Like a middle-aged patron holding a menu at arm’s length to read its scribbles, writers must manipulate the distance to make their thoughts legible.

But it’s hard to hold our own thoughts far away, much less figure out the relative success of our efforts. How do we know if we’ve explained ourselves sufficiently? How can we be sure we’ve rendered our internal monologue into something externally meaningful? 

It’s not easy–making the internal external is challenging enough without bothering about the answer to the question of to whom readability refers.

But it’s also necessary if we want our thoughts to be understood. As with other intimacies, when we’re too close, our view is obscured.

To gain more distance, we can practice the arts of alienation. Alienate can help us, etymologically, at least (ali-us is other/another, and -ēn-us is to see), establish the distance required to see an/other.

In contemporary usage, the word is negative–alienating something or someone suggests a hard push into an otherness so radical that the other can no longer be seen. But this usage is mostly only expedient for political ideologies that seek to hide the friction of distance and difference beyond the horizon.

The rest of us know that distance and difference are also opporunities. When we identify them for what they are, we can decide how and where to build bridges of common understanding.

Somewhat similarly, when we make our writing distant and different, we gain a perspective we can’t otherwise take.

We can do this in a number of ways: We can take time and space from a project, separating ourselves from and forgetting for a while our prior closeness. We can also use tools that make our work strange. Interrogative outlines are useful for this purpose. So, too, are AIs, which can make our writing so different and distant that we must work hard to build that bridge of understanding.

Wherever we’re standing in terms of our writing, it’s probably too close. By holding it out further, much further away, we may see opportunities to create common understanding.