Stumbled upon a great interview/conversation between one of my favourite writers AND one of my favourite songwriters!
I found this great quote from Richard P. Gabriel, Lisp hacker and a poet, which summarizes nicely my feelings towards programming and how I see it as a creative field more so than technical:
“Writing code certainly feels very similar to writing poetry. When I’m writing poetry, it feels like the center of my thinking is in a particular place, and when I’m writing code the center of my thinking feels in the same kind of place. It’s the same kind of concentration. So, I’m thinking up possibilities, I’m thinking about, well, so how do I reinvent the code, gee, you know, what’s the simplest way to do this.”
– Richard P. Gabriel
My blogging, or at least the topics and themes of it, has always been quite volatile, to say the least. I haven’t really ever given too much thought to it. Still, I’ve always just written about topics that interest me at the moment in question. This might be the big reason behind the fact of why the topics in this blog vary pretty heavily, all the way from geeky programming topics, to spirituality, to ranting about corporations. You could describe this kind of writing as some sort of “free writing”, a commonly used technique in creative writing.
Regarding my own creative writing, it has always been mainly in Finnish, but these blatherings that I’ve collected for this blog have been fully English. Like my blogging, I’ve never really given too much thought to my language choice here. Maybe there is a small egomaniac in me, like in every other “artist”, and I initially thought that perhaps someone really outside Finland wants to read my writings here, which is why I chose English. Who knows?
But what is this commonly used technique called “free writing”? What does it involve? Well, like the name suggests… it involves free writing. Usually time-boxed writing and usually quite raw and often unusable material. The good thing about this sort of writing is the possibility of just focusing on producing text alone without the fear of censure and with little concern for conventions and mechanics. No regard for spelling, grammar or other corrections. Free to stray off-topic and let your thoughts lead the way. Although considering this blog, my posts haven’t been this free.
Writers of any kind, prose, lyrics, or poems, often tend to be proponents for this sort of writing where you don’t need to worry about failure, deadlines or other forms of resistance. Often mentioned how it helps to “unblock” your writer’s block. Being especially beneficial when done regularly. Is there data on that? Probably. I just don’t have it. I just know how it affects me, whether it is writing incoherent blogs for my website, writing interesting, or in my case not so interesting, lyrics, or any other kind. Just writing something tends to be the biggest helper when it comes to writing anything. Shocker, I know.
Overall, when it comes to writing, it is a skill like any other, and it needs honing. You might be currently writing your next big novel. However, you can still benefit from writing without any framework, a plan, no knowing where it’ll go, no apathy, no resentment, just words on paper. Just for a short period. Maybe 15 minutes. Maybe 30 minutes. Maybe as long as you can’t think of anything, like writing in a trance. This sort of writing doesn’t focus on the product itself but more on the thought process relating to writing.
After that, try returning to your project, whatever it might be. Maybe opening and limbering this process in your mind before you start “real work” helps you. Perhaps it can direct you to places that you never thought to explore. Some might hate free writing, and some might love it.
A few years ago, I had a habit of semi-regularly writing about various exciting topics. Unfortunately, time passed, and I began to write less and less, and recently I’ve gotten out of the habit altogether. This is a shame in many ways since I’ve always felt writing to be immensely therapeutic.
At the time of writing, this world is also in a very odd place. Most countries are quarantined due to COVID-19, and people stay in their homes. Yours truly included! So to pass the time during these times, I’m trying to reawaken this habit.
Habitual writing has been on my mind for a long time, especially since it has been so present in my life. I’ve also somehow lost a few other healthy habits lately, which have made me think about how I can reawaken them in my daily life. Healthy practices that come to mind that I’ve lost would definitely be workouts and meditation. Although you could argue that the lost habit of working out is mainly related to the current difficult times, I’m not too worried. I believe that eventually when the world calms down in terms of this pandemic, I can relearn that habit quite quickly. But losing the regular meditation practice is really a shame, in my opinion. Like working out, meditation has played a big part in my life for years.
Even though my meditation practices have been irregular lately, the earlier “hard work” has helped me in my everyday life. But recently, I’ve started thinking about how I could relearn this habit. I’ve learned that, at least in my own case, the best way to learn habits has definitely been to do something often but not in an excessive amount. So in meditation, this was easy. Start for 5 or 10 minutes (which is nothing, everyone can find time for this) and just do it. Current times support relearning this since people are primarily working remotely. Hence, it is easy to start your day with this practice. With these simple steps, I feel like I’ve been able to reawaken this practice that was once very present in my life.
This got me thinking about utilizing a similar approach in other habits I’ve forgotten. The habits that came to mind were music and writing. Although some could argue that these are more or less the same thing. For some reason, I’ve struggled to pick up my instruments and write some new music during the pandemic. Many others have the same feelings in their own area of interest. I don’t know the cause for this; maybe the constant staring at the same four walls for over a year is the culprit. Who knows? A similar thing has also happened in my writing.
What really got me wanting to reawaken these habits was when I stumbled upon Richard P. Gabriel’s poetry. Gabriel is a legendary Lisp programmer. As a Lisp programmer myself, I’m always interested in what other like-minded people are up to. Gabriel started a project of writing one poem a day on March 18, 2000 to end a lengthy poetry-writing slump. Gabriel agrees that he is not necessarily a great poet, even though many could argue otherwise, but I think that is non-essential. While forming this habit, you don’t necessarily need to be the new Robert Frost. But since writing poetry (or anything) is a technical skill, constant practice is bound to help you in your journey. I stumbled upon a similar approach while reading Pat Pattison’s Writing Better Lyrics, where he talked about “daily object writing” in terms of getting better at writing. Pattison also noted that forming a habit is the big thing in this, which will eventually improve writing.
This approach is more or less similar to how I learned the healthy habit of regular meditation. How could I apply a similar approach to my composing and writing? Knowing myself, I cannot do this kind of creative work sporadically (or wait for the creative slump to end), or I’ll never do it. If I tried to write one piece and post every day, I feel that doing both daily would be slightly excessive (mainly timewise). So I need to find a healthy balance in practice and not be over-encumbered.
In my case, I believe that some time-boxed, very focused practice on something works the best. So what I intend to do is I’ll focus on a period (half an hour, an hour or so) on the given task, whether it is composing, writing, or programming (another healthy habit that I practice, which thankfully hasn’t been lost, but I always feel I could do more of it). I’ll set a healthy goal for this time box, so I don’t expect to write some new groundbreaking sonata, earth-shattering blog post, or the next big open-source project. Instead, I want to do something in these fields regularly to hone my skills in the given area. Since I’m trying to work on multiple habits, I also understand that I might not always have time to do everything. That’s okay. I can most likely squeeze in a smaller session to have at least some practice. Or if I just simply cannot do anything, that’s fine too. I just don’t want to see myself doing something excessively one day and then slacking off the next day since “I did so much yesterday.” (learned from Pattison).
Productivity has been really close to my heart, even though I occasionally lack significantly in that area. But maybe with small steps, everyone can benefit from a slight boost in their productivity.
Or just procrastinate… As long as you’re happy.