No matter how regular your writing practice, it’s possible to get stuck. When you’re stuck, sometimes what’s helpful is not motivation, but just a change in perspective. And what could offer a bigger change in perspective from the complexity of most academic writing than a text editor that restricts you to the thousand most common words in English?
As with most great things, the idea originated with an xkcd strip by Randall Munroe, “Up Goer Five” (Click for full size):
The idea, then, is to describe complex ideas or projects only using the “ten hundred” most common words in English.
Theo Sanderson realized that this might be a fun way to think about one’s own writing, so he created The Up-Goer Five Text Editor, which checks your prose against a list of the thousand most commonly-used words. As Sanderson explains, the list is Wiktionary’s index of word frequency in contemporary fiction.
As you can imagine, people have started describing all kinds of things using The Up-Goer Five Text Editor, from parliamentary democracy to the moons of Saturn. There’s even a tumblr devoted to scientific explanations, Ten Hundred Words of Science. On Twitter, there’s also the excellent hashtag, #UpGoerFive.
There’s already an Up-Goer 6, which will color-code your text based on how common the words are.
As the comic makes clear, it’s pretty hard to imagine a situation where one would actually want to use text written in the Up-Goer Five Text Editor. On the other hand, the challenge it offers (which as Jim Dalrymple notes, can be incredibly frustrating) can help you think about your writing in a new way, especially if you’re stuck.
Do you have a toy or game that you use to help with your writing? Let us know in comments!