Simplewriter

I’m increasingly using SimpleWriter to write articles, documents and all sorts of other things.  SimpleWriter was made by XKCD – it gives you a window to write in and any word that is outside the ‘ten hundred’ most common words turns red.

There are three reasons this helps me:

  • It gives me a ‘game’ to play while I’m making something ready for other people to read.
  • It makes my writing clear and easy to access.
  • It helps me fight my ‘urge to seem more clever than you’.

I wanted to show you how different this approach was by giving you the before and after of the last thing I wrote here.  I can see on one side that there is lots of ‘fluff’ and lots of things that are only to show off in language. Everything on the other side looks much clearer.

 

Before After
“Even when Chivalry was not angry, being Skilled by him was like being trampled by a horse. Or ducked in a fast-flowing river, more like. He’d get in a hurry, and barge into you and dump his information and flee.” “Even when Chivalry was not angry, being Skilled by him was like being trampled by a horse. Or ducked in a fast-flowing river, more like. He’d get in a hurry, and barge into you and dump his information and flee.”
Robin Hobb, Assassin’s Apprentice Robin Hobb, Assassin’s Apprentice
I worry that I can be quite a demanding conversationalist, particularly with people I feel are on the same wavelength. I have a real need to be challenged by the subject, either directly (recently, I spent the weekend with a medic who jumps out of helicopters for a living and it was a fascinating thing to learn about) or at meta-level (when you are working you a silly thought experiment with like-minded friends for the joy of playing with ideas). If there is someone I want to help I naturally want to help by giving information. I worry that I can be quite a hard person to talk to. I want to cut to the center of what we are talking about, so I ask questions that are hard to answer, attack other people’s points, and, when I’m talking – I talk quickly and for a long time to try and drive my point home.
Of course, the problem is this: if I’m interested in you, it can feel like a interrogation; if I want to help, it can feel like a brutal lecture. Spending time in Computer Science academia hasn’t helped; interrogation of the assumptions and brutal laying down of the facts is a target rather than a disadvantage. The problem is it can feel like a job interview if I’m interested in you, and if I want to help, it can feel like a lecture. I got away with this for a long time working in a university – It’s far too normal there.
Well, maybe he thought that your speeches were obscurantist policy tracts Well, maybe he thought that your speeches were obscurantist policy tracts
lost in a cul-de-sac of their own internal self-righteousness and groaning from the lost in a cul-de-sac of their own internal self-righteousness and groaning from the
weight of statistics. I’m just speculating. I can’t say for sure. weight of statistics. I’m just speculating. I can’t say for sure.
Will Bailey, West Wing “Arctic Radar” Will Bailey, West Wing “Arctic Radar”
I feel quite bad about having (relatively unintentionally) ridden roughshod over people who might occasionally like to get a few sentences of their own in amongst my ranting. I feel quite bad about having shouted down people who might like to get a few words of their own in between my yelling. I want to turn this ‘attacking’ off. Maybe use it sometimes, but as a choice, rather than ‘normal’.
I’d like to be able to switch this rather dominant approach off. I’d like to still be able to communicate this way, but certainly have it as an option rather than a default setting.
I’d like to be consciously taking less.
So this year one of my goals was to “swallow 100 stories in 2015”, it’s a very simple goal, all I had to do was, when an anacote occurred to me just keep quiet. So last year one of my goals was to “swallow 100 stories in 2015”. All I had to do was keep quiet when there was a chance to tell a story, or a ‘useful’ fact. 100 times.
This was really hard. Really hard. By May I’d managed to avoid telling about 20 stories. It’s been good thing to do in all of those cases, but it’s really really hard. This was really hard. Really hard. By May I’d managed to avoid telling about 20 stories. It’s been good thing to do in all of those cases, but it’s really really hard.
It’s also unclear if it’s more or less mindful. Either you can be about the topic of conversation or the conversation; either you are showing an awareness of the connection between you as people, or you are totally in the moment. This goal turned out to be ‘learn an completely new way of having a conversation’. A way that was took more notice of:
I think I’m mostly in-the-moment: what’s important to me is to think that a conversation is two or more people exploring an idea together. the topic; the other person; the time we had left to talk;what other things we were interested in talking about; how much detail we could go into
(I’d admit that sometimes my mind is on something else entirely, but that’s another thing).
So actually, what this goal turned out to be, was learning an entirely new way of having a conversation – being mindful of both the topic and the other person, of the amount of time we had left to chat and of how deeply we wanted to stretch out ideas. For someone who is used to the idea of conversation as ‘a tool to get the most information both out of me and into the other person and out of the other person and into me’ this is actually something of a departure. My old way was ‘get the most information out of me and into you and out of your and into me’, so this was different.
In fact, writing this four months in, I would now state the goal as “have a more conscious awareness of conversation and demonstrate that awareness by consciously passing up the chance to relay a story.”
I left the draft here and came back to it in November.
It’s now November, and I’ve just about got though my 100 stories untold. Some are refraining from boasting (Not telling a housemate about a BBC interview I had to turn down) some are avoiding an attack (I bit my tongue more than once with people who I felt deserved to be given a bit of a reality check) some are just me letting another person talk more. It’s been a really positive change. I’ve got a long way to go yet. But it’s nice to be taking steps on the road. I did get thought my 100 stories. Some where stopping myself from boasting, some where avoiding an attack, and some where leaving space in the conversation for the other person to break. It was a really good change. I’ve got a long way to go yet and I’m looking forward to taking more steps on the road.

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