Programming and Writing

I really enjoyed this quote from Brent Simmons in an interview with John Gruber.

I’ve always thought of it this way: a good writer reads a lot of books. They see how other writers solve problems. They pay attention to what’s happening now as much as they pay attention to the classics. Good writers are readers first, but eagle-eyed, careful readers.

I think good developers are the same: they look at other apps. They “read” those apps, the problems they have and how they solve them. They notice trends, they notice new solutions, they notice when things work and when they don’t.


It reminds me of some passages from a book I’m reading right now, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott:

Bird by BirdHowever, in the meantime, we are going to concentrate on writing itself, on how to become a better writer, because, for one thing, becoming a better writer is going to help you become a better reader, and that is the real payoff. […]

Writing can give you what having a baby can give you: it can get you to start paying attention, can help you soften, can wake you up. […]

Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. they show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. They are full of all the things that you don’t get in real life — wonderful, lyrical language, for instance, right off the bat. And quality of attention: we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift. My gratitude for good writing is unbounded; I’m grateful for it the way I’m grateful for the ocean.

That’s how I feel about software.

11 thoughts on “Programming and Writing

  1. I couldn’t agree more.

    I have found that really good programmers read a lot. At least I do.

    I read my code, other code, open source code, software books, business books, blogs, feeds, and quite a lot of non-software related material.

  2. Very Nice Post, love both quotes,

    I totally agree especially with the John Gruber Quote. I’m not the best writer (and have my dyslexic moments with reading), I love reading code and trying my best to understand it. Reading through bbPress and ofcourse WordPress is always an eye opener. Appreciating the problems they solve, identifying the strengths and weaknesses is a great way to self-develop, the beauty of WordPress is watching the progress between versions.
    Anyway, inspirational post. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  3. It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes up short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
    -Theodore Roosevelt

  4. I’ve read ‘Bird by Bird’ a dozen times — it’s one of the first books I recommend to someone who asks me about becoming a writer. She’s full of advice that applies as much to other creative pursuits — I’ve used the picture frame trick for getting website work done. If I get just a fraction of what I”m trying to accomplish done, I find it a lot easier to deal with the rest.

    Simmons is spot on, as well. If you’re going to do any kind of creative work, you have to know how other people have tackled the same questions that you’ll face and just how successful their solutions are.

  5. I love that book. I’ve read it so many times. Another quote that may apply to writing and coding: “In any case, the bottom line is that if you want to write, you get to, but you probably won’t be able to get very far if you don’t start trying to get over your perfectionism.”

  6. I find that reading code can inspire me, but it also helps me understand what not to do.

    A couple of years ago I started dedicating time to reading every week. Whether it was reading blogs, learning new code techniques, or business books and reviews, reading keeps me inspired to better myself and drives me to do more.