Monday, December 12, 2005

On Writing

Since I've started posting on Xooglers a number of people have written to compliment me on my writing (thank you all!) and to ask for pointers. So here in a nutshell is what I've learned about writing.

There are two main ways to learn to write:

1. Read
2. Write

I'm not trying to be glib. I think that really gets to the nub of the matter. You can't really be taught to write well, sort of like you can't really be taught to program well. You can be taught the basics -- grammar, structure -- but to get from there to really being good at it you have to figure it out on your own. I wish it were otherwise.

There are two main things to keep in mind as you write:

1. Everything comes out shitty the first time. You have to debug writing the same way you debug code.

2. Good writing is dramatic, and drama is all about conflict. This is why crappy experiences make much better stories than pleasant ones.

There's a wonderful episode of The Simpsons that illustrates this point beautifully. Marge goes on a crusade to eliminate violence from television -- and she succeeds! The result is an episode of Itchy and Scratchy where they just get along. It is, of course, stultifyingly boring (and at the same time uproariously funny).

So let it be written.


Pepsicology said...

You are welcome! I am just one of your fans you see. Thank you for the tips Ron, I'll try to put them into practice :-)

Ron said...

so nonchalant about their work!

That's funny, I've always considered myself to be rather passionate about it. (In fact, I think one of the factors that ended my tech career was that I was too passionate.) What gave you the impression that I was being nonchalant?

Do you write books?

Not yet. ;-) I've written a screenplay which I'm probably going to convert to a play, and maybe a novel some day, but I'm not sure I have the patience for that. But thank you for the encouragement.