On Writing (For Software Developers UX/UI Designers and Data Scientists)
Stephen King’s novel On Writing, is both autobiography and writers tool kit. Within it is packed a ton of useful information for writers in general. However, as a software developer, my peers often don’t consider themselves writers and if they have an itch to write they are often deterred by limiting beliefs. They ‘don’t know how to go about it’ — they’ve ‘never done it before’ —they ‘don’t even know what an Oxford Comma is.’
We as software developers, UX/UI designers and data scientists have a lot to teach and, believe it or not, a lot to talk about. We shouldn’t feel like we need someone else to validate us as unique. Every one of us have a unique story to tell.
And you don’t need to know what an Oxford comma is to be a great writer.
Luckily for us, I am not only a software developer but have a Bachelors of the Arts in English. My writing skills, although rusty, still peak their head out once in a while. So I’ve attempted to bring you the most important advice I’ve learned.
This advice is a collection of habits and ideas that I’ve heard over the years. I use On Writing as my inspiration but really is harvested a number of different seeds that were planted in my mind throughout life.
Just Start Writing
Usually when a writer is giving advice, he or she will make this their first suggestion. They will follow up with something explaining how ‘this may sound cliche but you should just start.’ Well, here I am to reiterate this point. You still won’t get it until you actually do. So instead of telling you again, I’ll just start writing about something else.
Have A Workspace and Time
You may already have a space in your home dedicated to coding and designing. I call my space the “Code Dome”. It’s… just a desk with a computer. Use this as your space to write. BUT carve out time for writing. This could be 30 minutes a day or for 9 hours, but keep it consistent and daily.
For Stephen King it begins at 8:00 am in a room that is specific for writing. He averages about 1000 words per day with a goal of 2000. Having a specific time or word count with no outside interruption is absolutely key. Great writing is built on momentum. When that get’s thrown off you might as well just move on and wait until tomorrow.
Once your pen hits the page (or your fingers hit the keyboard) don’t stop writing for your allotted time. This is no time to check Twitter or see how many likes your latest Tic Tok video received. Just write.
When I was an aspiring comedy writer at the age of 19, I was given this advice: “Out of all the jokes you write only 10% of them will actually be funny, so get to writing.” Lucky for us, writing is not as hard as comedy writing. And lucky for the world, I never made it as a comedian.
For Stephen King who has written, as Google says, “At Least 99” books (not kidding), volume is absolutely essential.
Have a Ritual
I write in Evernote for some reason. It’s not really designed for writing blogs but it has everything I need to do what I have to do and I’ve just become accustomed to it. I also write in notebooks. The feeling of the pen against the notebook is engrained in my muscle memory and helps me activate that part of the brain that breeds creativity.
These rituals will reactivate and fortify your writing habit and help you come up with more and more ideas.
“The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.” — King
As a designer, developer or data scientist, you probably think of planning as maybe the most important part. But I’ve put it near the end because writing, much like our projects, cannot be fully planned. You will get an insight in the middle of a paragraph, you will get an idea and it takes you on a tangent. So for writing, I do advise planning. But by planning, I mean so minimally that you know where you might want to go and you know you are going to eventually end.
I like to write the name of the section for my blogs as I go. (Most of which I actually keep and you can see on this page.) This gives me a sense of what I want to write in the physical space. I also tend to write comments with two forward slashes like I’m coding. This makes no sense but actually it kind of does. Those I don’t keep.
King lets his right brain plan his novels minimally and visualizes the ending. Then he makes his way to it as he writes.
Writing is Kind of Like Coding
This one is a stretch (and has nothing to do with Stephen King) but I’m going to attempt to convince you that writing in English is the same as writing in code.
Every function does or returns something. In effect, every blog post should convey a central theme. The central theme for this post is you can be a great writer even if that’s not your background. It is my job to write the function (blog) that convinces you of that.
On top of that, each helper function (paragraph) should have its own little return statement, or its own point to make. Generally, your first sentence should state a thesis about that particular paragraph and the following few sentences should convince the reader that it’s true.
Your final product should solve the problem the reader has set out to fix, just like a well written piece of code.
Whatever you choose to write about, don’t let any roadblocks stop you from finishing and publishing your blogs. It is easier than ever to publish your blog on sites like Medium and Dev. Just write it and get it up, you can always edit it when you are older and wiser.
Frankly, the first few blogs might be terrible. Do you really think out of those 99+ books Stephen King wrote all of them were amazing? He will tell you himself this is not the case. On the other hand, maybe you write the blog post that changes your life. You just won’t know until you do. So get out there and start writing.
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