Text talk is a skill and an art, not unlike speaking, yet in important ways different than speaking. Proficiency in one does not guarantee success in the other. Some truly great authors and poets sounded bumbling or shallow during in-person conversation. A person's ability to communicate effectively in text talk obviously depends highly on writing abilities. People who hate to write, or are poor typists probably will not be drawn to text-based therapy. Self-selection is at work. Others report that they prefer writing as a way to express themselves. They take delight in words, sentence structure, and the creative opportunity to subtly craft exactly how they wish to articulate their thoughts and moods. In asynchronous communication - such as e-mail, message boards - they may enjoy the zone for reflection where they can ponder on how to express themselves. In those cases, asynchronous text may be a less spontaneous form of communicating than speech and online synchronous communication, such as chat. Unlike verbal conversation - where words issue forth and immediately evaporate - writing also places one's thoughts in a more visible, permanent, concrete, objective format. An e-mail message is a tiny packet of self-representation that is launched off into cyberspace. Some people experience it as a piece of themselves, a creative work, a gift sent to their online companion. They hope or expect it to be treated with understanding and respect. Clinicians might look for how these skills and preferences for writing versus speaking might be associated with important differences in personality and cognitive style.
The quality of the text relationship rests on these writing skills. The better people can express themselves through writing, the more the relationship can develop and deepen. Poor writing can result in misunderstandings and possibly conflicts. In the absence of an accurate perception of what the other is trying to say, people tend to project their own expectations, anxieties, and fantasies onto the other. A disparity in writing ability between people can be problematic. The equivalent in face-to-face encounters would be one person who is very eloquent and forthcoming, talking to another who speaks awkwardly and minimally. The loquacious one eventually may resent putting so much effort into the relationship and taking all the risks of self-disclosure. The quiet one may feel controlled, ignored, and misunderstood. As in face-to-face clinical work, therapists might modify their writing techniques - even basic elements of grammar and composition - in order to interact more effectively and empathically with the client.
We might tend to think of writing abilities as a fixed skill - a tool for expressing oneself that is either sophisticated, unsophisticated, or something in between. It's also possible that the quality of one's writing interacts with the quality of the relationship with the other. As a text relationship deepens - and trust develops - people may open up to more expressive writing. They become more willing to experiment, take risks - not just in what specific thoughts or emotions they express, but also in the words and composition used. Composition can advance when people feel safe to explore; it regresses when they feel threatened, hurt, or angry. Those changes reflect the developmental changes in the relationship. Writing isn't just a tool for developing the text relationship. Writing affects the relationship and the relationship affects the quality of the writing.
This same reciprocal influence exists between the text relationship and writing style. Concrete, emotional and abstract expression, complexity of vocabulary and sentence structure, the organization and flow of thought - all reflect one's cognitive/personality style and influence how the other reacts to you. People who are compulsive may strive for well organized and logically constructed, intellectualized messages with sparse emotion and few, if any, spelling or grammatical errors. Those with a histrionic flair may offer a more dramatic presentation, where neatness plays a back seat to the expressive use of spacing, caps, unique keyboard characters, and colorful language. Narcissistic people may write extremely long, rambling blocks of paragraphs. People with schizoid tendencies may be pithy, while those who are more impulsive may dash off a disorganized, spelling-challenged message with emotional phrases highlighted in shouted caps. Different writing/personality styles may be compatible, incompatible, or complementary to other styles.