An American novelist Philip Roth once said that “writing isn’t hard work, it’s a nightmare.” After I read that, I realized I felt the same way about computer programming. Below is his full quote except I replaced writing with programming.
Coal mining is hard work. This is a nightmare… There’s a tremendous uncertainty that’s built into the profession, a sustained level of doubt that supports you in some way. A good doctor isn’t in a battle with his work; a good programmer is locked in a battle with his work. In most professions there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. With programming, it’s always beginning again. Temperamentally, we need that newness. There is a lot of repetition in the work. In fact, one skill that every programmer needs is the ability to sit still in this deeply uneventful business.
I found this quote in a book I’m reading called Daily Rituals. It’s a collection of short essays describing the daily creative process of some of the greatest minds of the last four hundred years. What I’m finding so far is that writing is similar to what I do every day—computer programming. Only a few could write for more than two-three hours straight. Almost all of them confessed they were ready to shred whatever they wrote the day after they wrote it. As an example, anyone who has ever refactored a piece of code can relate to this quote about James Joyce:
Once, after two days of work yielded only two finished sentences, Joyce was asked if he had been seeking the right words. “No,” he replied, “I have the words already. What I am seeking is the perfect order of words in the sentences I have.
There is, however, one significant difference between programming and writing. Writers create something general public enjoys. We, on the other hand, are writers writing books for other writers to read.