Sunday, January 21, 2007

Only Nerds Like Sidebars

Lately I have been forced to be around someone who set off my Nerd'o'Meter, and I've tried to examine what makes them nerdy. Now this might sound a little nerdy itself and I agree to an extent, but as the saying goes it takes one to know one.

I believe that I occupy an unusual, if not unique position, between nerds and non-nerds. I'm just nerdy enough to want to understand nerds and not so much a nerd that I can't see what's nerdy.

When most people think of nerds they usually come up with someone wearing large rimmed glasses, button up shirts, and pulled up pants. But these are just surface details that can be changed, you can take the nerd out of the bad clothes but you can't take the nerd out of the nerd.

For the record I like this person as a person, but I can't get past the fact that he's a nerd. Basically being around him has brought together my thoughts as to what makes a nerd.

A. Nerds have a passion about one or more subjects.

B. Nerds have a desire to share this passion with others.

C. Nerds have a tendency to talk about these subjects regardless if anyone else wants to hear it.

D. Nerds overlook or don't notice social clues that tell them when to shut up.

E. Nerds want to unload everything they've ever learned about a subject in one sitting.

If you combine all of this you basically get a nerd. Nerds are unaware of the way the come off socially and then don't understand why people don't like them. They often think that to be liked more they need to learn more about various subjects, not realizing it is the package people don't like not the product.

You could have the worlds juiciest hamburger in pristine condition but if you tried to serve it sitting on a rusty garbage can lid smeared with old trash, no one is going to eat it.

And it's the same thing with books. While thinking about nerds, I am reading The Spiritual Age of Machines by Ray Kurzweil,and while I want to read what he is saying and understand he's a smart guy, he comes off sounding like a nerd.

Advice to writers, or anyone else in a information giving arena. If there are two ways to say the same thing, always use the simpler of the two. You will reach a wider audience, and have greater understanding. (And not sound like a nerd.)

If you are writing a book so everyone will know that you are a smart person, first, you are writing for the wrong reason. And second, the very fact that you are writing about that subject already tells them that you think you are a smart person.

And finally please, please don't use sidebars. If you feel that the information in a sidebar is important, put it in the body of the text. And if it isn't important enough to put it in the main body, then don't put it in the book. Sidebars are a form of a nerd trying to tell everything they have ever learned in one sitting.

And if for some irrational reason you really need to have a sidebar, make it an end-bar. Put the information at the end of the chapter where it won't interrupt reading or thought flow. And if even that is too hard to follow, label it as "information that isn't really important so skip it unless you really want to read it" or "come back to this later since it is only remotely connected to what I'm trying to tell you in the main part."

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