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4 Weird Side Effects of Learning How to Write

A few months ago, several years after beginning this column, I finally learned how to write, the last piece of the puzzle being someone showing me how semicolons work.


They make sentences; look smarter.

It turns out that writing is one of those skills that really changes the way you think. One obvious way is that in the years since I started writing for Cracked, I've noticed all sorts of changes in the way I perceive the world.

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"Who's the cutest little listicle? You are! You are!"

But it goes beyond turning everything into surprising lists of badass mind blowers. Indeed, if you yourself have learned how to write comedy articles or novels or even just really great text messages, you'll have experienced the same thing -- the surprising ways learning to write changes your life.

#4. Regular Conversations Sound Banal

Conversations in movies and books are filled with snappy banter, people constantly telling razor-sharp jokes or perfectly capturing their character in a few words. I've gotten a lot of mileage out of writing dialogue-heavy pieces in my time here at Cracked, which has the same issue: people talking in a funny but horribly unbelievable manner.

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"Forsooth, this is a pretty unlikely way to begin a sentence."

Conversations in the real world are nothing like this, filled with awkward pauses and words like "um" and "uh" and "derrr." People mishear things all the time, or misunderstand them entirely. Awful jokes are commonplace, and nearly everything uttered is completely banal. Listen to a conversation someone else is having on a bus sometime. The most trite, straightforward observations are repeated as if they're great pieces of wisdom, and everything is dramatically oversimplified. I don't know if I've ever heard anyone say something about politics that wasn't completely wrong, and I'm constantly having to interject and correct them.

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"Sorry to interrupt, but ACTUALLY, a single-payer health care system has a number of advantag-"

The weird thing about this is that the same must apply to conversations you yourself are in, even though you don't notice it. There's something about being invested in a conversation, trying to come up with your own jokes and clever insights, that must distract you from how trite everything you're saying is, and you're generous enough with your friends to overlook the same missteps when they make them. Or you see but choose to ignore them, like laughing at your boss's jokes for the sake of professionalism.

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#3. You'll Read a Ton More

I've always read, in the sense that I could find out what I wanted to watch on television hours in advance and could navigate train stations without having to resort to hand gestures. I'd even occasionally read books, rather a lot when I was a kid, but then trailing off to two or three a year by the time I became a grown-ass man whose cultural tastes leaned more toward modern artistic forms.

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"Yeah, video games used to be made mainly for 8-year-olds, but they're a lot more mature and dark now. Like for 14-year-olds at least."

Even the books I did read came from a pretty slim selection of genres. I'd typically find one science fiction or fantasy author I really liked and read everything he or she wrote, which I gather isn't an uncommon pattern for elbowy young men to fall in to.

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Even if it did lead to my regrettable Star Wars novel phase.

But in the years since I started writing seriously, I've been reading a ton more, something like 15 to 20 books a year, of a much broader variety.

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The main source for this newfound interest in reading is to see how different writers working in different formats do things. One of the most humbling experiences of learning to write (or learning anything, really) is how not easy any of it is, how every detail conceals thousands of smaller details. Now I'll read short stories and translated works and books that have crazy things like footnotes or subtext in them. (Which are totally different things, I was surprised to learn.) I've even reread a lot of those terrible books they made us read in school, and it turns out that a lot of them are actually really good and interesting and not boring at all like they'd taught us.

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This is basically the worst possible environment for instilling a love of literature.

A non-trivial side benefit of this is that it's super useful for getting references certain people like to drop in conversation.

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"AHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHHAA! GODOT! Hehe hehhe heh heh. Heh."
-seconds-long silence-
"I Godon't get it."

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