Passionate About Writing?

I'm a writing fool! 2 book proposals, 1 user's guide, a business technology analysis paper, and a FileMaker Pro 7 application! Can you say, "RedBull?" Actually, my preferred energy drink of choice is Monster. But I'll save my energy drinks discussion for another time.

What I would like to focus on is how similar Writing and Programming are. Both are creative. Both require adhering to some type of structure. Both require that you are aware of who the audience is. And both require discipline and focus! And those who are both writers and programmers are either nuts, or very driven. I haven't quite figured out which category I fit into. Although my wife will place me into the former. ;)

I have discovered over the years that the discipline that I've learned by doing programming has directly applied to my discipline for writing. In both situations, a clear goal has to be established. You have to know where you're going in order to get there. True, there are some writers (specifically in the fiction genre) who can just sit down and write, without having any plan, outline, or goal in mind. But when it comes to non-fiction writing and programming, a plan, outline, and/or goal is an absolute necessity! In programming, it's a specifications document. In non-fiction writing, it's an outline. Both require some analysis and forethought about what the end result is supposed to be.

Once the plan is in place, then the next step is doing the actual work. This is when we discover how passionate we really are about the task at hand. If you're passionate about the project then it's easy to sit down and just start cranking out words. Have you ever gotten up in the middle of the night to go and sit down at the computer and start working? That's passion! (Or one too many energy drinks!) Are you writing code while gazing at your date across the dinner table? That's passion too, but not the kind your date would like. But the point is, that type of passion about a programming or writing project can carry you a long way toward completion.

But what do you do when the steam dies down? I'm talking about those times when you sit down at the computer and just stare at the screen. It happens to all of us. You then start looking for excuses or other things to do. "Humm, my desk is a mess!" There goes a couple hours of organizing the desk and office. "Oh, more email." There's another hour or two, reading and responding to emails. Then there's the lure of web surfing. "I need to do a little research!" Write off another 2 to 4 hours. Next thing you know, you've spent the entire day sitting at your computer but haven't made any progress on your project. What do you do?

Well, go back to thinking about why you're passionate about the project. It could be money - what will you buy when you get paid for the project? Or it could be the accomplishment - being able to say that you've written an application that solved a major problem for your customer. How about a little fame? Anyone who's been in the computer industry for awhile knows who Dan Appleman is. He's just some guy who decided to write a valuable set of books for programmers. Whatever it is that makes you passionate about the project - think on it. Dwell on it! Meditate on it! "Be the ball," as Bill Murry said in the movie, "Caddy Shack." If you saw the movie, you'll know what I mean.

The other way to get there is through discipline and experience. When I started writing my first book, I was very passionate about it - at least through the proposal, outline, and first couple chapters. Then it became that four letter word - "work." The next couple chapters were tough. I had to force myself to get into being productive. Each time I sat down at the computer, it would take me from 30 minutes to an hour just to get back into the swing of things. But, I did do it. I made a schedule for myself. At the time, I was working a full time job. I set my mind to following the schedule and not let anything get in the way. After work, I would grab a light dinner. Then I would take a one hour nap. Then I would get up, sit down at the computer, and crank out words for the next 4 hours. I would do this for at least 4 days a week. It didn't take long for me to be able to just sit down and start writing. The book was completed and I gained a great sense of satisfaction knowing that I had reached a major milestone that all potential writers seek to have - the first completed book!

Thanks to that experience, and the additional writing that I've done since then, I've been able to get myself into the right mental state for writing whenever it is needed. I still work out a plan. But when I sit down to write - I write!

So, next time you take your date or spouse out for dinner - don't write code while you're there. Enjoy the time with your companion and your dinner. Then, when you sit down at the computer to write - just do it! And if you can't, stay there until you do. Eventually, you'll get to the point where the discipline, the passion, and the experience will all come together. And you will have that magic moment that all programmers and writers seek - the perfect flow of creativity for bringing life to your book, story, article, or application.

Keep the passion!

Timothy Trimble, The ART of Software Development

Timothy Trimble is a award winning, freelance writer, and software developer. He has written a book for Microsoft Press and over 35 articles for significant computer industry trade magazines. He is the Blog publisher of The ART of Software Development which can be found via his web site at http://www.timothytrimble.info

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