Does your writing chatter too much?

Style-extremes_BlathererIs your writing clear, direct, and to the point? Or are your ideas being strangled by a tangle of chatter and tangents, wasting your reader’s time?  Write like a human being lists three common style mistakes: too formal, too much jargon, or too chatty. We’ve already looked at how to ditch the stiff suit and include your reader; the final extreme style enemy is The Blatherer.

So I’m sitting here writing this blog post, like I do most Mondays, and I’m thinking, this is something people do quite a lot, not just in writing, so maybe it’s more a personality thing? The way I see it is, I have this one friend who’s a real chatterbox, she’s absolutely lovely and we get on like a house on fire, but she can be a total motor-mouth and that’s coming from me!!! And the thing is, a lot of what she’s saying is actually really worth listening to, except there’s so much of it coming out all at once that it’s like your ears just can’t keep up – I bet you’ve got a friend or two like that where you just can’t get a word in edgeways and if you don’t then it’s probably you!!! And the other thing is, she does say a lot of good stuff, but also she’s talking so much that sometimes it’s like she’s not even listening to what she’s saying and says some stuff that’s way too personal, I’m talking total TMI here, and that just really loses her a whole lot of credibility. Like the other night, when we were out at this wine bar… You have no idea how much it hurts me to write like this.

A chatterbox writing style can damage your credibility.

A chatterbox writing style is often part of someone’s natural personality, but too much of it turns good content to blather. Valuable ideas get lost in the storm of words and you can share overly personal information without realising. It’s full of conversational “fillers”, cliches, and often multiple exclamation marks. All that can damage your credibility.

Let’s take another look at the parody paragraph I wrote. Green is the actual talking points. Underlined words are “filler” words – ones we use in conversation but which clutter up the page in writing. Red is cliches. Orange is unnecessary personal information or being too chummy / personal with the reader. Multiple exclamation marks (!!!) are always, always a no-no.

So I’m sitting here writing this blog post, like I do most Mondays, and I’m thinking, this is something people do quite a lot, not just in writing, so maybe it’s more a personality thing? The way I see it is, I have this one friend who’s a real chatterbox, she’s absolutely lovely and we get on like a house on fire, but she can be a total motor-mouth and that’s coming from me!!! And the thing is, a lot of what she’s saying is actually really worth listening to, except there’s so much of it coming out all at once that it’s like your ears just can’t keep upI bet you’ve got a friend or two like that where you just can’t get a word in edgeways and if you don’t then it’s probably you!!! And the other thing is, she does say a lot of good stuff, but also she’s talking so much that sometimes it’s like she’s not even listening to what she’s saying and says some stuff that’s way too personal, I’m talking total TMI here, and that just really loses her a whole lot of credibility. Like the other night, when we were out at this wine bar…

Let’s look at each issue in turn.

Talking points

it’s a personality thing; a lot is worth listening to; can’t keep up; too personal; loses credibility

I could put all that into one or two sentences. Then, if I wanted to explain it with an example, I could find a more useful one than my own chattering friend.

Filler words

and I’m thinkingmaybeThe way I see it isthis onerealabsolutelyAnd the thing is, actuallyreallyit’s like, justAnd the other thing is, a lot ofalsosome, way, I‘m talking, totalhere, just reallya whole lot of

These filler words are unnecessary and often too informal. Look out for phrases like this, especially “just”, “really”, and “actually”. Try reading the sentence without them: how much clearer is that?

Cliches

like a house on fire, a total motor-mouth

Cliches leap easily from our pens because we’ve heard them so many times. Like well-known jargon (“Blue-skies thinking…” “Out of the box…”), they are so familiar that they lack any impact. They instantly weaken your writing.

Too personal

So I’m sitting here writing this blog post, like I do most Mondays
 and that’s coming from me!!!
I bet you’ve got a friend or two like that where you just can’t get a word in edgeways and if you don’t then it’s probably you!!!

The reader wants to know who you are, but not to root through your dirty laundry.

I’ve told you when I write my blog posts, which you don’t need to know. I’ve told you that I’m an extreme chatterbox myself, so I’ve put myself down. I’ve suggested, mock-humourously, that you’re a chatterbox and annoy all your friends. None of that’s good. We do want to retain a sense of personality, in writing, but none of those orange phrases build a useful relationship. I’ve reviewed and edited books where people have accidentally let slip how their marriage ended, personality flaws that undermine their credibility, unresolved issues with their in-laws… The reader wants to know who you are, but not to root through your dirty laundry.

So what does the good stuff look like?

The best example I’ve found of a personal, chatty writing style that doesn’t turn into blather comes from Unashamedly Creative’s ebook, The Age of Word Love: Content is the new cool. Here’s a snippet:

A heading is nothing without a bit of bones to it, right? The next step in creating a blog piece is about taking it further and creating what I call a “blog shell”.
I do this in my “magic little art book of love” because that’s what my brain likes to do. You can do this in a document in a specific folder on your computer if you prefer. The choice is entirely yours.
The main aim is to have a bunch of blog shells created from your previous captures for your use each month. Give yourself half a day a month to take all those scrappy little ideas to blog shell form.

It’s chatty, informal, and relaxed, it gives a strong sense of her personality, but it doesn’t waste anyone’s times. The few “filler” words are used carefully, like seasoning, and the very informal words (“a bunch of”… “right?”) are balanced by strong content. Instead of reaching for cliches, she uses her own imagery and phrases (“magic little art book of love”). (You can get the whole ebook here, free.)

If you’re a natural chatterbox, try the 50% challenge: cut down what you’ve written by 50%. Or try it the other way round: underline your talking points in green, then rewrite it with just your talking points. Look at all the stuff left over: do you want to drop any of that in? Is it creating personality or undermining you?


For more help with your writing, try a batch of coaching sessions.

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