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As far back as I can remember, my first Hotmail emails, T9-word texts, even handwritten letters—these events ages 10 to 16—I felt I communicated differently from others. In high school I kept private journals, sometimes filling up several pages in an hour, though in retrospect nothing of importance.

In college, adhering to social norms became much more of a priority, and I struggled to keep texts and emails brief. I invented all kinds of rules for myself—word limits, then limits that varied by category, and of course, sleeping on it. My friends lovingly joked to others: You know you're Andrew's friend when he sends you a 5,000-word email. But I was always ashamed and tried to introspect causes. Was it an overblown, irrational fear of being misunderstood? Like an unsatisfiable tick that I was leaving out some essential detail? Or a personality flaw? Like, narcissism about my words?

Post-college, my "system" became more organic. I'd feel a "red flag" while typing a message, and usually delete it on the spot. Gradually this habit reinforced itself as each time I realized everything was fine even without sending a message. If I tried again later, the ennui of trying to recreate the original message would win out, so I'd naturally compose shorter and shorter messages.

Now on my way to my 30s, I'm happy to say these habits have solidified, and I almost never send messages I'm embarrassed about. EXCEPT... when I'm under great distress, like after a breakup, during a heated disagreement, or some stressful project or event. I revert to my old ways, feel out of control, and feel childish and confused afterward. My communications during these times also tax my friends / significant other, worsen or complicate an already-bad situation, and make further attempts to communicate burdensome or simply undesired.

What can I do to mitigate this issue at the "root"? I can't seem to rely on my developed habits (deleting the message then rewriting later; or simply delaying and editing) when in situations of distress.

EDIT: I'm grateful for everyone who wants to help, but I'm looking for advice mainly from those who live through the same experience, or therapists and other professionals who have helped others with this experience. It's easy for someone who isn't me to come up with tips / advice / rituals / wisdoms / lifehacks / etc... but without a close grasp onn the context and "the way I am," advice sort of misses the mark. I'm looking for the less-obvious advice that took trial and error to find.

closed as off-topic by user288, luchonacho, Vylix, Crazy Cucumber, Catija Sep 25 '17 at 19:20

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about interpersonal skills, within the scope defined in the help center." – Community, luchonacho, Vylix, Crazy Cucumber, Catija
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 1
    Is it a problem for your interpersonal relationships? I mean, is it only some "loving jokes" that don't make you feel offended and which happen couple of times or is it a behavior that really bothers you in your social life? I deeply recognized myself in your testimony but never saw this as a drawback. – avazula Sep 13 '17 at 10:24
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    Hello Andrew, welcome to IPS! I'm sorry, but questions about the causes of behavior are off-topic here. And we're a Q&A site, so asking for professional help here is probably not a good choice as well. – Tinkeringbell Sep 13 '17 at 10:25
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    @Tinkeringbell Asking for a more in-depth answer is fine by me. Except that the chances of getting such an answer are slim. And the OP probably will end up adjusting the question a bit. – NVZ Sep 13 '17 at 10:55
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    @Tinkeringbell - Made some edits. Maybe it's a little better? No problem if this question should be closed though. I wouldn't take it personally. Thanks for your politeness :-) – Andrew Cheong Sep 13 '17 at 12:00
  • I'm also interested in why exactly your impulsive and long-winded messaging (if that is what it is) bugs you? Do you get into trouble with others about those messages? How? Or are you just concerned about sounding tedious or complicated? – user510 Sep 13 '17 at 12:46

12 Answers 12

6

I've been there. I once wrote a letter of about 20,000 words, after a heart-break. After this incident I realized that I say too much. Since then, I have started contemplating and reading about how to be more "concise". In this quest, I've discovered far more deeper things than just being "concise". Here is the summary of those discoveries:

INSIGHTS

1. "Prose" Human Language is "Assembly Level" of communication

The concept of communicating through "language" was invented thousands of years ago. And this mode of communication changed the humanity forever, making it the most superior species. Since this mode of communication served all practical purposes, the motivation to invent and use better modes was low, and hence this archaic mode is still the most popular one. Let us call this mode "Prose".

Humanity did invent better modes of communication, which are more concise and powerful. And this happened in the field of ARTS. Poetry, music, painting, dancing are all bits of that evolution.

This evolution in human communication is analogous to the evolution of computer programming languages. So, "Prose" is the "Assembly Language", while other forms of communication are "higher level languages". To convey your message in "Prose", you have to write a lot. It is natural. Hence, you should try to move on to better modes of communication like Poetry.

2. You are a Philosopher

You have the mind of a philosopher. This is something I've observed across people. There are very few people who write lengthy essays. It's not that they are naturally very "concise". In most cases, their mind doesn't race like our minds. Many philosophers of the past couldn't write concise. Some of the best books in Literature also have been very lengthy. And this is because to truly convey deeper meanings, this "assembly language" requires you to write a lot.

3. There exist people, who will love your style

Trust me on this one. I've been embarassed by my lengthy essays too. But once in a while, I would meet a person who would like those essays, who would like my comprehensive writing style. In today's fast-paced world, there are very few who like to read lengthy books, but they exist and will continue to do so.

PRACTICAL ADVICE

1. "Kill your Darlings" -- Stephen King

I had read King's book "On Writing" in which he suggested that often in writing you have a tangent in your prose which you know would not be quite interesting for the reader, but it is important for you and you love it. In such cases, just remove that. Just kill such darlings. The other person is simply not interested in reading that.

2. "Avoid Adverbs" -- Stephen King

You should not be needing adverbs at all. Your prose itself should be powerful enough to convey the gravity of situations or actions. So, cut down on adverbs like plague. Practice doing this. It will make you more laconic.

3. Cooldown time

Whenever you're under extreme emotions, don't send the message instantly after you've written it. Give yourself some cool-down time: a few weeks or months. Then go back to what you had written. You will be able to curtail it easily and make it much better.

4. Practice Humor

This is the most practical and useful advice I am going to give to you. Humor helps in the following manner:

  1. It packs deeper meanings in smaller sentences. Hence, it's an alternative to poetry.
  2. It makes you and the reader happy.
  3. It will help you cope with stress/anxiety/depression. This fact is pretty much well established in Psychology. Here is an interestng journal article you could read on this matter. And with less anxiety, your urge to write extensively will soothe.

5. Give an outline

If you have to write a 5000-word letter, make it easy for your reader. Provide an outline in the beginning, sort of like an "Abstract" or "Summary". I've done this and it helps.

6. Prefer building from scratch, than fixing

Whenever writing, if I am in a state of fixing a certain part of my essay and it feels too tough, I completely remove that part and write it from scratch. One may think that writing from scratch would take more time, but experience has shown me that it takes less time. And more importantly, the result is more cohesive.

FINALLY

Write a Book

This is the advice I personally would recommend the most for you (specifically). Don't be ashamed of your weakness. Channelize it. And make it your strength. You will realize that it's not a vice, but a "talent".

Writing letters is performing in front of a single audience. Perform in front of a bigger audience. Start writing a book. Besides providing the just investment for your "talent", this process will also help you better grasp the Art of Writing.

Whatever we tell you here is just theory, based on our own experiences. You go there in the wild, and learn from the experiences of performing for the world.

37

It sounds like you write long messages to cope with stress, or to express your feelings, or to explore solutions to problems, or to achieve all of these goals.

These are understandable needs, but your strategy can be adjusted to act less impulsive. In the heat of the moment you tend to send unduly long and perhaps unfiltered messages, which upon reflection you feel ashamed for.

Notice that you don't need to actually send the message that you wrote to satisfy most of your needs. So rather than giving up writing, I'd suggest to delay sending the message by a set time*, then to reconsider if you still want to send a message, and (only) if yes to revise and cut back the original message before sending it.

You may often find that already by writing down your thoughts and feelings you have better understood what's bugging you, found a (preliminary) solution, and calmed down a bit. Sending the message might then not be necessary anymore. Or you may want to send just a brief message that focuses on the conclusion and omits the entire thought process.

You may also want to consider technical solutions to automatically delay sending messages (1 2 3).

In "situations of great distress" (as you put it), your anxiety (or whatever negative emotion) may undercut your self-control and you may be unable to delay sending the message. If so, you have to find a strategy that helps you to calm down before anything else: Breathe deeply, take a walk, change the location, listen to music or the radio, work out (just a few push-ups can do wonders), call a friend whom you trust. Also ask yourself what you hope to achieve by sending the message immediately. A reassuring reply? (Reassure yourself: "I'm ok".) Making sure the other person isn't mad at you? (They will calm down.) Feeling less lonely? (Fix a date with a friend.) Etc.

If this doesn't work and your impulse to relapse into behavior that you regret remains too strong, you should consider asking a therapist for help (offline).

*) Perhaps an hour for a text message and a day for a letter or email.

16

"Be concise."

I have always had the same problem. In a nutshell, I found the trouble is I over-explain and go on relevant but unnecessary tangents. Somewhere in those 5000 words will be one or two core ideas I wanted to express and in re-reading my own message I can often whittle it back down to just that. Sometimes I delete my entire message and re-write it, now that I know what core ideas I want to express.

One thing I think helped me and which you might try, as silly as it sounds, is poetry.

I would suggest that poetry is the art of describing a thing as accurately and concisely as possible. The format makes it difficult to ramble because every line takes more than the usual amount of thought. We ramble because it's easy and good form poetry isn't easy. I feel like the practice of poetry -- of trying to fit a format -- helps me think about my day to day writing as well. Did I really need to say all that? Could I have gotten the idea across more clearly with fewer words? The answer is generally yes.

"I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time." - Mark Twain Blaise Pascal

7

I'm not exactly in the same situation as you, but I do have a tendency to write very long messages when I have something "important" to tell (like a breakup or a stressful professional event, for instance). In a way, those messages look like two "instances" of myself are talking, one to the actual friend, and the other correcting / judging the first "self". Even if nobody complained to me about this style, it bothers me as I feel it makes the messages needlessly long and complicated.

To prevent this, the best solution for me was to avoid sending mails and rather use "live" communication systems (like SMS or Facebook messenger), and to force myself to wait for a reaction from my interlocutor before going further in my story. Going step by step like this considerably reduced the length and complexity of my messages.

Maybe it could do the trick for you as well ? (Of course, sometimes your interlocutor won't reply before a long time, but it could be helpful if they are available).

5

People say that I talk too much. Do I care? No, I don't.

Remember that you are yourself.

You don't have to change for others, but if, looking at your message, you feel that it's too long, or that there is unneeded information, you can still cut the useless part of it and keep living with your personality.

Sometimes, I notice that I'm really talking too much. In that moment, I stop talking.

This is called self-control, BUT I won't always be thinking about it, because it's just what I am. It may be true that I talk a lot, but that doesn't mean I'm expected to be another person.

You will find someone who loves you as you are, like I did.

I think that your problem is the fact that you don't accept yourself.

By reading your words, I can feel pain and anxiety.

You just have to sit down for a moment and think about it, decide how you want to be, and be like that. This is my suggestion.

  • "You just have to sit down for a moment and think about it, decide how you want to be, and be like that, this is my suggestion", i feel like OP has already made their decision and is now asking for help when the change process becomes too hard to go on with. – Brian H. Sep 13 '17 at 13:22
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    By reading i feel like he's trying to change for the others, not for himself – Marco Salerno Sep 13 '17 at 13:29
4

Start a blog; or, write essays.
Learn some of the techniques used when writing essays if you don't already know or remember them.

Maybe even look at writing fiction.

If you've got something to say, say it. Be decent, but say it somehow. As Procol Harum reminded us,

nothing's better left unsaid

Well,

that's what I do, anyways.

So far, you've been looking at your writing as something which most people don't want. Maybe. Maybe they have simply accustomed themselves to simplify their communication to the point where it is almost little more than low–density chatter.
My advice is that you grow, or progress, intellectually from simply seeing your mass of writs as a cathartic device, or a personal exercise, and look at it as something that might be of use to other people — but probably not in any of the outlets which you describe.
So, you think deeply on various subjects? Consider most of those people who've been labelled ‘philosophers’ through history: Most of them have many volumes published, albeit often posthumously. This is because they were probably, at least somewhat, like you.

Another important thing is learning to interpret criticism. Not every critic knows the ‘big picture’, and not everyone will have the best advice. Take a little from everyone, but not every critic deserves to be a guru. Some people don't know what they are talking about.

Abiding “social norms” is one thing. Seeking venues for your talent is another.
Maybe you simply have not yet discovered the proper outlet for your thoughts. Social media, chat in hallways, perhaps even the majority of your friends.
Don't close the final curtain until you've performed before the proper audience.


the messages

So far as pertains to your texts, IMs, or emails:
If you feel comfortable expending your intellectual energies elsewhere, the need to write long messages will not necessarily abate. From my experience, it will not.
No problem there: simply redirect your friends to your blog or other codified writings — published, printed, whatever.
For example:

Hah, yeah, that's what I've noticed. Didn't you read my blog?

4

Writing about your feelings is a good outlet in times of stress and anxiety.

In college, adhering to social norms became much more of a priority, and I struggled to keep texts and emails brief. […] You know you're Andrew's friend when he sends you a 5,000 word email. But I was always ashamed and tried to introspect causes.

The ability to express your feelings in many words, be they written or verbal, is not something to be embarrassed or ashamed of. It shows maturity, insight and self-awareness.

By writing your feelings and opinions on “paper” (texts don't cut the mustard) you are helping yourself because the act of writing requires time to be alone and to think.


Such messages also tax my friends or significant other, often worsen or complicate the situation, and make further communication burdensome or simply undesired.

The act of writing is, in itself, cathartic.

Write everything down, don't hold back anything. Write until you have said everything you wanted to say. But, and this is very important, DO NOT SEND THIS EMAIL. Save the draft, log out of your email account, and go out for a walk. Try to choose a place that is peaceful and relaxing, I am lucky enough to live near some woods and the seaside, but I'm sure there are parks you can go to, and if it has a lake you can spend the time feeding the water birds with fresh bread.

Re-read your long email after a day or two, when the panic, pain, and disappointment are less acute. You'll probably find that your long email needs to be proofread, reduced, and revised.

If you are happy with its content, you might want to send your email to a confidante. Someone who is not involved in the crisis. Ask them to read your missive and to give their most dispassionate opinion. Ask them what can be cut and what needs to be reworded. Tell them it is not an emergency, give your confidante time to digest the contents of that email. Their considered reply should help you decide whether or not to send that long email.

Of course, this is is the antithesis of spontaneity. But rambling streams of consciousness is wearisome for any reader. An author once sent a long letter to a friend and closed it with an apology:

“I am sorry for sending you such a long letter, I didn't have time to write a short one” (source)

In the meantime, you may find that things have sorted themselves out. That the crisis passed by, that you have made up with your friend, that you did manage to meet the deadline after all, or it was postponed.

Allow time to pass, usually, a week is best–although that's a luxury you may ill afford– even waiting two days is better than sending a heated and text dense message on the spur of the moment.

Link: How Not To Write: Simple guidelines for the grammatically perplexed It's actually worth reading :)

2

At the "root"? You cannot / should not

Your thinking style is writing. You are probably a tactile learner, meaning you learn best from written things - so this is your brain talking to you. It is how you think.

Your "wall of text" represents your brain dumping itself for you to review.

Therefore, you should not try to change who you are.

Your real issue is to not share with the world all of your thoughts and how you got them, instead just sharing outcomes -- but, you have already developed a solution for that - just one that breaks down only under stress.

In that case, before sending your wall of text, find a way to calm down, and apply the techniques you already use to shrink the text.

1

I find it most useful to try to be moderate between stressful times. All this means is work the hardest at being short and simple with work, more relaxed in personal things and don't overly restrict yourself in general, and do keep a journal and use it regularly, even more when under stress. What I find most effective is not fighting my nature entirely.

In therapy I came to the conclusion that in my case it is my attempt to be clear. Apparently I take it very seriously if I am misunderstood, so much so, that I want to ensure there is very little room for interpretation. I am a fan myself of long answers from others though, so I also enjoy that in someone else.

I do delay sending if what I am saying is of significant importance (say a disagreement that I feel strongly over). It gives me time to calm myself and decide if everything I was going to say needs to be said.

Before I start I write it like a paper of sorts. I decide what matters most to cover. I basically pick no more than 5-7 things and then stick to those. I think of it like my grocery shopping list. I mostly follow the list, sometimes I add something in if along the way it seems truly worthy to add, otherwise I stay with the original list. Then when I am editing, I keep the core list in mind when deciding what can stay and what I can cut.

And the older I get, I stick to communicating and interacting mostly with people who like me how I am. I am a person that can live with lots of differences and quirks and I am not interested in asking anyone to change anything about themselves that is harmless. If someone were sending me 10 page emails daily wanting a response on everything, then sure, that would be overwhelming. I do not think that is what you are implying you do though. One of the best gifts I ever gave to myself was deciding to love my own quirks, limit contact with those that clearly weren't supportive to "me being me" and relax a little.

I say often that I know I am intense. I am a high energy person overall. I have ADHD that I manage it med free, because I like how I am in general (and I don't like me on meds). I always have 100 projects going, I am always researching something new (and very excited about it), I feel a deep need to change trajectory in my life/career/studies often, but it keeps me fired up. I talk too much for some, but just right for others. I write long things sometimes to others, other times I write nothing at all that is shared with anyone. But I do no real harm by any of this. I haven't harmed my family financially with job changes, as I ensure I get myself prepared before shifting into a new path so that we aren't on a payroll rollercoaster. My interests are just that, hobbies. So it harms no one if I suddenly become intensely interested in learning how to start worm composting indoors or faux painting/marbling with poured epoxy, or researching string theory. The people I keep around let me be me and be excited about what makes me excited and like that about me. Not everyone does like that. I am fully accepting of that as I don't like all things about all people either. I don't try to change me to make everyone happy though and I don't ask that of others either.

Give yourself grace to know that most people (long writing aside) do not function at their optimal when under great distress as you mentioned. Everyone is trying to manage their own nuances and quirks during those times. If your words are not cruel and damaging, then it's not a terribly bad quirk to have. If your concern is that you are loosing control over your tone and words, that is a different issue. Lengthy writing isn't as a big of an issue as what you write. If I am unsure of whether what I am saying is kind enough or not in conveying my feelings about a problem, I start with an "objectives" list first. I make clear to myself what I am hoping will come out of what I say. Then I try to keep it in mind when writing, but not obsessively. I write pretty freely. Then when I am done, I read it and ask myself how what I have said will (or won't) work toward my original objective and edit or rewrite as needed to meet the goals. This is particularly important when you are angry or hurt.

1

I tend to be verbose as well, but perhaps not to your extent.

I think this is because I think deeply about things, so in my explanations I try to address every possible facet or argument or detail of what is being discussed.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, in terms of thought process, but it's usually a terrible way to communicate.

You seem to have focused on merely writing less, as a response to the negative reaction you get from long text.

Instead, terseness is best a consequence of conveying the most important information.

What worked for me

For me, the thing that best drove this home was learning about copywriting.

I'm not a copywriter, I'm not very good at it, and it doesn't come naturally to me. But I was helping someone with their small business web site and in the process I read a series of eBooks about copywriting.

The lessons I learned changed all of my communication. I'm still not good at copywriting, but my general communication has improved.

0

I almost never send messages I'm embarrassed about. EXCEPT... when I'm under great distress, like after a breakup, during a disagreement, or a stressful project or event. I revert immediately to my old ways, feel out of control, and afterward feel childish and confused. Such messages also tax my friends or significant other, often worsen or complicate the situation, and make further communication burdensome or simply undesired.

Forgiveness for how you are - without any changes - is the key. The feelings, emotions and behaviors which you are trying to avoid or correct are all innocent. Attempts to gain "control" will backfire because you'll ultimately resent yourself for trying to improve yourself.

Forgiveness can be demanding. It requires facing yourself as you are. Reach out to others when you need to. But let yourself be upset when you're upset.

-1

In short, my guess is that you have an OCD.

I am OCD about a number of things, one of them being how to express myself in the written word. I feel an extreme impulse to ensure that what I am trying to say is stated in the most detailed manner. Sometimes in order to state my thought in the appropriate detail so that I am sure there is no miscommunication, I write an extreme amount. This of course in a text can be annoying at best, so I refrain and seek other methods of communication.

You have found a way to minimize it under typical situations, however in times of stress your mind runs back to what feels comfortable even though deep down you know its not what you want.

I'm not qualified to tell you how to mitigate your OCD under stress, and again, its only a guess that you have a form of OCD, but there are qualified people who can determine if you do, and if you do they are qualified to help.

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