Monday, February 8, 2010

Are You Speaking in First Draft Mode?

Every day we talk to many people, but how often do we think about the words we choose? In writing we dash off that first draft, more attention going to the ideas we want to express than to the words we use to do it. Then in the rewrite we think carefully about what words work best to get our idea across that threshold between minds. But when talking to people, it seems we’re often in first draft mode. This seems especially so when we communicate with those we are in relationship with, because we know that they will get our meaning, or will they?

What if we say, “I don’t want to watch that stupid show.” That may be true, but what if our loved one does like it? Now they think, that we think, that they are stupid. Of course, we don’t think that. We could question their taste in this particular circumstance, but we think they are intelligent human beings. We didn’t mean anything by it. I once told an old boyfriend that, “I feel we’re growing apart.” This threw him. He became very upset. There was truth in those words and their power set things in motion. Maybe there was no easy way to bring it up, but at the time I didn’t necessarily want to break up, but that’s what happened within a few months. With those words I set things in motion within my psyche and his. My reality shifted.

Remember what your parents used to say: “Think before you speak,” and “If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all.” It seems they understood that words carry a lot of power. Why do we understand this in writing, but then run our mouth on automatic in our speech?

It’s too easy to just open your mouth and speak, but writing makes you slow down. Slowing down and thinking helps. You contemplate the myriad of ways to say things until you settle on the most effective way for your purposes. (If you’re not doing this in your writing and you think that the first thing that you put down on paper is perfect, I’d ask you to take a second look at what’s on the paper. Rarely is it perfect the first time, even for the most experienced writer.)

The next time someone asks you something, or you feel the need to voice your opinion, take a moment before you answer. Stop and think about the best way to express yourself. What you say can change things, so make sure you mean what you say.


  1. I like this. I'd like to add that I think one of the most important parts about speaking mindfully is being a good listener first. There is nothing I find more frustrating when talking to someone when I feel they are spending more time guessing what I am about to say and trying to say it first, talking over me, than actually listening to what I'm trying to say. I struggle with that at times myself, but it is very difficult to speak mindfully if you aren't listening to what is being discussed in the first place!

  2. So true Chris. Thanks for mentioning that.