Writing vs Computer Programming


Structurally, writing is like computer programming.

A story has the same hierarchical structure, the same complex inter-dependencies, as a program. Both require a big toolkit of patterns and structures, an intuitive sense of which ones are right for which project, the ability to estimate how big the different parts should be, and an awareness of common errors and pitfalls. And the more you write, the more you can just dive in and start hacking in ways that would lead a beginner into disaster.

But computer programming never fills me with doubt and self-loathing (other than self-loathing for being a computer programmer). I don’t get programmer’s block. I don’t sit back and look at my program and ask, “Why did I write this? Does this mean anything to anyone else?” I don’t say, “That’s it. I will never be able to write another computer program.”

And writing gives me a joy that programming doesn’t approach, maybe never approached. I used to love programming. Could writing one day bore me as much as programming does now? It’s a scary thought, but on reflection not one that really matters. Joy now is still joy, right?

Now that I think about it, programming gave me joy when I wrote programs that gave other people joy. Games, stories. Linear discriminant analysis, not so much. The medium isn’t the message.

What are your favorite analogies for writing?


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