I’m Lou Franco, and this is Episode 11 of Write While True, which is a writing program for programmers.
If you follow it literally, you’ll be in an infinite loop of writing. But I mean program as in a training program.
So, in each episode, I’ll challenge you with an exercise that will help you build a writing habit. This is Season one, which is about foundational exercises.
Listen to Write While True at your desk, and when it’s over, start writing.
Judged by weight
I’m in the middle of reading a book called Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. There’s a link to it in the show notes.
There’s a story in it that is fairly famous, so I wanted to read the whole book — you may have heard it before, but just in case, here it is:
A ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”.
Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work-and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
I know that feeling. Theorizing about writing was mostly what I did for years.
The book is centered on the difference between viewing and creating art. To the viewer, the art can be good or bad, and it either has its intended effect or not. The artist, however, is changed by the process of creation, whether it is good or not. They learn their tools. They develop taste. They start to close the gap between what they intend and what they make.
Ira Glass had this to say on This American Life
Everybody I know who does interesting, creative work they went through years where they had really good taste and they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. Everybody goes through that.
And if you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you’re going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.
I put a link of a video with Ira saying this and more in the show notes
About 12 weeks ago I came up with the idea for this podcast. At the time I didn’t really know anything about making podcasts.
I didn’t have a microphone.
I didn’t really know how to use audio editing software beyond the basics, and I didn’t know how to host the files or get the podcast into Apple Podcasts or other players.
It didn’t really matter, but I didn’t know how I was going to get stats on the number of downloads.
Most importantly, beyond the idea, I didn’t know how to prepare the content, and I knew I was going to have trouble recording my voice. I speak very quickly in real life and maybe my NY accent isn’t thick, but I hear it and there are some words I have a particularly hard time saying.
But, this time I already knew my patterns. I talked about them in the last few episodes.
Instead of 11 episodes of less than 10 minutes each, I probably would have half made one one-hour podcast. Maybe the first episode would be done next year.
But now, I want to be judged by weight and make fifty pounds of podcasts and not a pile of dead mp3s. I do realize that you, the listener, will judge them on their quality. I hope I give you at least one good tip or resource that makes it worth it. It’s also a reason I keep it to less than 10 minutes.
If not, I am sorry about that, but I am working on it.
In my intro, I asked you to listen at your desk, ready to write when I am done speaking.
But first, I want to thank you for listening so far. As a new podcast, I am depending on you to spread the word if you found it valuable. I also want to encourage you to send your feedback email to firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on twitter @loufranco or look for me on LinkedIn.
I would love a review or rating in the Apple Podcasts app, stars in Overcast, or whatever else your podcast player allows. And subscribe if you want more episodes.
If you write publicly, please send me a link.
Make your programming journey timeline
I know that a lot of my episodes are variations on the theme of quantity. In episode one, I asked you to write morning pages every day. In episode 4, I asked you to make a schedule where you write multiple days a week. I’ve talked about the importance of producing many first drafts. In episode 8, I said you should lower your bar and just last week I shared my personal “why”, which is all about playing the infinite game because it’s fun. The title of this podcast is a play on the idea of the infinite game.
I made this podcast for programmers so I would have something in common with my listeners. I also think that it makes it easier to draw on our common experience.
In light of that, I want you to reflect on how you learned programming. How much time did you spend on it? How many programs did you make and throw away.
Take out a sheet of paper and Make a timeline. Try to fill it in with as many things as you can remember doing to learn. All of the things you made.
And think about how this process changed you.
If you are new to programming, perhaps there’s something else you have already mastered. An instrument or a foreign language. If this is all new to you, perhaps research a creator you admire.
Look at how much of that early work was not that great. In your own case, you probably discarded it soon after making it. But, you still were changed by making it.
Thanks for listening. This has been Write While True and since true is true, go make that timeline.