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Writing a programming book, Episode 2 – Practicing Developer

INTRO: Hi, I’m Gregory Brown, and this is Episode 2 of “Writing a Programming Book”. I’m a guy who’s written a couple programming books before, and I’m in the process of writing a new one — I’ve also wrote hundreds of programming articles.

I’m making this video series to see if I can share some tips and ideas with other people who might be interested in writing about programming, or just learning about what the process of technical writing is about.

The topic I want to talk about today is how Everything Sucks At First.

I just published an essay on code reviews. Over the last few years, I’ve done a couple thousand code reviews, so this is something I specialize in, and something I’m interested in. I have no trouble at all thinking about it or talking about it.

However, when it comes to actually writing an essay on the topic, it’s a totally different story. Even though I started with a decent outline, once I started writing a draft on paper, the first page came out looking like this:

The next ten sheets of paper that followed looked pretty much the same way, if not worse. Almost everything is crossed out everywhere, with all these little false starts and fragments… it’s garbage.

And this is just the first draft on paper. Once I start typing these notes into the computer, I might revise every word in each paragraph over and over again before something is published. And this is just for something small that’s going out today that I started working on last night. If this essay becomes part of the book that I’m writing, it’ll go through many more rounds like this.

I guess this is something that’s not well understood by people who haven’t done a lot of writing, or those who haven’t had much success with writing: Experienced writers don’t just write clean drafts off the top of their head, and certainly not well organized ones.

The entire process is about revising, rewriting, and rethinking. The messy page you see here is the essence of writing. It’s writing hundreds of words so that you can keep a couple dozen of them.

This is normal, and it’s OK, and it’s good.

If you feel like you’re struggling with this sort of thing when you work on your writing, it is actually because you are paying attention to how things sound… how they work, how they don’t work. This means that you’re on a path towards becoming a better writer than someone who would just tap out whatever came to mind without thinking about it’s going to be received.

Everything sucks at first! That’s a big part of why I’m doing these videos. I’m not experienced with video; these are going to be garbage until I get better at this. But the only way to get better at anything is to do it, and practice, and do it more.

Even when you’re very experienced, you will make lots and lots of false starts on things, and that’s OK.

That’s the message for the day. I will talk to you again soon! Thanks.

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