘on my best behaviour’ personality, nor your ‘trying not to offend anybody’ personality. You. Pure, unadultered, sexyass you. Mmm.

Cut Out the Jargon and Fancy Words

Maybe when you’re trying to write something interesting, you feel like you have to use fancy words to impress. But you don’t. You really really don’t. So, remember that ‘write how you speak’ thing I mentioned approximately two seconds ago? Yeah, that. Let’s focus on that for a second.

Ever been at a party, maybe when you were at university, and some guy starts spouting pretentious bollocks to you about music or art or whatever, and for a fraction of a second you feel like an idiot for not getting it, but then your senses kick in and you realise he’s just a bit of a twat? Yeah. Using jargon and long, unnecessary, fancy-ass words is the written equivalent of that guy. Nobody will like you if you’re that guy, and they certainly won’t want to have a real conversation with you, or even believe it’s possible to do so.

Just use the regular old words you’d use if you were talking to your bestie and you’ll be fine.

Also, if you’re that pretentious guy, stop it. Everyone thinks you’re a tool.

Fuck the Rules of Grammar

Yay! My favourite. I love fucking rules. Wait, that came out wrong. However, we are now entering dangerous territory, for you cannot fuck the rules of grammar if you do not know what they are. (Hey, I just did that no-contraction-point-emphasising thing I talked about.)

Anyway, point is: the rules of grammar were not designed for the spoken word, and therefore you should not give them too much credence when attempting to translate the spoken word to the written word.

I can’t even recognise when I break a grammar rule any more, because I do it so often and it’s such a natural part of how I write now. But I’m going to try, so I can give you some examples.

I split infinitives (which, according to Grammar Girl, is not a legit grammar rule – hurrah!). I start a lot of sentences with ‘and’ and ‘so’ and ‘oh’. I sometimes write ‘well, um…’ and shit like that. Because I can. And because it’s how I speak. SEE? (There’s another one for you: one-word sentences. Huzzah!)

And hey, look at you: you’re still here, reading, so it can’t be all that bad. Try it some time!

Don’t Break All The Gad Damn Rules Though

Knowing which rules to break and which ones to keep is important. For instance, you will never catch me using a comma splice (unless I’m texting you or IMing you or something, because if incorrect grammar is written in the woods and nobody’s there, does it still make people think less of you?) because I fucking hate comma splices and I think they’re messy. Maybe you like them though. In which case, have at it. But you need to know why it’s wrong. And you need to know whether it will make sense to the reader or not.

The most important thing is always to think about the reader. Will the way you’ve written something make sense? Will your meaning be perfectly clear on the first read through? If not, you need to rein it in, but don’t be afraid to experiment and have fun with this.

AND FUCKING PRACTICE, WILL YOU? It will feel weird at first – you’ll feel sort of exposed and like you’re going to be judged – but don’t you let that stop you, otherwise you’ll be doomed to write boring shit forever.