Random Notes

The public notebook of writer and essayist Scott Nesbitt

That's a question someone recently asked me. And it's a question that I didn't have an immediate answer for.

Why? Mainly because I hadn't really thought about that question.

As far as I know, the bulk of my audience is people who are either native speakers of English or people who have a better than decent level of proficiency in the language. They shouldn't have any (at least, not too much) trouble reading what I write in this space and elsewhere. For better or for worse, I don't worry about any other readers.

On the other hand, as I often point out I'm more of a poly-not than a polyglot. I've unsuccessfully tried to learn three foreign languages over the years. I understand how frustrating and demoralizing it can be to try to read articles or short stories in a language that's not my own when at a basic or low-intermediate level of proficiency. It's a tough slog.

Going back to the question that's the title of this blog post: Should you simplify your blog's language for non-native readers? You have to make that decision. You can explicitly go out of your way and use controlled language (which limits the vocabulary and grammar you use). Or you can write in a friendlier way.

In my case, my background and education in journalism have given me the ability to write in short, simple sentences. I can convey ideas with fewer words, and often don't use specialized language. Then again, I do use turns of phrase and allusions that non-native speakers of English might not understand.

Simplifying the language you use in your blog posts can take a lot of effort. You should ask yourself whether that effort is worth it. Will it increase the your blog's readership? Will you be able to use those skills elsewhere? Will anyone really notice?

Take the time to think about that and make that choice that's right for you, your audience, and for your blog.

Passion is transient.

Passion is ebbs and flows.

Passion is fickle.

Passion will get you started. It will keep you interested. But only to a point.

To keep your passion from waning, you need to put in the hard work (whether it's physical or mental). You need to keep pushing forward, challenging yourself, putting yourself into situations that are slightly out of your control.

That keeps you interested. That keeps you learning. That keeps the flame of your passion burning.

Whiners will always whine. Complainers will always complain. People like that will always find something, no matter how inconsequential, to moan about.

Let them.

Ignore the negative people. Instead of whining and complaining, focus your time and energy on living. Focus it on actually doing or creating something. That's a far better use of your time and energy. And you'll be a better person for it.

Even though I'm almost 53, I don't consider myself old. But in the last few years, I've become acutely aware of the passage of time. Of the speed at which time passes.

When spring rolls around, I joke that I'm still trying to figure out where August went. Sometimes, that's not too far from the truth.

I realize, and always have, that my days on this planet are numbered. I realize that there are any number of things that I'll never get to do, never get to read, never get to see. And I realize that I can't fill my every waking hour with tasks and events and appointments.

All I can do is live my life, enjoy what I have, enjoy what time I have, and enjoy those around me.

Not everything you do or create has to be awesome or brilliant or killer. Don't fall into the trap of believing that.

Believing that makes you afraid to fail. It makes you hesitant to publish or ship or to even create. It makes you agonize endlessly, over every little detail.

Most of the time, producing something that's just good is more than enough.

Looking isn't seeing.

Hearing isn't listening.

A knee-jerk reaction isn't thinking.

Unless you pay attention, you missithings. Important things. Subtle things. Little nuances. By paying attention, you understand more. You learn more. You feel more. You wind up not looking like an idiot when you open your mouth or put fingers to keyboard. Or, at least, not so much of one.

As you may or may not know, I write and publish the occasional ebook. It's been in the works for a while, but I'm happy to announce that the second edition of Learning Markdown has hit the virtual shelves.

What's new in this edition? Quite a bit, including:

  • The information about working with tables has moved to its own chapter.
  • I've expanded the sections on working with links and formatting code.
  • There's more information about creating lists, creating links, and working with footnotes.

Why this book? It quickly teaches you how to efficiently format your writing for the web using Markdown. Unlike the many cheatsheets available online, Learning Markdown explains the how and the why of using Markdown. Whether you're a journalist, a content strategist, a technical writer, a copywriter, a blogger, or even a software developer I'm sure you'll find Learning Markdown useful.

You can read a sample chapter if you're curious. And if you're ready to buy the book, you can find EPUB and PDF versions on Gumroad.

We live at a moment in time in which everything we do, everything put out in public must succeed the instant it appears. If not, it's an abject failure and not worth anyone's time. Far too many interesting and promising projects have been abandoned because they didn't succeed from moment one, because they weren't an instant hit.

Sadly, there's no room today for something that needs time to find an audience. There's no room for experimenting in public.

It shouldn't be that way.

Experiments are essential. And not just in science. No matter what you're doing, experiments give you the leeway to try something new. They offer an outlet to test an idea or a concept. They help you learn what works and what doesn't.

In many ways, Buckminster Fuller's philosophy have influenced not just my thinking but my approach to life. I view my life as an experiment — definitely not as grand as Fuller's drive to discover what a single individual could contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity but an experiment nonetheless.

Take, for example, this newsletter. In the grander scheme of the world, it's hardly a blip. But for me, it was (and is) a big step. Even though I've been writing professionally for the better part of 25 years, I still lack some confidence in my abilities. That lack of confidence makes me wary of putting some of my writing, especially my more personal work, out there. Over the last several months, I've lost a few subscribers (I expected that), but I gained more. More importantly, I know that what I've written has touched a few of the fives of people who read this newsletter. For me, that's more important than have a wider base of readers who might not be engaged.

I don't see why you can't perform your experiments in public. Doing that offers a lot of transparency into what you're doing. Admittedly, you'll have to endure a number of slings and arrows while experimenting. No matter what you say, those slings and arrows will sting. They will hurt. You need to find a way to go past all that.

What others say shouldn't stop you from experimenting. What you come up with might not change the world, but it could make your little portion of the world better. If nothing else, experimenting will help you grow. It will help make you a better person, even in just a small way.

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