[Link] Writing Simply

Paul Graham on why to Write Simply:

Of course, fancy writing doesn’t just conceal ideas. It can also conceal the lack of them. That’s why some people write that way, to conceal the fact that they have nothing to say. Whereas writing simply keeps you honest. If you say nothing simply, it will be obvious to everyone, including you.



Like most people, I have a thousand ideas a day. I’ve been trying to write down 10 11 a day, and by all accounts, they are lousy.  Crumpling the paper they’re written on & throwing it in the bin is a fine emotion (lol) – and a vote of confidence in my own ability that I can come up with 10 or 11 more tomorrow.  
Quote found in Austin Kleon’s wonderful book “Steal like an artist“.

Time travel

A part of my routine includes writing a journal.
Paper & fountain pen.
It’s my way of tending to the garden of my mind, which tends to be overgrown with weeds.
The weeds grow pretty quickly, nurtured & watered by the emotions of the day.
Writing is how I remove the weeds from one small area of the mind.

I write in whatever notebooks I find lying around, usually cheap notebooks that we buy for the kids.
For last decade or so, I’ve not thrown them out with the garbage.

$0.10 each when blank.

I picked one of them at random this morning, & it turned out to be from 2014, March.

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday. It’s impossible to remember what I was thinking and feeling  and worried about 6 years ago.  Using a journal to time-travel (or space travel) is a little bit of my idea of fun. Also why I enjoy reading.

There was no entry dated 7 March, but there was one for the 5th, made in the evening.  I’d not discovered the treasure trove of learning how to use the writing tools well, so my handwriting is barely legible.

For a little context, it was a time of upheaval at work with the usual restructures et al.
I had my desk in a corner of the basement garage.


05 Mar 14, 8:01 pm

Another day passes him by. A day full of pretend business and busy-ness. Meetings. Passing paper around. Or e-paper. Practising politics. Pretending things are more important than they really are.

But lest this become all doom and gloom, he discovered a blog by a Sydneysider, “Life and other crises”, by Kerri Sackville. An entertaining writer no doubt, but it was her secret self-help tool that inspired the writing style in this 3rd person today. He wants to see if this is useful or merely a passing curiosity.

The Toastmasters contest needed more contestants in this speech evaluation, so he decided he would take part. He was disqualified on time grounds, but had fun nonetheless. Imagery was widely used by all the speakers throughout. It was as if each took some random color & threw it on to the grey matter in everyone’s brain & magically created a masterpiece in each one of the audience’s minds. 

He witnessed another master communication in action, the CEO, & the fear in the MD’s eyes & body during a “meet-the-folks-who-pay-my-lifestyle” meeting. People pretend they are uncaring about the whole affair, while each one, internally, is terrified of the changes that will shortly be unleashed. 
His wife was here, inviting him back into real life, so head upstairs he will. And must.



Every one of us has a story we tell ourselves. Sometimes it’s the same one we tell others. Other times, it’s a slightly altered one. Or maybe even a different one. There are times when we even believe the story we tell others. There are some stories we believe ourselves.

Sometimes we don’t like the stories we tell ourselves. We talk to friends, who might help us see the story in a different light. Sometimes we believe them & change. Other times we stop talking to them.
“That girl I really hit it off with at the party won’t talk to me”. “Mate, she gave you her number and asked you to call her. Then you got piss drunk & ….”.  
“I never seem to be considered for a promotion, even though my boss knows how much I am willing to take up the opportunity. I think ‘they’ hate me so much as to sabotage every opportunity that comes my way.” “You didn’t even apply for the job.”

Other times, we need professional help.
Sometimes we can afford this help, sometimes not.
In either case, we tell ourselves a story about why it is so.

Some are great story tellers. We listen in rapt attention to their stories. In pubs, restaurants, coffee shops, sometimes even on public transport, you can see this play out every day.  Stop whatever it is you’re doing, take off your headphones & listen to the conversations going on around you. And if you’re alone, go back to the story you were telling yourself. These stories are rich in detail.

We all have friends who bend the truth while they tell their story. We know it because we were there in the situation they are describing, & It’s not exactly how we saw it. “Correcting facts in this moment is not appropriate, everyone’s having a great time” is the story we tell ourselves. Other times we do, & results in an argument, lost friendships, & sometimes tragically loss of life or limb.

Then sometimes we believe our own stories. We live our entire lives that way. Sometimes we find out the truth. & we are unshackled. Other times, it destroys everything.  See the newspapers for examples. Actually, don’t ever read the newspapers.

We sometimes write our stories & publish them. We categorise it – fiction, biographies, autobiographies. They’re all versions of the truth.

Job descriptions these days. Regardless of your career, “story-telling is a key skill” is the story that is told around the world. There are thousands of courses that claim to teach us how to story-tell with data.

Ad infinitum.

What’s your story?


There’s something about the change of one (or perhaps two, & once in my lifetime, 4) digits of the calendar that urges most of us to make promises to ourselves.  They tend to be well intentioned promises – lose weight, eat better, love more, live more, do something crazy ad infinitum.
I’ve done this for as many years as I can consciously remember. It seems like a peer-pressure thing – I’d get asked what my new year resolutions were. The person doing the questioning would usually have a dozen of his/her own that they wanted to share. Not to be outdone, I’d make up a bunch of my own, with about as much hope of achievement as a wisp of smoke in a hurricane.
As I grow older though, I find myself making tweaks to my ongoing plans & systems.  As Scott Adams says, a system is better than a goal  – it’s more likely that I will achieve what motivated me to set the system in place in the first place.
My routine changed in the last two weeks of 2015 – I switched off my computers for most of the waking day, focusing on doing physical things. Helping my wife with her garden. Repairing & restoring stuff. Reading a book. Talking to the kids. Playing games. Reading an occasional blog on my phone. Restricting the intake of food & drink during a season devoted to excesses. Sleeping longer (& not wearing a fitbit to monitor it). Noticing my thoughts. Writing longer entries in my journal. Reading old journal entries. Rearranging. Cleaning. Discarding. Rearranging. Redecorating. Reliving old memories.
And in the midst of all this, I remembered a decision I made a while ago to stop posting to this blog. I had forced myself to post every day, & did so meticulously for a year. Then ennui set in. It seemed like a pointless exercise. So I stopped. The posts were links to stuff I read & found interesting. But there wasn’t much I had written.
Writing is cathartic for me. I write in my journals, or on blank sheets of paper. I use a fountain pen. There’s an element of control. My arm moves. The ink flows out. Words are formed. Ideas come to life. Or die.  Resolutions happen at that moment for me. The act of writing things down.
Different context, but “Stop writing everything down” are among the lyrics of a Leonard Cohen song that’s playing in the background as I wrote those last six words. 

Reading material: 30 Essays & stories by David F Wallace [Link]

OpenCulture has collected links to about 30 essays & short stories by the exceptional writer David Forster Wallace. Gold.

And in case you missed this, here’s DFW giving the commencement speech at Kenyon College titled “This is Water.”

People simply empty-out [Letters of note]

In 1969, publisher John Martin offered to pay Charles Bukowski $100 each and every month for the rest of his life, on one condition: that he quit his job at the post office and become a writer. 49-year-old Bukowski did just that, and in 1971 his first novel, Post Office, was published by Martin’s Black Sparrow Press.

15 years later, Bukowski wrote this letter to Martin and spoke of his joy at having escaped full time employment….

what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.