This NYTimes essay
offers some thoughtful reflections about the oft noted problem of the disjunction between the ability to write and the ability to speak. It is very often the case, for example, that wonderful conversationalists and fascinating lecturers are poor to middling writers. This is usually a startling revelation to new students of the phenomenon (especially if they are writers) because the common sense of the matter suggests that if one can talk with ease it should be little more than simple translation when putting it to paper. But it is not so. These writing students often only fully come to appreciate the problem when they
try to reverse engineer it. For the best writers frequently find themselves tongue-tied and are confused when they discover that they cannot deliver a lecture with anything like the grace they have acquired with a pen (or a keyboard) at hand.
This is not always the case, of course. There are some particularly gifted human beings who seem to have been born with facility in both modes of intellectual engagement. Mark Twain, for example, was a lauded lecturer in addition to being a peerless writer . . . though his example seems, really, more a proof of the rule than an exception. For he suffered when he had to speak and labored at it so that his ability in that line was really more of a testament to his force of character than it was a mark from the gods. We do not have video tapes from any of his lectures, of course. Yet, while I certainly would delight in seeing those tapes if we did have them, I cannot imagine that the pleasure they would afford could surpass even the least compelling chapter in Huck Finn. Books are, after all, permanent friends. But the "writing" of the best lecturers is often a poor substitute for the real thing. It beats not having any record at all of their genius. But it is ever so much better now that we can bottle their talk and give them, too, something of permanence.