I love this phrase: “test-talking.” I first heard it from Tiff Arment on Make Do, a delightful podcast about making and doing creative things, and being an artist or an Artist. She was talking to her cohost Julia Skott about something–it doesn’t matter what–and mentioned that their conversations feel like “test talking,” wherein they can talk about a subject before they even know how they feel about it, and by talking to each other, they can figure out what they feel!
This is something I’ve mentioned multiple times on Above the Mess with Izzy, but I wanted to write a little more about it, because I feel as though I have used a test-talking technique in so many areas of my life without realizing.
The first way I test-talk is by talking with my partner face-to-face, or with friends via text, Discord, or video. I’ll be frustrated or grumpy and I’ll just start talking about whatever is on my mind, and by talking it out, answering questions, I’ll get to the root of the problem. It’s absolutely wonderful to have that outlet because brains tend to think in circles, coming back to the same pieces of information multiple times and somehow thinking they’re different. Once those pieces are spoken or written, it’s easier to see them, to manipulate them, to understand them.
The second way is on Above the Mess. We talk about subjects I didn’t even know I cared about until we talked about them, and its so intriguing to learn about myself in that way. I believe the same could be done without being recorded, but something about the intentionality of the exercise of sitting down with her every other week to talk about what we each bring to the table is very conducive to test-talking.
The third way is by writing these blog posts–I mentioned this on the latest episode of Above the Mess (episode 16). My blog writing process is as follows: brainstorm a bunch of random topics, slot them into my writing and posting calendar, and create an index card upon which to collect ideas about the topic. I may collect nothing, I may collect dozens of small bits of information, but either way, when I sit down to write, I start with a blank screen in my favorite Markdown editor, add a heading that tells me what the topic is, and I write in almost a stream-of-consciousness. I may backtrack to reword sentences, but I do my best not to go back and edit, or add links inline, or even double check my memory of the facts until after the article’s first draft is down. This way, I get everything out of my head, onto the page, and then I know what I really think. The edit comes after, with pictures, links, sources, fact-checking, and even adding additional thoughts that pop up as I go.
In fact, I do nearly the same for fiction writing. I may plot out a story in advance, but when I sit to write a scene, I have the goal of the scene in mind and nothing else. I let the characters speak to me on the page–in this case, a physical piece of paper–and worry not about grammar, spelling, or even details like the name of a character I introduced and promptly forgot about six chapters later. I will just write <insert name of character here> and catch it in the edit. If a thought occurs to me that has nothing to do with the scene, I’ll write in down inline and call it out with a bunch of doodles, or if I’ve planned ahead, I’ll put it on the sticky-note stack I try to keep nearby (but often move around because I need them everywhere).
The fourth–and probably not final–way I test-talk is by talking to myself. Literally. I will go for a walk with my headphones in (to look like I’m talking on the phone, because humans, in general, do have some very strong taboos about talking to ourselves in public) and start up a recording. I use either Voice Memos or Just Press Record. The recording allows my brain to let go of the fear of forgetting what I said, as well as triggers a type of mental-shift that makes it easier to get past the block of talking to myself by reframing it to “I’m talking to future-Madi” or even “I might send this to a friend so they can help me see anything I missed.” I’ve worked through knots surrounding my career, brainstormed projects, and vented thoughts about a frustrating conflict this way, and all left me feeling as though I had clarified my thoughts, distilled them down to a form I could use. In the case of the conflict, it even let me take a deep breath and let it go; I no longer felt the urge to try to reason it out with the other person, even though I knew reason wouldn’t work. I just needed to talk it out.
Overall, I love this method of thinking. I think I’ll end up finding more ways to test-talk, to test-think, and to learn what I actually feel about a topic–it’s a really powerful strategy.