Programming is writing, too

This morning, I came across Serdar Yegulalp‘s blog entry where he writes about writing. He tells a story about two of his friends and while I think we could be better friends, I doubt he’s writing about me, even though the story he tells could have been about me.

Lately, I’ve been seeing myself more as a writer than as a computer programmer. I’ve had a passing desire to sit down and write books about AOLserver, but I’ve always had a problem starting. For a long time, I’ve told myself, “I’m a programmer, not a writer,” but I began to realize that programmers are writers. But, me? Lately, I’ve had trouble writing anything. To borrow Serdar’s analogy, I’ve been suffering a drought. The rain just wouldn’t come.

Recently, I asked friends for suggestions on books to read for someone who wants to write but is struggling, and Bill Kocik suggested a book by Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. I bought myself a copy and now I flip through and read a few pages of that book daily–I just wish I’d known about that book 15 years ago. As infrequently as I post new blog entries, what little increase in frequency there has been lately, I owe to Natalie’s book.

After all this, is programming really like writing, though? What if, like me, you’re a writer without a story to tell? Sometimes, I wonder if there is a great masterpiece trapped inside of me, struggling to get out–a great program, say–or if I truly am as empty and shallow as I feel. I have a hard time deciding which is worse: to die, never freeing that great work from within me, or never having it inside me in the first place.

Tags: ,


  1. “Writing Down the Bones” is a widely-recommended book in this regard, especially for the sake of kick-starting one’s creativity. Actually, the single biggest writing influence I can cite was not a book of that nature, but Roger Ebert’s movie books — his compiled reviews, which were models of how to write well and incisively about creative things.

    Ultimately, though, I learned best from other writers. I’d read them and get ideas for how certain things could be explored — and in the end, I found that they were getting most of their inspiration not from other writers, but from the world around them, which is the best source of all.

  2. For someone who claims to not be a writer, you seem to write quite a bit, Dossy!

    Being a writer is just being structured about it, I think.

  3. Jade: Thanks–I keep feeling like when I write, I don’t say very much.

    I accept that mechanically, I’m skilled at putting together words to form sentences. But, they’re empty sentences. I worry that they’re worth even less to the reader than they are to me.

  4. Dossy,

    When I login to Google Reader and notice new items from your feed they are among the very first things I tend to read. So don’t sell yourself short.

    Every year I fully intent to take a stab at NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) but so far (three attempts) I’ve yet to overcome the initial writers block and actually come up with an idea… so I can relate to how you are feeling. :-)

    I’d definitely buy a book about AOLserver; I’d even be happy to help you typeset it.

  5. Michael: Wow, yeah, I haven’t implemented open-tracking on feed entries, so I really have no insight into who actually reads what. Thanks for letting me know.

    re: buying a book on AOLserver … that’s interesting. What kind of material would be useful? I’m guessing having the Tcl API fully documented, with usage examples, would be the most useful book for someone who’s already experienced with AOLserver?

  6. plz write the aolserver version of this book. still one of my favorites.

  7. bill: I have to say I haven’t checked out that book yet, but now I definitely will–thank you for the great suggestion!

Speak Your Mind