hey funky, thanks for the prompts....
regarding the continuous present verb forms, each one i'd probably handle differently.
in speech, i can't think of a context where i'd say "i'm running" or "we're conversing"....because to use that tense i would need to say "i'm running" while running, or "we're conversing" during a conversation. and in writing, i don't recall reading many stories in present tense, other than perhaps in a stream of consciousness mode. but you could say "i run". a context for those phrases would help me give more examples.
"it's raining" i hear all the time. you could say " i see the rain outside", or "i feel raindrops", "i see the rain falling (or splashing)". sometimes when i see the rain, i just exclaim "look at the size of those raindrops!" or "look at the rain". or to borrow some song lyrics..."raindrops keep falling on my head", or "here comes the rain again".
basically, i think you can use sensory perceptions more, along with other verbs. in the "it is raining" statement, i always wondered what "it" means. who or what does the "it" refer to? and then, "it is" sounds even more abstract. and sometimes the rain falls right near me, but not 100 yards away (depending on clouds, wind, etc) . the "it" reference feels more obscure.
"he's crying" - you could say "i see him crying", or "i see tears coming down his cheeks", or "he cries". in present tense when writing, i can't think of many contexts where you'd come across "he's crying"(unless in dialogue....in which case i'd still write "he's crying"....unless the character spoke in eprime. :) )
you could replace "i'm hungry" with "i feel hungry", or "i need to eat something...now!"
i think the main differences between "to be" or not "to be" lie in a) indicating where the perception comes from, and b) how you perceive the particular thing/phenomena. with "to be", those elements of perception seem to disappear.
regarding the aspect of feeling slowed down when writing. yes. i didn't like that when i first started trying to write in eprime. so, i decided to often write as i normally would, not giving any thought to eprime, so i could let my thoughts flow uncensored and more rapidly. later, i'd go back over the writing and change it to eprime. often, i'd try more than one way to change it, and then see which version felt more clear, concise, descriptive, to my point, etc. the more i did this, the more easily i began writing in eprime without having to slow down so much. in speech, especially in emotional situations, i've found the slow down beneficial....but it also takes a lot more work than in writing.
regarding the "less concise" aspect...yes, sometimes eprime has led me to excessive wordiness (or to sound less clear), but i think that comes primarily from not having much practice writing that way. most of the time, you can easily become more concise.
for example, in the sentence in your comment above "i have found that there are plenty of cases....", if you just remove the "are", you also automatically remove "that" and "there"....and in eprime you end up with "i have found plenty of cases...."
i also like the creativity i usually need to use to write this way....but i agree that sometimes you can feel slowed down or constrained without any benefit. i think it depends on the particular form and context of the 'to be" statement. but i've also found that by doing it for every instance (like if i decide to write in eprime for a particular piece of writing), i eliminate having to consider which instances might make more of an impact, and i know i'll include the the ones that do. so you might consider just writing particular pieces in eprime, or write one without eprime initially and then go back and re-write and edit to see if you can use the process to increase clarity and conciseness. you may just change particular passages.
and along with the potential for more clarity and a reduction in absolute/objective language, i like that i usually add more sensory description as a result.....creating more visual, action oriented, specific, and feeling aspects within the writing.
edited to add:
...in eprime, you can still find ways to appear objective and authoritative (i know i've done it!).....so, along with the other reasons i mentioned, i often use it to remind myself of my intent when communicating with language - that i want to describe and reveal what i see, think, feel, imagine, experience - more than anything else. and hopefully that will help to make more of a connection with other people.