Here’s a simple trick for getting more people to read what you write: write in spoken language.

这里有个小技巧可以让更多人去阅读你的写作:用口语来写作。

Something comes over most people when they start writing. They write in a different language than they’d use if they were talking to a friend. The sentence structure and even the words are different. No one uses “pen” as a verb in spoken English. You’d feel like an idiot using “pen” instead of “write” in a conversation with a friend.

大部分人开始写作的时候都会遇到一些问题。如果他们和朋友交谈,他们会用不同的语言来写作。这些句子的结构甚至词语都是不同的。在英语口语中没有人把“笔”当做一个动词。当你和朋友对话时,用“笔”来代替“写”,你会觉得自己像个傻子。

The last straw for me was a sentence I read a couple days ago:
The mercurial Spaniard himself declared: “After Altamira, all is decadence.”
It’s from Neil Oliver’s A History of Ancient Britain. I feel bad making an example of this book, because it’s no worse than lots of others. But just imagine calling Picasso “the mercurial Spaniard” when talking to a friend. Even one sentence of this would raise eyebrows in conversation. And yet people write whole books of it.

对我来说的最后一根稻草是我前几天读到的一个句子:
反复无常的西班牙人自己宣称:“在阿尔塔米粒之后,一切都是堕落。”
这是来源于尼尔·奥利弗的《英国古代史》。我不喜欢用这本书来举例,因为他并不比其他人差。但是想象一下,当你和朋友交谈的时候你说毕加索是“反复无常的西班牙人”。即使是这样的一个句子在对话时也会引起人们的注意。然而人们却写了整本书。

Ok, so written and spoken language are different. Does that make written language worse?

所以,书面语言和口语语言是不同的。他们会使得书面语言变得更糟吗?

If you want people to read and understand what you write, yes. Written language is more complex, which makes it more work to read. It’s also more formal and distant, which gives the reader’s attention permission to drift. But perhaps worst of all, the complex sentences and fancy words give you, the writer, the false impression that you’re saying more than you actually are.

如果你想让人们去阅读并且理解你的写作。是的。书面语言会更复杂,这使得它需要花更多精力去阅读。它也更加正式和有距离感,使得读者容易转移注意力。但是更糟糕的是,复杂的句子和花哨的词语会给你、作者一个错误的印象,就是你所表达的要比你实际想表达的要多。

You don’t need complex sentences to express complex ideas. When specialists in some abstruse topic talk to one another about ideas in their field, they don’t use sentences any more complex than they do when talking about what to have for lunch. They use different words, certainly. But even those they use no more than necessary. And in my experience, the harder the subject, the more informally experts speak. Partly, I think, because they have less to prove, and partly because the harder the ideas you’re talking about, the less you can afford to let language get in the way.

你不需要用复杂的句子来表达你复杂的想法。当专家在他们的领域和其他人谈论深奥的话题时,他们不会用比他们在谈论午餐想吃什么时更复杂的句子。当然,他们用不同的词语。但是即使如此,他们也只会在必要时候使用这些不同的词语。在我的经验中,越难的话题,专家越会用非正式语言去表达。我认为,一部分是因为他们没有太多证据,另一部分是因为你所说的想法越难,你越难让语言来组织你表达。

Informal language is the athletic clothing of ideas.

非正式语言是思想的外衣。

I’m not saying spoken language always works best. Poetry is as much music as text, so you can say things you wouldn’t say in conversation. And there are a handful of writers who can get away with using fancy language in prose. And then of course there are cases where writers don’t want to make it easy to understand what they’re saying—in corporate announcements of bad news, for example, or at the more bogus end of the humanities. But for nearly everyone else, spoken language is better.

我并不是说口语语言总是好的。诗歌和文字就像音乐一样,所以你可以说一些你不会在对话里说的。并且有少数的作家可以在散文中使用花哨的语言。当然,有些情况是,作者不想在他们宣布一些不好的新闻的时候让人们太容易明白他所说的内容,例如,在人文科学中更虚假额一端。但几乎对所有人来说,口语更好。

It seems to be hard for most people to write in spoken language. So perhaps the best solution is to write your first draft the way you usually would, then afterward look at each sentence and ask “Is this the way I’d say this if I were talking to a friend?” If it isn’t, imagine what you would say, and use that instead. After a while this filter will start to operate as you write. When you write something you wouldn’t say, you’ll hear the clank as it hits the page.

对于大多数人来说用口语语言来写作似乎很难。所以或许最好的方法是用你习惯的方式先写一遍草稿,然后前后看一下各个句子并且提问“如果我向朋友说的时候,我是否会这么说?”如果不是,就设想一下你会怎么说,然后替代掉。过一段时间后,这个筛选器将会你写入时开始运行。当你写的一些内容是你不会这么说的时候,你将会听到叮当声敲击这个页面。

Before I publish a new essay, I read it out loud and fix everything that doesn’t sound like conversation. I even fix bits that are phonetically awkward; I don’t know if that’s necessary, but it doesn’t cost much.

在我发表一篇新的文章之前,我大声朗读并且修正所有听起来不想对话的内容。我甚至修复了发音上笨拙的部分;我不知道这样是否有必要,但是它不会耽误你太久。

This trick may not always be enough. I’ve seen writing so far removed from spoken language that it couldn’t be fixed sentence by sentence. For cases like that there’s a more drastic solution. After writing the first draft, try explaining to a friend what you just wrote. Then replace the draft with what you said to your friend.

这个技巧可能有的时候是不够的。我看到至今为止写作已经从口语中脱离出来,无法一句一句的固定下来。对于这种情况有了更为激烈的解决方案。当你写了第一遍草稿之后,试图向一个朋友解释你刚刚写了什么。然后用你向朋友说的内容来替代你的草稿。

People often tell me how much my essays sound like me talking. The fact that this seems worthy of comment shows how rarely people manage to write in spoken language. Otherwise everyone’s writing would sound like them talking.

人们经常问我多长时间我的文章能像讲话一样。实际上,这似乎更值得评论,他说明了人们很少呢能够用口语来进行写作。否则,每个人的写作听起来都像是在说话。

If you simply manage to write in spoken language, you’ll be ahead of 95% of writers. And it’s so easy to do: just don’t let a sentence through unless it’s the way you’d say it to a friend.

如果你能轻易地用口语来写作,你将超过95%的作者。并且这是很容易做到的:就是不要让任何一个句子通过除非这个句子是你能向朋友说的方式。

Thanks to Patrick Collison and Jessica Livingston for reading drafts of this.

谢谢Patrick Collison 和 Jessica Livingston阅读了这些草稿。