John Gruber interview
“A Mix of the Technical, the Artful, the Thoughtful, and the Absurd” is an interesting interview with the Daring Fireball writer.
Here Gruber talks about how it’s a challenge to write things with lasting value:
Concentrate on writing things with lasting value. I’m not sure I’ve been doing a good job of this at all lately — I think too much of what I write currently at DF is about stuff that’s only relevant right now. I’m certain that what helped me make a name for myself, what built the DF readership, were the long pieces I did in the first few years, most of which are still relevant, or at least still interesting. There are a lot of people writing for the web today; but there aren’t that many at all who are trying to do great writing for the web.
After a while, the style part of the equation comes naturally:
That’s hard to put into words. Early on, I had to think about my “voice”. I was conscious of my style. Now, not so much — I “just write”, and the style seems to come naturally. Part of that is that you get used to anything over time, but a bigger part is that the style changed slowly over time — I kept tweaking it until I found the perfect pitch, at which point it became something I didn’t have to think about to achieve.
Put another way: early on, I had to concentrate both on what I was saying and how was I saying it. Now I just concentrate on what I’m saying.I also find it much easier to write now that I have a regular audience. The hardest thing for me starting out at the very beginning was trying to shake the feeling that I was writing something no one would read. It felt like delivering a speech in an empty auditorium.
Create a narrative:
For me, much of the effort in writing, especially on technical topics, is in creating a narrative. By that I mean writing a piece that reads straight through, pulling the reader along. A perfect example of this is the way John Siracusa writes his epic-length reviews of major new Mac OS X releases for Ars Technica. What makes them so substantial, and so good, is that he crafts them into a narrative. Most reviews of something like Leopard read like bullet lists — a list of features and what the reviewer thinks about them. What graphic design is to a visual idea, writing is to a verbal idea. My goal is to craft my writing in such a way that makes it as easy and obvious as possible for the reader to “get” exactly what it is I’m hoping they get.
On finding the truth of a thing:
One of my favorite quotes of all time, probably my very favorite, is this one from Stanley Kubrick: “Sometimes the truth of a thing is not so much in the think of it, as in the feel of it.” A lot of times when I’m reviewing something, what I’m trying to do is capture the feel of it, rather than the think of it.
It’s never the right time to start:
It would seem like a missed opportunity never to write a book. Most novels are just dreadful; I don’t know if I could do a good one, but I know I could do better than most. But it never seems like the right time to start. I just stumbled across an apt quote from Emerson last week: “We postpone our literary work until we have more ripeness and skill to write, and we one day discover that our literary talent was a youthful effervescence which we have now lost.”
Paul Graham on “The Art of the Essay”
In that interview, Gruber references this Paul Graham essay which is full of meaty thinking on writing.
Writing for others leads to clear thinking:
Expressing ideas helps to form them. Indeed, helps is far too weak a word. Most of what ends up in my essays I only thought of when I sat down to write them. That’s why I write them… Just as inviting people over forces you to clean up your apartment, writing something that other people will read forces you to think well. So it does matter to have an audience. The things I’ve written just for myself are no good. They tend to peter out. When I run into difficulties, I find I conclude with a few vague questions and then drift off to get a cup of tea.
Surprises are the most valuable sort of facts:
Surprises are things that you not only didn’t know, but that contradict things you thought you knew. And so they’re the most valuable sort of fact you can get. They’re like a food that’s not merely healthy, but counteracts the unhealthy effects of things you’ve already eaten. How do you find surprises? Well, therein lies half the work of essay writing. (The other half is expressing yourself well.) The trick is to use yourself as a proxy for the reader. You should only write about things you’ve thought about a lot. And anything you come across that surprises you, who’ve thought about the topic a lot, will probably surprise most readers.
Joel Spolsky quotes Judge Judy
In “Microsoft can’t speak straight any more”, Joel Spolsky points out this is how Microsoft says, “SQL Server 2008 will be late”:
We want to provide clarification on the roadmap for SQL Server 2008. Over the coming months, customers and partners can look forward to significant product milestones for SQL Server. Microsoft is excited to deliver a feature complete CTP during the Heroes Happen Here launch wave and a release candidate (RC) in Q2 calendar year 2008, with final Release to manufacturing (RTM) of SQL Server 2008 expected in Q3. Our goal is to deliver the highest quality product possible and we simply want to use the time to meet the high bar that you, our customers, expect.
Joel’s commentary on this:
What? Can you understand that? “A feature complete CTP during the Heroes Happen Here launch wave?” What on earth does that mean? The guy who wrote this, Francois Ajenstat, ought to be ashamed of himself. Have some guts. Just say it’s late. We really don’t care that much. SQL Server 2005 is fine. As Judge Judy says, “Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.”