If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing. – Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack
I feel like reflecting a little today.
They tell you to do that at University – look back at what’s happened to help you learn.
And the reason for this is that this is my five hundredth post – and that seems a good point at which to reflect.
I didn’t really have a plan when I started writing – arguably I still don’t.
The idea was to write – spend time stringing words together trying to make sense of interesting ideas.
I knew that the advice to every writer was you’ll throw the first million away anyway – so you might as well get started.
To date, I’m nearly half way there – if you count the 280,000 words on this blog and stuff that really is just for throwing away.
The fact is that committing to doing something every day inevitably builds something.
It might not be something you had in mind at the start but whatever it is simply builds up over time and, if you’re lucky, compounds.
That means it gets easier – easier to put words together, work through ideas and create something useful – if only for you.
But that thing you create can also be startlingly short lived.
I was following links and came across one that linked to Dennis M. Ritchie’s page at Bell Labs.
Dennis was one of the creators of Unix and his page and links are, to me, a historical artefact – something that should be preserved.
But it wasn’t there.
I looked at the wayback machine and found some of the pages – but there was a sense of disbelief that the material had disappeared.
It turned out, fortunately, that it hadn’t – it had moved a little, but that was all.
Many other pages are not so lucky.
For example, there’s a short piece written by Victor Noagbodji based on an exchange he had with Brian Kernighan – another doyen in the Unix field – on the craft of writing books.
I couldn’t find the original but the wayback machine had a copy.
Still – can that now only be found in an archive?
The ideas in that post are the ones in the picture above – ideas that I find useful and really should be preserved.
For example, if you want to write, then write about something you care about.
If you don’t – you’ll stop. It’s just too hard to keep grinding away at something that you don’t really like.
If you do write – talk about real things and real situations. Made up stuff is ok for fiction but what most people want is something useful.
And that means giving real working examples.
When it comes to programming this is essential – if the example is wrong you’re going to spend hours figuring it out.
The point of writing is not to show how clever you are.
It’s to take someone, even if that someone is you, step by step so that they understand the thing you’re trying to explain.
So having reached this number of posts what have I learned?
Nothing we didn’t know at the start.
- If you want to write – write.
- Write every day.
- Use short words.
These are things you can read in any book about writing.
What matters is the practice – the act of doing.
And I suppose that’s the thing about a practice, especially something you plan to do for the rest of your life.
All you have to do… is do.
Whether that’s remembered is up to other people.