On Writing

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English seems but an imperfect tool. “He waked me up” has always seemed so cumbersome; if the thought needs to be expressed, another way needs to be found to say it.  It’s not the idea of there being appropriate tools for every purpose; it’s as if nails in a certain orientation must be driven by a screwdriver, not a hammer. Or maybe this is only true for me.

As a tool for communication, written language has an interesting property:  the skill of the writer is paramount and the skill of the reader doesn’t matter. Do we ever say that a particular work requires a reader of a certain skill level?  Maybe we do, when we talk about the age of the reader.  And, even that seems to emphasize the innocence of the reader which should not be spoiled by adult themes or language, rather than whethera young reader would get anything out of it.

The effectiveness of expression and the truthfulness of writing are clearly orthogonal, but we often jumble them up: we tend to believe better writing. Of course, the effectiveness of writing is a complex. Tone, straightforwardness, and a whole panoply of properties can be evaluated. Even if we ignore the effects of the physical embodiment of the writing (font, texture if on paper, color, etc.), vocabulary, line length, conversational nature, and a myriad of other elements contribute to the experience of reading.  At the end, all we are really doing is poking and prodding at the model of the message forming in the mind of the reader.  

For such a linear form of interaction, the real process is remarkably non-linear.  It’s actually like the progressive nature of some computer graphics representations: while the bits that define the image arrive one at a time, the image is first roughed out by the earliest arrivals, and refined over time. Sometimes we receive only as many bits as we have time for, before the next image must start.

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