Writing A Lot

I ran across this post today on Hacker News. The short synopsis of the post is Sebastian explaining how he writes so much but it’s definitely worth reading the whole thing. I wanted to consider a couple of thoughts he brings up. For the 4 or 5 people who still regularly check in here, it comes as no surprise that I haven’t been writing much lately. There are a variety of reasons for that but one of the key ones is the self-censoring critic that lives in my head and deems most things as unworthy of human consumption. I’ve been struggling with need to write good stuff all the time and what actually happens is nothing gets written. The problem is, as Sebastian explains, if you want to make excellent stuff, you have to make a lot of crap.

This is not to say that if you make lots of crap, you’ll eventually make something excellent. No matter how long a single monkey types, his chances of producing the entire works of Shakespeare are so minute as to be considered impossible. You still need to be trying and improving the crap that you produce. But without that output, the chance of actually producing anything worth consuming at all is very small.

I’ve fallen into the rut of expecting things to be very good. That perfectionism has caused my output to dwindle to next to nothing. That’s got to stop. This happens in my software life too, the need to do things that are good becomes overpowering and causes me to do nothing at all. That need to be my best will almost always lead me to do nothing. Perfect stands in the way of progress and all.

Of course, the problem with all this is that if you’re writing a blog and producing lots of content, people are going to see the good and the bad. Before the Internet, writers still produced a lot but only their best stuff got published. Now, with the click of a button, everything gets published. I’m not sure that’s a good or bad thing but of course, it contributes to the body of work that people have to sift through to find out if you constantly put out crap or actually have good stuff occasionally. I’m lucky, most of the people who read my stuff think I’m a good writer. I’m always humbled and flattered by that. I’m also lucky that writing comes easier to me than to most people. I think that’s because in general, we are social animals and people express themselves socially with others. I’m much more comfortable sitting down and hammering out my thoughts on paper (or in bits and bytes). I love long discussions via email or letter though those things never happen much in our busy world. So I guess I’m lucky.

This is a lot of self-indulgent navel gazing but it seems to me that it’s applicable to any realm of creativity. You can’t become an excellent software developer unless you produce massive bodies of software. You can’t become an excellent musician unless you practice fundamentals and basics for years. The creative endeavor is almost alway backed by thousands of hours of what is essentially crap. When you stop producing crap, you stop being excellent as well.

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