Use “Kitchen Language” to Uncover What You Really Think

4 minute read

In his book, Accidental Genius, Mark Levy turns conventional “write like you speak” advice on its head.

Instead of the popular “write like you talk” wisdom, he suggests you “write the way you think.”

Levy is the founder of a positioning and branding firm that helps consultants and other leaders increase their rates by 2,000%. To help them achieve that dramatic result, he leans hard on a specific habit.

That habit is journaling, or freewriting, and he encourages his clients and readers to use his proven techniques to explore thoughts and find “aha” insights.

Shut Away Your Inner Critic

When you freewrite, you need to shut down your inner critic. Imagine locking your critical thoughts in a closet. Then give yourself permission to let your fingers fly over the keyboard and explore all kinds of thoughts. Don’t censor or worry about making sense.

Write this way long enough and you might be surprised by what comes out.

You might discover new insights and ways around obstacles.

After all, fresh ideas rarely appear when we strive to “fit in” and sound polished. That’s a recipe for stilted writing. Instead, with freewriting, you can take the time to clarify jumbled thoughts and explore alternative approaches to solving problems, to creative projects, or to your own hopes and dreams.

The book promotes inspired thinking thanks to the writing prompts designed to motivate you to flip open your laptop and start tapping out your thoughts.

Develop Your Own Shorthand

But what happens when your thoughts are muddled? Every writer’s had the experience of trying to capture a slippery emotion in words and failing. Levy’s book gives a way to capture those thoughts and feelings in black and white, so you can make sense of them.

In Chapter 4 of his book, Write the Way You Think, Levy shares the idea of “kitchen language,” a term credited to long-time writing professor Ken Macrorie.

What’s Kitchen Language?

According to Levy, kitchen language is “a phrase that describes the language you use around the house when you’re lounging in knock-around clothes, as the television hums in the background and you yap with your best friend on the phone….Kitchen language is your own slang, the words you use that best capture the idea of a thought or an object, even if you’re the only one who gets what you mean.”

Levy describes kitchen language as using strong verbs and inside jokes. It’s when you tap into that part of your brain that’s not “trying to write” but simply “is writing,” so you can get down your thoughts.

In other words, when you’re freewriting, you can invent new words and use shorthand… and there’s no need to provide an explanation for anything, because it’s for your eyes only. The words might sound like gobbledygook to someone else, but the intent makes sense to you, and that’s what matters.

A Way to Hone Your Voice

I like this idea of kitchen language. It makes me think of my sister, who uses idiosyncratic language, such as describing the kitchen cabinets on the wall as “upstairs” and the ones below the counter as “downstairs.”

That’s literal kitchen language, but she applies this approach to everything she does… and it makes me laugh, because it’s so specific to her.

Like my sister, you also have ways of talking (and thinking) that are specific to you, and that’s what freewriting can capture, if you let it.

When using kitchen language in your writing, you can pretend you’re dashing off a note to a close friend. Pretend they already have some context for your topic and focus on getting at the heart of your thinking.

Are you baffled? Annoyed? Intrigued?

Write out your thoughts.

  • What’s confusing?
  • What questions do you have?
  • What seems like poppycock to you?
  • What seems easy?
  • What is the most fantastic thing that could happen, and how does that feel?
  • How would someone else approach the situation? (You could choose someone you know, or for fun, choose a celebrity and try to write from their perspective. How would Beyonce approach the situation?)

Levy’s book is full of prompts, like the one at the end of Chapter 4, for example. He asks, “What’s the best idea or product you’ve heard about in the last 72 hours?” Try writing about it for five minutes, using the freewriting, kitchen language approach.

Use your own shorthand, jump around… all without worry, because you don’t need to explain anything. Remember, this is for your eyes only.

Writing and Thinking Go Hand in Hand

brown fountain pen on notebook

When you allow yourself to write as a way to get at your thoughts, you’ll become a better, more creative thinker. And when that happens, you’ll become a better communicator and writer.

As I was writing this article, author, speaker, and consultant Chris Brogan’s email newsletter appeared in my inbox. It was timely as he, too, was talking about the power of writing as a form of thinking.

Brogan said, “We were talking about journaling at an offsite meeting last week, and it came up yet again that “writing is thinking.” Sometimes, we know something, but we don’t truly understand it until we see it on the page.”

It was such a timely email that I know I need to make a point of freewriting today (and tomorrow). Will you give yourself the gift of exploring ideas on paper (or the screen) to discover what you really think about them?