What Writers Can Teach Programmers

Heather Knight, Roboticist

Heather Knight
Jun 3, 2017 · 7 min read
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Have you ever noticed there are no self-help books for programming? Sure, there are for loop explanations, and guides to this coding language or that. But what about our behavioral practices? If you have been keeping up with Silicon Valley, the TV show, you’ll know that programmers are just as subject to getting blocked as writers are: Richard stopped sleeping and walked into a pool with his clothes on, but there must be a better way.

Turns out that writers know the secrets to prevent Programmer’s Block. These ten writing-inspired tips will make you a more efficient, creative, and confident programmer, whether you are a novice or expert programmer. Where did these come from? To assuage my guilt the last year of my PhD during faculty interviews, I read a lot of books about writing on airplanes (see reading list at end). What I discovered was that many of the writing books had insights and methods applicable to programming.

Obviously the list starts with zero.

Tip 0: Program First

Tip 1: Don’t Be Afraid To Use Paper

Tip 2: Establish a Programming Addiction

Tip 3: Track Ideas as Well As Bugs

Tip 4: Make Friends

Tip 5: Learn from Others

Tip 6. Be Nice to Your Muse

Tip 7. Be Heartless (but not Mean-Spirited)

Tip 8: Beware The Curse of Knowledge

Tip 9: End On A Downward Slope

Think of this as a programmer self-help list. Programming is a creative process, just like writing, and I believe these ten strategies can make you more creative, more productive, and less likely to get stuck.

Reading List:

  1. The Artist’s Way. Julia Cameron.
  2. Writing Down the Bones. Natalie Goldberg.
  3. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Stephen King.
  4. The Sense of Style. Steven Pinker.
  5. How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing. Paul J. Silvia.
  6. If You Want to Write. Brenda Ueland.
  7. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. William Zinsser.

What approaches do you use? Let’s extend this list in the comments.

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Heather Knight

Written by

Computer Science Professor at Oregon State University

HackerNoon.com

Elijah McClain, George Floyd, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, Atatiana Jefferson, Tamir Rice, Bettie Jones, Botham Jean

Heather Knight

Written by

Computer Science Professor at Oregon State University

HackerNoon.com

Elijah McClain, George Floyd, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, Atatiana Jefferson, Tamir Rice, Bettie Jones, Botham Jean

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