Sunday, November 19, 2017

On Writing: Or Now I Write

So that was then; my life was mostly about reading... It just was, somehow,
Then something happened: things changed and I... I mostly write now
 
Yes, this is now; acres of books having been dutifully culled and harvested,
Something lingered, though: the readings, of their meaning, had not been divested
 
And of everything that I managed to digest,
Emily, your peerless poetry is simply the best
 
Your eloquence is the quintessence,
Of everything I aspire to in essence
 
You showed us how to make immortal sentences breathe—in the first place, showed us indeed what they look like,
What you chiseled in crimson granite—liberating sentences that would've otherwise suffocated—we have since not seen their like 
Loved ones who have left Earth, and whom we have unwittingly outlived,
Their mortality and their lives—in our minds—
are indelibly etched, limned
One by one—all of us on the face of Earth—we will perish, but not the human soul,
Like your poetry, Emily, though, the 
soul has been vouchsafed to remain ever whole 
So that was then, we sowed the seeds of reading; crops grew, harvesting was done, and this is now
We are engulfed by fields of gold; the farmer hangs his hat, and into the sunset walks the very last cow
 
~ Akram Ahmad (Verses of rhyme by a writer, blogger, software craftsman, son, husband, father, brother, and friend)

The Quotes πŸ’ž

When I was a child I had a fever
My hands felt just like two balloons 🎈 🎈
Now I've got that feeling once again
I can't explain, you would not understand πŸ‘» πŸ‘»
This is not how I am
I have become comfortably numb πŸ’­ πŸ’­
~ Pink Floyd (Lyrics from Comfortably Numb)
AND a woman spoke, saying, Tell us of Pain.
And he said:
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields πŸ’” 🌱 🌿 🌻
~ Kahlil Gibran (From The Prophet)
She had lost the art of conversation, but not, unfortunately, the power of speech πŸ’‹ 🍯
~ George Bernard Shaw
Beside the ungathered rice he lay,
        His sickle in his hand;
His breast was bare, his matted hair
        Was buried in the sand.
Again, in the mist and shadow of sleep,
        He saw his Native Land 🌾 🌾 🌾 🌾
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (From The Slave's Dream)

Preamble 🎈

Colonel Sanders sold a hell of a lot of fried chicken, but I’m not sure anyone wants to know how he made it. If I was going to be presumptuous enough to tell people how to write, I felt there had to be a better reason than my popular success 🐣
~ Stephen King (On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft — Scribner)
As your callow blogger sits kneeling at the edge of a pond—the full moon gleaming like a big white disc in the shimmering waters—he finds himself casting furtive glances at his own image being reflected back… Evidently, some moments of reflection are afoot. Let's eavesdrop to find out what's up…
Blogger [speaking to himself, soliloquy-style]: "Whatever happened to make my readers so disenchanted with my essays? Whatever, oh goodness, whatever?"
Blogger [now recalling the conversation which he had overheard taking place between a handful of his readers, and not too long ago either]
A Thought Balloon, or two, needs to be inserted here as the Blogger recalls that conversation: πŸ’­ πŸ’­ πŸ’­  
  First Reader: "On the first day we got comatose drivel—On Writing: Or Why I Write?"
  Second Reader: "On the second day, moribund trash—On Writing: Or How I Write?"
  Third Reader: "And on the third day, yet more junk—On Writing: Or, Wow I Write?"
Blogger: "Gulp. And here I am, contemplating the submission of a new essay to tack on to that series of essays, one which I'm going to call On Writing: Or Now I Write"
[Visualize this: Unbeknownst to the Blogger—as he continued to ruefully glance at his somber reflection being cast in the shimmering waters—a handful of his readers had stealthily crept up to the edge of the pond where he sat kneeling. The were listening to every word of his soliloquy...] 
First Reader: "Oh. My. God."
Second Reader: "Did you, like, hear what the Blogger just said?!"
Third Reader: "Aye, we did... So we had never got around to rallying more troops and showing up in numbers when we had contemplated getting a hold of this persnickety pest of a blogger, and teaching him a lesson." 
First Reader: "Yeah, now is our chance. Let's use the element of surprise and waylay him real good. Yeah!"
Second Reader: "Right. I mean, did you, like, follow what he [Blogger] just said?"
Third Reader: "Right, right... He plans on sending yet another trashy essay our way—the misguided soul wants to call this one On Writing: Or Now I Write, or something if I heard him right." 
First Reader: "Yeah, let's fix up this persnickety pest, shall we?"
Second Reader: "Right. Let's do it before this irascible urchin writes up even more trash."
Third Reader: "Exactically! Ahem, I mean exactly... Dude, looks like he's going for it! This blogger's got yet another garbage essay—this one called, like you said On Writing: Or Now I Write up his sleeve, if I, too, heard him right." 
First Reader: "Yeah, let's fix him up real, real good this time!"
Second Reader: "Oh yeah! Next thing you know, he'll write up something even more outlandish and call it something like On Writing: Or Kapow I Write."
Third Reader: "Oh no he won't. We'll make his next essay—should he dare to write another one—sound mournful all right, something like... On Writing: Ow Ow I Had Dared To Write." 
Blogger [still speaking to himself, soliloquy-style—goodness, it's rightly been said that ignorance is bliss]: "To be, or not to be... Whoah! What's going on here? Egads! I'm overcome by... Prose Ruffians!"
Omitting a bunch of painful happenings that ensue next: a melee 😒


A Guide To The Fun Which Lies Ahead 🏁 

I was a married senior at Harvard, and probably not a very good student as a result; my academic career peaked in my junior year. I know it sounds bizarre in today’s world and it was a little bizarre even then πŸ’‘
~ John Updike (in "Interview with John Updike" by Ian Mcewan)
We have some ground to cover here—albeit to a lesser degree than the previous three essays in this grand series—because this essay is all about the sweet joy and gestalt of writing 🌹

Pit Stops (aka Sojourns) On Our Journey 

So let's get started with a bird's eye view of the sojourns we'll hit during the upcoming excursion ⛷
  1. Rewrite Down The Bones πŸ’€
  2. Become A Chaser-of-Ideas πŸ„
  3. Ride The Unicorn Of Your Imagination 🎠
  4. Ponder On How Art Follows Life πŸŽ­
  5. Hitch Your (Writing) Wagon To A Star 🌟
  6. Sprinkle Your Writing With The Pixie Dust Of (Kaleidoscopic) Music 🎊
  7. Lose Yourself In The Immortal Quest For True Art (In Writing) 🎨
  8. Write With The Abundance Of Devotion 🌎
  9. Write With Valor: No Guts, No Glory 🐎

Receding Like The Distant Ship Smoke On The Horizon

Okay, so what you see above is the itinerary for the sojourns receding from us—excuse me there, I had meant to say—coming our way: So I wasn't joking when I noted above that we have some ground to cover; not anywhere near what we had in the past couple of essays, but substantial enough, nonetheless, to warrant your packing at least some gear for the journey ahead ⛰

Ready? Got that trusty backpack slung across your shoulder? πŸŽ’

Great, let's start our journey with that first crucial step🚢


A Pattern Language 🎲


Brief Background

Much as I had said in the last essay, having enjoyed working in the trenches of software design and development for over two decades now—and getting a kick out of it every single day still when I wake up and launch into my work—I dream in software design patterns even when I'm awake. Is that paradoxical or what? You go figure that one out; I've already got a boatload of metaphysics on my hands 😴

Yep, you knew where this is going, don't you? So we're veering into an introduction of sorts to a pattern language in which I'm going to mold what follows the intro… πŸ“

No doubt, the genesis of the notion of a pattern language, inasmuch as it applies to software design—rest assured that I'll be introducing it shortly—can be traced back to the seminal book that rocked our industry a bit over two decades ago:
Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software (Addison Wesley) by Gamma, E., R. Helm, R. Johnson, and J. Vlissides
And the way it rocked our software industry was right up there with a tsunami, albeit a benign one; a tsunami that nourished rather than demolished on whichever shores its waves crashed. In other words, it was a rising tide—albeit a massive one—that had lifted all boats unlike any other that our industry had seen before 🌊

The Pattern Language: Annotated

Here, then, is the pattern language in which I've cast each of the nine pieces that make up the bulk of this essay:
  • Heading: A short description of what any given piece is about (Precisely so, yay!) 🎯
  • My two cents' worth: My editorial "wisdom" (You back there, stop snickering. Now!) 🎀
  • Quotation: A quotation to lend texture to the discussion (We play with word-painting) 🎨
  • Picture: A picture with which to ground the narrative (This will be your ticket) 🎫
  • Poem: A poem to wrap it all up into a unified whole (Big gifts come in small packages) 🎁

Revisiting A Theme...

So I wish to talk some—though considerations of time and space forever seem to interfere with this particular goal of mine—about the utterly misguided notion that writing is somehow painful; nothing could be farther from the truth ⛵

Much as I've said elsewhere, writing is anything but about pain. It is, truth be told, far closer to everything that I could've ever imagined the state of euphoria to be; and then some 😹

If you look for one recurring theme in this essay, I sure hope it will be this one: writing is all about joy, sharing, caring, and daring. Yes, writing is also about passion. It surely is. But writing has nothing to do with pain. Nothing whatsoever! Yes, that's how strongly I feel about this subject πŸ‘Ί

With that, we're now finally ready to dive into the essay proper. Having said that—"that what follows next is the essay proper"—does not, by the same token, relegate what came earlier to a state of being improper. At least I hope not!


1. Rewrite Down The Bones πŸ’€


My two cents' worth: Yet another recurring theme pervades the writing life… If I could point to an especially pervasive theme permeating the writer's life, my finger would point in this direction: writing is all about rewriting. Think James Michener🎀
Books aren't written, they're rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it... πŸŽ¨
~ Michael Crichton 
The wastepaper basket is the writer's best friend πŸŽ¨
~ Isaac Bashevis Singer
Going to him! Happy letter! Tell him—
Tell him the page I didn’t write;
Tell him I only said the syntax,
And left the verb and the pronoun out.
Tell him just how the fingers hurried,
Then how they waded, slow, slow, slow;
And then you wished you had eyes in your pages,
So you could see what moved them so.
 
"Tell him it wasn’t a practised writer,
You guessed, from the way the sentence toiled;
You could hear the bodice tug, behind you,
As if it held but the might of a child;
You almost pitied it, you, it worked so.
Tell him—No, you may quibble there,
For it would split his heart to know it,
And then you and I were silenter.
 
"Tell him night finished before we finished,
And the old clock kept neighing 'day!'
And you got sleepy and begged to be ended—
What could it hinder so, to say?
Tell him just how she sealed you, cautious,
But if he ask where you are hid
Until to-morrow,—happy letter!
Gesture, coquette, and shake your head!"
 
~ Emily Dickinson (In "V: THE LETTER", from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson🎁


2. Become A Chaser-of-Ideas πŸ„


My two cents' worth: Be on the look out for ideas like the surfer lying in wait for the perfect wave to crest and pounce on—surfboard and all—riding it to glorious joy. You will, of course, weave a  narrative out of those ideas, crafting an essay, a memoir,  a story, or whatever you wish to. Or perhaps be like the anglers along the edge of a pond, eagerly poised with rod and reel in hand, seeing what you can fish out from what lies without, or—when so moved by the mood of contemplation—what lies within. In that there is no sin; you will hopefully fish out lots of ideas, and maybe even a fish fin πŸŽ€
What's hard, in hacking as in fiction, is not writing, it's deciding what to write πŸŽ¨
~ Neal Stephenson 
There are thousands of thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen and writes πŸŽ¨
~ William Makepeace Thackeray 
A certain man asks an eloquent teacher,
"What is true and what false?" "This is false:
a bat hides from the sun, not from the idea of the sun.
It’s the idea that puts fear in the bat and leads it
deeper into the cave. You have an idea
of an enemy that attaches you to certain companions.
 
Moses, the inner light of revelation,
lit up the top of Sinai, but the mountain
could not hold that light.
 
Don’t deceive yourself that way!
Having the idea is not living
the reality, of anything.
 
There’s no courage in the idea of battle.
The bathhouse wall is covered with pictures
and much talk of heroism. Try to make an idea move
from ear to eye. Then your woolly ears
become as subtle as fibers of light.
 
Your whole body becomes a mirror,
all eye and spiritual breathing.
Let your ear lead you to your lover."
 
~ Jelaluddin Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi—HarperCollins) πŸŽ


3. Ride The Unicorn Of Your Imagination 🎠


My two cents' worth: There is freedom within, there is freedom without, try to catch the deluge in a paper cup... Torrents of creativity within, torrents of creativity without, it's all waiting there for you. Yes, you! πŸŽ€
Most writers regard the truth as their most valuable possession, and therefore are most economical in its use πŸŽ¨
~ Mark Twain 
Only in men's imagination does every truth find an effective and undeniable existence. Imagination, not invention, is the supreme master of art as of life πŸŽ¨
~Joseph Conrad
Don’t wait till you die to see this.
Recognize that your imagination and your thinking
and your sense perception are reed canes
that children cut and pretend are horsies.
 
The knowing of mystic lovers is different.
The empirical, sensory, sciences
are like a donkey loaded with books,
or like the makeup woman’s makeup.
       It washes off.
But if you lift the baggage rightly, it will give joy.
Don’t carry your knowledge-load for some selfish reason.
Deny your desires and willfulness,
and a real mount may appear under you.
 
Don’t be satisfied with the name of HU,
with just words about it.
 
Experience that breathing.
From books and words come fantasy,
and sometimes, from fantasy comes union.
 
~ Jelaluddin Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi—HarperCollins) πŸŽ


4. Ponder On How Art Follows Life πŸŽ­


My two cents' worth: I can but speak for myself in saying—much as I've said in an earlier essay—that I cannot not write. It is not pain that compels me to write; it is joy that does. It's not breathing which leads me to write; it's the urgency to avoid suffocation that does. At the end of the day, all such considerations—whether life follow art or art follows life— may boil down to semantic hair-splitting. What matters is simply this: the world needs to see your art; please don't keep them waiting for much too long, okay? πŸŽ€
I write for the same reason I breathe—because if I didn’t, I would die πŸŽ¨
~ Isaac Asimov 
How vain it is to sit down to write if you have not stood up to live πŸŽ¨
~Henry David Thoreau
THEN a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.
And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
 
~ Kahlil Gibran (in "On Joy & Sorrow", from The Prophet🎁

5. Hitch Your (Writing) Wagon To A Star 🌟


My two cents' worth: Things which are both important and urgent always seem to get our full attention; things that are important but not urgent, on the other hand, seem to ever fall by the wayside. You have to change that because that's not how a writer lives her life. Gaze heavenward, would you please? Find the most beautiful star that gets your fancy… Hitch your wagon to that star and you'll be all good! πŸŽ€
The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true πŸŽ¨
~ John Steinbeck 
The most essential gift for a writer is a built-in, shockproof sh*t-detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have it πŸŽ¨
~ Ernest Hemingway
Each life converges to some centre
Expressed or still;
Exists in every human nature
A goal,
 
Admitted scarcely to itself,
it may be,
Too fair
For credibility’s temerity
To dare.
 
Adored with caution, as a brittle heaven,
To reach
Were hopeless as the rainbow’s raiment
To touch,
 
Yet persevered toward, surer for the distance;
How high
Unto the saints' slow diligence
The sky!
 
Ungained, it may be, by a life's low venture,
But then,
Eternity enables the endeavoring
Again.
 
~ Emily Dickinson (In "XXXV: THE GOAL", from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson🎁


6. Sprinkle Your Writing With The Pixie Dust Of (Kaleidoscopic) Music 🎊


My two cents' worth: Some are born with it, some without. If you are in the former camp, rejoice. Remember, too, that you owe it to yourself—more importantly, you owe it to the world—to share your gift of writing in all its glory. Think noblesse oblige. And should you find yourself in the latter camp (and I'm right there with you), take heart: writing is an eminently learnable skill. We are all in this together, so read on... πŸŽ€
Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself πŸŽ¨
~ Truman Capote 
At one time I thought the most important thing was talent. I think now that the young man or the young woman must possess or teach himself, training himself, in infinite patience, which is to try and to try until it comes right. He must train himself in ruthless intolerance—that is to throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love that page or that paragraph. The most important thing is insight, that is to be—curiosity—to wonder, to mull, and to muse why it is that man does what he does, and if you have that, then I don't think the talent makes much difference, whether you've got it or not πŸŽ¨
~ William Faulkner
From breakfast on through all the day
At home among my friends I stay,
 
But every night I go abroad
Afar into the land of Nod.
 
All by myself I have to go,
With none to tell me what to do—
 
All alone beside the streams
And up the mountain-sides of dreams.
 
The strangest things are there for me,
Both things to eat and things to see,
 
And many frightening sights abroad
Till morning in the land of Nod.
 
Try as I like to find the way,
I never can get back by day,
 
Nor can remember plain and clear
The curious music that I hear.
 
~ Robert Louis Stevenson (in "The Land of Nod" from A Child's Garden Of Verses (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) πŸŽ


7. Lose Yourself In The Immortal Quest For True Art (In Writing) 🎨


My two cents' worth: It all comes down to this: In your losing yourself lies your victory. Be selfless as you immerse yourself in the search for true grace. Wield the pen and put it to paper to serve others; true art is selfless, infinitely deep in compassion, and immeasurably warm in reception. My promise to you all is but this: I will write down the bones. I will weep till my tears drench the words I write, in the hope that the moisture will revive those words and make them sing. Should you find melody in what you read here, please pass it along so that others—and I know that thousands out there lead lives of quiet desperation—can also take comfort in the knowledge that if an unknown like your blogger can make prose sing, so can anyone! Yes, anyone. Once and for all, I want to obliterate the myth that writing is somehow reserved for some highfalutin writing priesthood. It simply is not. Writing is for all of us. Yes, including us commoners. For crying out loud, it's in our DNA. Don't you let anyone convince you otherwise, okay? πŸŽ€
Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth πŸŽ¨
~ Pablo Picasso 
The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its supreme purpose through him πŸŽ¨
~ Carl Jung
Mute and amazed was Alden; and listened and looked at Priscilla, 
Thinking he never had seen her more fair, more divine in her beauty.
He who but yesterday pleaded so glibly the cause of another,
Stood there embarrassed and silent, and seeking in vain for an answer.
So the maiden went on, and little divined or imagined
What was at work in his heart, that made him so awkward and speechless.
"Let us then, be what we are, and speak what we think, and in all things
Keep ourselves loyal to truth, and the sacred professions of friendship.
It is no secret I tell you, nor am I ashamed to declare it:
I have liked to be with you, to see you, to speak with you always.
So I was hurt at your words, and a little affronted to hear you
Urge me to marry your friend, though he were the Captain Miles Standish.
For I must tell you the truth: much more to me is your friendship
Than all the love he could give, were he twice the hero you think him."
Then she extended her hand, and Alden, who eagerly grasped it,
Felt all the wounds in his heart, that were aching and bleeding so sorely,
Healed by the touch of that hand, and he said, with a voice full of feeling:
"Yes, we must ever be friends; and of all who offer you friendship
Let me be ever the first, the truest, the nearest and dearest!"
 
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (in "Priscilla" from Selected Poems—Penguin Classics) πŸŽ


8. Write With The Abundance Of Devotion 🌎


My two cents' worth: Even if you forget everything else that I have said up to this point, remember this: writing is not about money; it is not about  hand; it's all about putting the abundance of your devotion to the service of your readers. Money and fame are but baubles and trinkets; Dave will never be the source of true satisfaction. Service to others is. Write prose to serve others. Of course, take joy and pride in what you do πŸŽ€
Writers get exactly the right amount of fame: just enough to get a good table in a restaurant but not enough so that people are constantly interrupting you while you’re eating dinner πŸŽ¨
~ Fran Lebowitz 
It is advantageous to an author that his book should be attacked as well as praised. Fame is a shuttlecock. If it be struck at one end of the room, it will soon fall to the ground. To keep it up, it must be struck at both ends πŸŽ¨
~ Samuel Johnson
Superfluous were the sun
When excellence is dead;
He were superfluous every day,
For every day is said
 
That syllable whose faith
Just saves it from despair,
And whose 'I'll meet you' hesitates
If love inquire, 'Where?'
 
Upon his dateless fame
Our periods may lie,
As stars that drop anonymous
From an abundant sky.
 
~ Emily Dickinson (In XXXIV, from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson🎁


9. Write With Valor: No Guts, No Glory 🐎


My two cents' worth: Insipid writing does not leap from the page because it hasn't yet been animated by the spark of your imagination. It just lies there, moribund, curled up like lethargic looms of fog in the streets of London town at midnight. But that will not be your writing. You will write fearlessly; there is none to stop you. Should anyone demur, would you politely inform them that they will have to go through me? Yes, they will have to go through your blogger. Thank you πŸŽ€
It's better to write about things you feel than about things you know about πŸŽ¨
~ L. P. Hartley 
If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn't matter a damn how you write πŸŽ¨
~ Somerset Maugham
Humble living does not diminish. It fills.
Going back to a simpler self gives wisdom.
When a man makes up a story for his child,
he becomes a father and a child
together, listening.

~ Jelaluddin Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi—HarperCollins) 
🎁


Epilogue 🎈


A Collage Reappears

As I was writing this essay, I shared an early draft with a dear friend (my brother, in fact) who pointed out something intriguing: In his beautifully wrought description (and he was referring to the picture of the collage which had appeared in the previous essay), he said in part that, "...it [the collage] recognizes the deep intellectual heritage that any piece of writing has...". 

By the way, I touched up that collage with some admittedly jaundiced arrows—as it appears above—to better bring out the interconnectedness of it all: how all that we read and write today is linked to all that we've read and written before. Now is that tenderness or is that nostalgia or is that... πŸ’‹
 
And yes, I found myself in full agreement with my brother's assessment: everything that I know, and will ever come to know, will—much as it already has—lean on someone else's work that came before. It surely has; it surely will, just as surely as the day follows the night.

It's Only Together That We Can Make It Happen!

As a matter of fact, I lean on you, my reader, to keep me educated and informed. So you all, don't you be shy. Please allow yourself to feel emboldened in sharing your thoughts via the comments which you will (surely) be posting here, and elsewhere, on other essays which have appeared previously in this blog (Programming Digressions) πŸŽƒ

I Grab My Copy Of The New John McPhee Book

Oh, to complete the thought above—recognizing the deep intellectual heritage that any piece of writing has—my brother pointed me in the direction of the new John McPhee book entitled Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process. There appears in McPhee's Draft No. 4 a marvelous illustration of "Xs and Os", he pointed out, which is symbolism-writ-large of the structural aspects of the writing process.

So I grabbed my own copy of McPhee's Draft No. 4—I started reading it fairly recently, along with Isaacson's big new biography of Leonardo da Vinci—and sure enough, there it was: the deliciously congruent vivification of the structural aspects of the writing process, those naughty "Xs and Os" πŸ˜™

A Parting Thought...

The only other thing I wish to add is this: When it comes to advice on writing style, or the writing process in general, most all the writing that I do—notwithstanding Professor Trimble's inimitable book on the subject as my trusty guide—and in fact most all the writing that I've done to date, I just "wing it" πŸƒ

Yep, I've been totally winging it: Obviously, the results—the essays that you read here—speak for themselves, wingdings and all πŸ˜‰




Sunday, November 12, 2017

On Writing: Or Wow, I Write

A Chimera,
Is merely that; it's chimerical.
A leap of faith,
Is much more; it's a miracle.
Friends, please don't look at me askance—
Lean on my poetry, and may your words dance;
May they be lovely ritornellos that prance—
May they. Always.
I will hold your hands as you sing,
I'll sing your words with you;
Always
~ Akram Ahmad (Free—as in "uncaged"—verses by a writer, blogger, software craftsman, son, husband, father, brother, and friend)

The Quotes πŸ’ž

Worlds are turning and we're just hanging on
Facing our fear and standing out there alone
A yearning, and it's real to me
There must be someone who's feeling for me
Things look so bad everywhere
In this whole world, what is fair?
We walk blind and we try to see
Falling behind in what could be πŸƒ
~ Steve Winwood (Lyrics from Higher Love
The measure of artistic merit is the length to which a writer is willing to go in following his own compulsions πŸ„
~ John Updike 
I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories 🐹
~ Sarah McLachlan (Lyrics from I Will Remember You
It is personalities, not principles, that move the age πŸ‘°
~ Oscar Wilde 
Not all those who wander are lost πŸ₯
~ J. R. R. Tolkien (from the poem "All that is gold does not glitter" in The Lord of the Rings)


Preamble 🎈

How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?
~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (in the words of the enduring sleuth, Sherlock Holmes)
As we near yet another scene, an animated dialog is taking place—between the readers of this blog—and we think twice about whether we ought to join the fray. We finally decide, gulp, to dive right into the fray 🏊
First Reader: "Let me see if I got this right: This unrepentant blogger is back today with a third essay in this series?!"
Second Reader: "Looks like it."
Blogger [eavesdropping on the conversation]: "This sounds good. I sure like engaged readers, nothing like having legions of engaged readers now. Hmm... Their use of the adjective 'unrepentant', though, didn't quite sound all that complementary, come to think of it." 
First Reader: "Oh. My. God."
Second Reader: "I can't believe it. Doe he actually think that anyone is going to read a third essay when we were already done with his drivel, having barfed after several vain attempts to stomach his very first essay in the series. As for his second essay, oh well, it had sent some of us to the loo in fits of incontinence."
Blogger: "Hmm... This isn't sounding complementary at all. I wonder what gives?" 
First Reader: "Yo, stop—too much information there, that talk of incontinence and all, you know!"
Second Reader: "Oops, sorry."
Blogger: "Surely they can't be talking there about the gems that are my essays, now could they. Could they?" 
First Reader: "But you know what I'm saying, don't you?"
Second Reader: "I do."
Third Reader [joining the first two readers]: "All that this belligerent blogger's got is a boatload of bravado and banality"
Blogger: "Gulp!" 
Chorus of Readers, sans Blogger: "Ho, ho, ho. These are the days of fixing-up the (Programming Digressions) blog—aye, and the blogger, too—for they surely are. Ho, ho, ho." 
First Reader: "On the first day we got comatose drivel—On Writing: Or Why I Write?"
Second Reader: "On the second day, moribund trash—On Writing: Or How I Write?"
Third Reader: "And on the third day, yet more junk—On Writing: Or, Wow I Write?"
Blogger: "Double gulp!" 
First Reader: "Oh. My. God."
Second Reader: "Where is that blogger? Let's find him and teach him a lesson, shall we?"
Third Reader: "Let's do it. But first, why don't we rally more troops and show up in numbers when we get a hold of the persnickety pest of a blogger ?"
Blogger: "Triple gulp!" 
First Reader: "Yeah."
Second Reader: "Oh yeah, for sure."
Third Reader: "Let's be done with the tarred banality this blogger keeps sending our way, once and for all—let's do it."
Blogger: "I'm outta here!"
Oh well. Meanwhile, we get to hear other talk, this time actually a plaintive plea—for a pattern language—coming to you courtesy of a (somewhat) penitent purveyor of ideas: your blogger πŸ„


A Guide To The Fun We'll Be Having 🎑


We have some ground to cover here—albeit to a lesser degree than the previous two essays in this grand series—because this essay is all about the joy and gestalt of writing. So let's get started with a bird's eye view of the sojourns we'll hit during the upcoming excursion ⛷
  1. The Writer Is Never For Sale πŸ’°
  2. The Cage Must Be Unlocked πŸ“¦
  3. Why Does A Writer Work So Hard? πŸš‚
  4. Who Stops You From Dreaming? 😴
  5. What Havoc Could Writing Wreak? πŸ‘°
  6. The Writer Should Be Like A Child πŸ‘§
  7. Write For Those Who Love Books πŸ“–
  8. Beware The Myths That Surround The Writer πŸ‰
  9. Knead And Mold The Clay Of Words πŸ‘£
So I wasn't joking when I had noted above that we have some ground to cover; not a whole lot, but substantial enough to warrant your packing some gear for the journey ⛺

Ready? Great! Let's jump right into the excursion.


A Pattern Language 🎲


Brief Background

Having enjoyed working in the trenches of software design and development for over two decades now—and getting a kick out of it every day I wake up and go to work—I dream in software design patterns even when I'm awake, paradoxically enough. Go figure 😴

Yep, you knew where this is going: an introduction of sorts to a pattern language in which I'm going to mold what follows. No doubt, the genesis of the notion of a pattern language inasmuch as it applies to software design—rest assured that I'll be introducing it shortly—can be traced back to the seminal book that rocked our industry a bit over two decades ago:
Design Patterns: Elements of ReuBut upsable Object-Oriented Software (Addison Wesley) by Gamma, E., R. Helm, R. Johnson, and J. Vlissides
And the way it rocked our software industry was right up there with a tsunami, albeit a benign one; a tsunami that nourished rather than demolished on whichever shores its waves crashed. In other words, it was a tide—albeit a massive one—that lifted all boats unlike any other that our industry had seen before 🌊

Inspiration

As to what I offer to you today, should you wish to take it, my inspiration comes from another source. It's the one I cite below. In particular, my inspiration for marshaling a pattern language comes from a discussion of the aforementioned book (i.e. Design Patterns) in the pages of the gem that I now cite:
Plato and the Nerd: The Creative Partnership of Humans and Technology (The MIT Press) by Edward Ashford Lee
I hope you'll enjoy the feast that I've prepared for you. I welcome you to carve—nay, dissect—the "pieces" of the feast (it's not a pie, after all) along the lines of the pattern language that follows πŸŽƒ

The Pattern Language: Annotated

Here, then, is the pattern language in which I've cast each of the nine pieces that make up the bulk of this essay:
  • Heading: A short description of what any given piece is about (Precisely so, yay!) 🎯
  • My two cents' worth: My editorial "wisdom" (You back there, stop snickering. Now!) 🎀
  • Quotation: A quotation to lend texture to the discussion (Playing with word-painting) 🎨
  • Picture: A picture with which to ground the narrative (This will be your ticket) 🎫
  • Poem: A poem to wrap it up into a unified whole (Big gifts come in small packages) 🎁

I Had Also Wished To...

I had wished, too, to talk some—though considerations of time and space interfere with that at the moment—about the misguided myth that writing is somehow painful; nothing could be farther from the truth ⛵

Writing is anything but about pain. It is, truth be told, far closer to everything that I could've ever imagined the state of euphoria to be; and then some πŸ”

Somehow, much to my chagrin, that myth about writing endures. On top of that, I may have unwittingly contributed to that myth—though hopefully in only the teensiest way. I feel strongly about how utterly misguided the notion is that writing is somehow about pain. It decidedly is not. And to the extent that I haplessly contributed to that myth, I'm that much livid with myself 😑

Indeed, as has been memorably noted by the great Persian poet Omar KhayyΓ‘m in his RubΓ‘iyΓ‘t
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
My hope with this essay is that it'll go some way toward bringing the pristine, untarnished—and unvarnished—truth about the gestalt of writing out into the light of the sun for it to gleam in 🌝

Just the other day, in fact, Mom was telling me that it's interesting how—during Omar Kyayyam's lifetime—he was better known as an astronomer and a mathematician. What a genius!

By the way, as Mom also pointed out to me, the RubÑiyÑt quatrain that I've quoted above is one which she (correctly) recognized as being from the Edward FitzGerald translation 🎯

But I digress 🚢

Hey, you should give your blogger at least one digression in any given essay. You do? Yay!

What I'm Really Talking About

What I'm referring to above—in ruefully noting how I might have unwittingly contributed to the silly mystique that writing is a painful process—is my having quoted (groan, on several occasions) the following stark observation by George Orwell:
Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one's own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane πŸ’ 
~ George Orwell, from "Why I Write" (in England Your England and Other Essays)
Whenever I have quoted Orwell, as I did above, my only goal has been—nothing less and nothing more—to make the more vivid for you how I find myself resonating with the theme that the art of writing is all passion. It's about your inner writer (much as she inheres in you) urging you to let her breathe and thereby live through your act of writing 🐬

Please don't snuff out a life πŸ’‘

Promise me you won't? πŸ™

Extenuating Circumstances?

I suppose that the one extenuating circumstance that comes to mind is when I had—in quoting Orwell an umpteenth time in my essays—added an accompanying note (such as the following one from an earlier essay), reflecting on how 😹
...I find myself resonating with this quote from George Orwell, though with nowhere near the acuteness which Orwell surely must have experienced when he divulged in "Why I Write" (England Your England and Other Essays)
All I was trying to do there (via the fateful quotation above) was simply this: Underscore the elemental role of passion in writing. Waah, what did I end up doing? 😭

Look—once and for all, plain and simple—the art of writing is all about joy, compassion, and passion. Above all, writing is about being of service to others. If anyone tells me that writing is about money or something like that, I'm going to clobber them over the head ⚓

Hey, hey, hey! Not to worry, though! I rattled off the "clobbering" image above metaphorically only—this is for all my literal-minded readers out there—to underscore how strongly I feel about this subject. Again, all that I said above (about "clobbering" and all) was in jest. Look, I'm decidedly pacifist, okay? All good? πŸ˜‡


Interlude 🎬


What Colors My Writing. Evermore.

Having introduced a pattern language—with which to decipher and decode the pieces of writing gestalt that'll follow shortly—allow me to remind you of the real source of my inspiration that colors much of everything I do nowadays as a writer. Even more fundamentally, that source of inspiration informs just about everything I do nowadays as your fellow denizen of planet Earth 🎨

I think you know what I'm talking about, don't you? Yes, I thought you did, thank you πŸ™‡

As has been said, and very rightly so, that "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance", it is equally true that "the price of finding your spark is eternal writing"; writing down the bones, if you will πŸ’€

And Then The Words Ran Free

A confession first: My words have run free; at times I find myself drowning in the primordial ooze of creativity; imagine if you will how one simply has to rise to the surface ever so often lest one drown in the wondrous gifts with which creativity drenches—nay, inundates—the one who has found her muse πŸ‘‘

Mind you, all that I said above, I said so unabashedly. At the same time, paradoxically enough, I ask of you to forgive me for some of the things that I say for some of the things that I find myself saying nowadays. Speaking of which, much of what I just said might not have made sense to you; some of it still doesn't make sense to me πŸ™Š

What I've trying to do in this "Interlude" is, to the best of my abilities—and hopefully with a modicum of success—to share something of the real source of inspiration that fuels me as a writer ⛽

I suppose—and there's truth to the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words—I wish now to complement the "word-painting" above with some good old "picture-painting 🎨

How does that grab you? All good?

Great! Let's go πŸš•

A Tribute Of Sorts

So what I've next got for you is a tribute of sorts to the epicenter of my source of inspiration: It started out with the idea to arrange a bunch of books in a circle on the carpet in my living room—with the inspirational epicenter square center of course—and take a picture of the tangible collage that I was going to prepare ⛲

I carried out the plan above. So where are the results? That's next πŸ“£

The picture, which I snapped with my iPhone earlier this morning, is what you'll see below πŸ“·

What you're about to witness through the picture below can be thought of as just that, a mere picture; one writer's imagining of an embryonic collage, albeit one in gestation. Look, however you wish to look at it, I would like for you to please keep in your mind's eye the idea of how the sun lies at the center of our solar system. Our digs, our solar system you know, complete with nine planets, including ours—planet Earth—circling around their source of energy (the sun) as they hurtle through space at enormous velocities 🌍

Now, as for the verses of rhyme that spontaneously came to my mind somewhere during a flash in the past 24 hours—which I later thought would nicely accompany the collage below—I somehow managed to scribble those verses down, yay! As they say, and dare I say it's a Chinese proverb, that the faintest of inks is stronger than the strongest of memories πŸ’ͺ

You'll find those verses of rhyme on the other side of the collage below 🚧
At the center of my universe I see something lie,
Defying mortality, it will never, ever die; 
Written and fueled in equal parts by intellect and heart,
It dwells in my mind from where it surely will never depart; 
Remember, as mortals, it's for us to live and die,
I embrace that truth, it's not for us to heave and sigh; 
Take ashes away in a hearse or a cart or whatever plays the part,
All I know are the souls by my side, who around in my vision dart; 
Poetic justice knows neither death nor will it on anyone impose,
It remains at peace: calm and unruffled in its beatific repose.
 
~ Akram Ahmad (Rhymed verses by a writer, blogger, software craftsman, son, husband, father, brother, and friend)

At The Epicenter Was...

And there you have star at the epicenter of my constellation—my super-special books of all time πŸ“• πŸ“˜ πŸ“— πŸ“™

My verses are obviously ground zero, both literally and metaphorically. Why did I say that? Here's why: I used the word "metaphorically" because of the symbolism of the epicenter of a phenomenon and I used the word "literally" because of what I'm going to share next—writing greatness, the phenomenal Emily Dickinson whose poetry is light years more elevated than anything I could ever write in just as many light years. Note, too, some hints of the undercurrents of the Dickinson poem that follows; there's more than a dash of how these verses of rhyme touch upon the centrality—think epicenter—of one's object of attention, of one's devotion. Thus it was that Dickinson had a story to tell of how
The soul selects her own society,
Then shuts the door;
On her divine majority
Obtrude no more. 
Unmoved, she notes the chariot’s pausing
At her low gate;
Unmoved, an emperor is kneeling
Upon her mat. 
I’ve known her from an ample nation
Choose one;
Then close the valves of her attention
Like stone.
 
~ Emily Dickinson (In XIII: EXCLUSION, from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson)
Now is that writing greatness or is that writing greatness?

With our brief foray into inspiration, writing, and writing greatness, we're now ready to finally dive into the essay proper. Having said that what follows next is the essay proper does not, by the same token, relegate what came earlier to a state of being improper. At least I hope not!


1. The Writer Is Never For Sale πŸ’°


My two cents' worth: Through her writings, a writer sticks her neck out, knowing full well that her neck may well get wrung. But she is brave; she has to be bold. I hope that suffices to demonstrate the writer is never for sale. Ever 🎀
The writer's genetic inheritance and her or his experiences shape the writer into a unique individual, and it is this uniqueness that is the writer's only stuff for sale 🎨
~ James Gunn
Perhaps you’d like to buy a flower?
But I could never sell.
If you would like to borrow
Until the daffodil
 
Unties her yellow bonnet
Beneath the village door,
Until the bees, from clover rows
Their hock and sherry draw,
 
Why, I will lend until just then,
But not an hour more!
 
~ Emily Dickinson (In "Poem IV", from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson) 🎁

2. The Cage Must Be Unlocked πŸ“¦


My two cents' worth: The writer's personal experience—is there even such a thing as an "impersonal" experience?—cannot be discounted; it simply cannot. Experience, when shared the way it ought to be—provided that justice has been done to its delivery—is way too elemental a force to remain stoppable or be prevented from going viral 🎀
I have a theory of my own about what the art of the novel is, and how it came into being... It happens because the storyteller's own experience...has moved him to an emotion so passionate that he can no longer keep it shut up in his heart πŸŽ¨
~ Lady Murasaki
Lo! o‘er the city a tempest rose; and the bolts of the thunder
Smote the statue of bronze, and hurled in wrath from its left hand
Down on the pavement below the clattering scales of the balance,
And in the hollow thereof was found the nest of a magpie,
Into whose clay-built walls the necklace of pearls was inwoven.
Silenced, but not convinced, when the story was ended, the blacksmith
Stood like a man who fain would speak, but findeth no language;
All his thoughts were congealed into lines on his face, as the vapors
Freeze in fantastic shapes on the window-panes in the winter.
 
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Selected Poems—Penguin Classics) 🎁

3. Why Does A Writer Work So Hard? πŸš‚


My two cents' worth: The writer works this hard for the same reasons that parents give of themselves so freely—utterly—to their children 🎀
Writing isn't generally a lucrative source of income; only a few, exceptional writers reach the income levels associated with the best-sellers. Rather, most of us write because we can make a modest living, or even supplement our day jobs, doing something about which we feel passionately. Even at the worst of times, when nothing goes right, when the prose is clumsy and the ideas feel stale, at least we're doing something that we genuinely love. There's no other reason to work this hard, except that love πŸŽ¨
~ Melissa Scott
The writer of this legend then records
Its ghostly application in these words:
The image is the Adversary old,
Whose beckoning finger points to realms of gold,
Our lusts and passions are the downward stair
That leads the soul from a diviner air;
The archer, Death; the flaming jewel, Life;
Terrestrial goods, the goblet and the knife;
The knights and ladies, all whose flesh and bone
By avarice have been hardened into stone;
The clerk, the scholar whom the love of pelf
Tempts from his books and from his nobler self.
 
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Selected Poems—Penguin Classics) 🎁

4. Who Stops You From Dreaming?  😴


My two cents' worth: By way of a one-word answer—nobody. Nobody in the world but you has the right to decide your dreams for you. Nobody but you. Listen to your loved ones as you absolutely should; they care for you, they truly do. Listen, too, to your friends; they often mean well. But when it comes time to calling the shots on what you'll dream of, it's all on one individual: you 🎀
Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not πŸŽ¨
~ George Bernard Shaw
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you"—here I opened wide the door;—
Darkness there, and nothing more.
 
Deep into the darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore!"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word "Lenore!"
Merely this, and nothing more.
 
~ Edgar Allan Poe (The Raven) 🎁

5. What Havoc Could Writing Wreak?  πŸ‘°


My two cents' worth: Before you take the plunge into writing—and I encourage you to dive feet first into the waters of writing—do remember that only good things can happen. Enough said 🎀
Reading and weeping opens the door to one's heart, but writing and weeping opens the window to one's soul πŸŽ¨
~ M. K. Simmons
Soul, wilt thou toss again?
By just such a hazard
Hundreds have lost, indeed,
But tens have won an all.
 
Angels’ breathless ballot
Lingers to record thee;
Imps in eager caucus
Raffle for my soul.
 
~ Emily Dickinson (In "III: ROUGE ET NOIR", from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson) 🎁

6. The Writer Should Be Like A Child πŸ‘§


My two cents' worth: If you wish to attain writing goodness, emulate the masters of writing; should you aspire to writing greatness, emulate children in what they do. On a regular basis. Every single day. No exceptions 🎀
I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten—happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another πŸŽ¨
~ Brenda Ueland
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea:
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
I and my ANNABEL LEE—
With a love that the winged seraphs of Heaven
Coveted her and me. 
~ Edgar Allan Poe (Annabel Lee) 🎁

7. Write For Those Who Love Books πŸ“–


My two cents' worth: Write for yourself, and of course for those who love to read. Nothing less, nothing more, and you'll come out ahead 🎀
Children read books, not reviews. They don't give a hoot about critics πŸŽ¨
~ Isaac Bashevis Singer
At evening when the lamp is lit,
Around the fire my parents sit;
 
They sit at home and talk and sing,
And do not play at anything.
 
Now, with my little gun, I crawl
All in the dark along the wall,
 
And follow round the forest track
Away behind the sofa back.
 
There, in the night, where none can spy,
All in my hunter's camp I lie,
 
And play at books that I have read
Till it is time to go to bed.
 
These are the hills, these are the woods,
These are my starry solitudes;
 
And there the river by whose brink
The roaring lions come to drink.
 
I see the others far away
As if in fire-lit camp they lay,
 
And I, like to an Indian scout,
Around their party prowled about.
 
So, when my nurse comes in for me,
Home I return across the sea,
 
And go to bed with backward looks
At my dear land of Story-books.
 
~ Robert Louis Stevenson (in "The Land of Story-books", from A Child's Garden Of Verses — Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) 🎁

8. Beware The Myths That Surround The Writer πŸ‰


My two cents' worth: Here be dragons. Slay them or learn to live with your demons, at your own peril of course 🎀
Beware of self-indulgence. The romance surrounding the writing profession carries several myths: that one must suffer in order to be creative; that one must be cantankerous and objectionable in order to be bright; that ego is paramount over skill; that one an rise to a level from which one can tell the reader to go to hell. These myths, if believed, can ruin you. If you believe you can make a living as a writer, you already have enough ego πŸŽ¨
~ David Brin (and not Sergey Brin)
Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
And he had reasons.
 
Miniver loved the days of old
When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
Would set him dancing.
Miniver sighed for what was not,
And dreamed, and rested from his labors;
He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
And Priam’s neighbors.
 
Miniver mourned the ripe renown
That made so many a name so fragrant;
He mourned Romance, now on the town,
And Art, a vagrant.
 
~ Edwin Arlington Robinson (Miniver Cheevy) 🎁

9. Knead And Mold The Clay Of Words πŸ‘£


My two cents' worth: Go out of your way to find out how Emily Dickinson writes. Your clay, the raw material with which you work—the words with which you paint your prose and poetry—may well get transmuted into birds that take flight, transfigured birds that soar heavenward 🎀
Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of a void, but out of chaos; the materials must in the first place be afforded; it can give form to dark, shapeless substances, but cannot bring into being the substance itself πŸŽ¨
~ Mary Shelley
Of all the souls that stand create
I have elected one
When sense from spirit files away,
And subterfuge is done;
 
When that which is and that which was
Apart, intrinsic, stand,
And this brief tragedy of flesh
Is shifted like a sand;
 
When figures show their royal front
And mists are carved away,—
Behold the atom I preferred
To all the lists of clay!
 
~ Emily Dickinson (In "Poem I: CHOICE", from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson) 🎁
 







Sunday, November 5, 2017

On Writing: Or How I Write


The Quotes πŸ„

My method is to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost levity πŸ‘»
~ George Bernard Shaw 
Ed Hobbs: You've got a gift, Roy... But it's not enough—you've got to develop yourself. If you rely too much on your own gift... Then... You'll fail
~The Natural (a movie starring Robert Redford) 
Oh—once in your life you find someone,
Who will turn your world around,
Bring you up when you're feelin' down
πŸ’
~ Bryan Adams (Lyrics from Heaven
I do everything in my power to make my writing not look like writing πŸ‘
~ Elmore Leonard, in David Geherin, Elmore Leonard (New York: Continuum, 1989), p 310

Preamble πŸ™Œ

I'll be back πŸ‘Š
~Terminator (the classic Arnold Schwarzenegger movie from which comes the immortal catchphrase above, one that will forever remain associated with Ahnold)
As we near the scene, a feisty dialog is taking place—between the blogger and his "esteemed" readers—and we think twice about what to do about what's going on. We finally decide, gulp, to jump right into the fray ⛏
  • Reader: "Oh. My. God."
  • Reader: "He. Is. Back."
  • Reader: "He's actually doing it: We thought Akram was only joking when he had said in the previous essay—yeah, you know the one, that trashy, obtuse, blithering mess of an essay called "On Writing: Or Why I Write"—that he would be back with a follow-up essay. He was blabbering and prophesying then that it would be called "On Writing: Or How I Write", or something like that πŸ™‰
  • Reader: "My, Oh My. Where does he get these outlandish ideas, if someone could only tell me that."
  • Reader: "Guess what? Looks like he's got another blithering piece here that is, eerily enough—someone pinch me if this is a nightmare—called On Writing: Or How I Write"... Insert a primal scream here 😱
  • Reader: "Oh. My. God."
  • Reader: "Some people just never learn, do they ever? I mean, despite all the feedback we gave him to cease and desist from further pontifications, Akram has the gall to return with yet another essay. Please put us out of our misery, and do it quickly!" πŸ™ˆ
  • Reader: "That Akram guy sure can be a fast one; keep an eye on him before he gets it into his head to, heaven-forbid, terrify us by sending even bleaker essays our way. I mean, if you look at his pic here on the blog—you know, the one right above the gibberish where he says something like 'Hi there! I'm a Senior Software Developer...' or something—you would think that he's the decent sort of person πŸ˜‡  Only now we know better."
  • Reader: "My, oh my! Looks sure can be deceiving: I mean, how can anyone be trusted when they don't hold back from writing back-to-back pieces of trash, his so-called 'essays' which are really thinly-disguised foolish talk that's been dressed up as highfalutin advice on writing. Worst of all, he's not even qualified to do any of this prattling; we have always known, after all, that doling out advice such as that is reserved for genteel critics, not riff raff like this blogger."
  • Reader: "And yet, here he is, barging into territory that's none of his business. Look, it's plain and simple: He ain't got no credentials—I mean, for crying out loud, does he teach writing or something at one of those fabled, online, phoenix-like universities?" πŸŒ€
  • Reader: "Sigh."
  • Reader: "Get us through this, and please do it quick! Taking a deep breath before I dive 🐳  Counting to 100 now: 1, 2, 3, ... Someone? Anyone?" πŸ‘€
  • Blogger: "And I says to you all—Whoah, gentle readers that thou all surely art, lend me thine ears, and your credit cards, too, should you wish, though the latter is not strictly required πŸ’³  Just kidding, just kidding; sometimes it's hard to resist a sophomoric joke or two."
  • Blogger: "Ah, the irresistible pull of humor; imagining stuff like what happens when an irresistible force encounters an immovable object, and stuff like that. Cool, cool, eh 😎 "
  • Blogger: "Please listen to my plaintive diatribe—forgiving me my discursive style for a few moments—and I'll prove that I offer something of value πŸ˜‰  Obviously, your time is far more precious than mine—otherwise you would have done the writing part, and I would be doing the reading—plus you have my word that I'll treat your precious time with utmost respect; as for you credit cards, should you choose to lend them to me—in addition to your delicate ears—then all bets are off" πŸ’Έ
  • Blogger: "Do please listen to me for just a bit, and everything will be clear like mud. Oops, what I meant to say there was that everything will be oh-so-clear like the light of day in which we all can bask" 🌞
  • Blogger: "And yes, never again will the need arise to have talk of getting these essays hauled out of your sight. You know, towed away at the owner's expense, too; like, mine!" πŸš—
  • Blogger: "If those questions and thoughts—or a variant thereof—are swirling around in your dusty cranium, I mean in the lovely antechamber of your magnificent mind, let me assure you that those very questions and thoughts would've arisen in my mind had I considered writing this (follow up) essay even as recently as a year ago" ⏰
  • Blogger: "But that was then, and this is now. Today, I'm not so sure where I stand on the matter of whether anyone should listen to my writing advice" πŸ˜•

How I Write: Advice From Your Resident Impresario πŸ™Š


Let's put some things on the table before we read another word:

So as I sat down to write this up, I did not consult any resources—online, or in book form, or otherwise—to see what advice others had given on the subject of writing. My primary motivation for not consulting any resources was simple: to share my take on how to write, not anyone else's. In other words, the advice you'll find here consists of themes that have soaked into the cranium of yours truly over the years. Needless to say, those themes all originated somewhere. I definitely did not discover them; like everyone else, I soaked them up over the years from a variety of resources.

In yet other words, I will try to fish out—that is, out of the writer's swamp that is my cranium—the major strategies I use when going about the craft of writing.

As you read the advice that follows, you're bound to notice that a lot of the "how" of writing has to do with cultivating the writer's mindset. Sure, there are those rarest-of-rare individuals out there who are just born with the writer's mindset; I don't deny that, and in fact will have more to say on that exactly that in a bit. But the fact is that most of the rest of us have to cultivate the writer's mindset—that's where the "how" of writing comes in.

My hope in sharing this advice is that it'll help you along your journey as a writer; I was helped by many along the way. Now it's my turn to return the favor.

We have quite a bit of ground to cover as we start exploring a bunch of writing strategies to. Let's get started with a bird's eye view of those strategies ⛷
  1. Listen To Yourself 😽
  2. Don't Listen To Yourself πŸ™‰
  3. Intend For Others πŸ™‹
  4. Extend Yourself πŸƒ
  5. Write For Yourself 🎧
  6. Write For The World 🌝
  7. Get To Know Yourself 🌱
  8. Read A Lot To Write Well πŸ“¬
  9. Diversify πŸ™
  10. Commit Professor Trimble's Book To Memory πŸŽ“
  11. Read Anything By Philip Bromberg 🎭
  12. Fall In Love With The Allure Of Words πŸ’
  13. Seek Physicality In What You Write πŸ‰
  14. Invest In A Bookshelf πŸ“– Or Two πŸ“– πŸ“– Or Three πŸ“– πŸ“– πŸ“– 
  15. Invest In A Good Dictionary πŸ’°
  16. Invest In A Few Great Books On Writing πŸ“•
  17. Read With A Highlighter In Hand πŸ“
  18. Revise What You Write 🐚
  19. Become Your Own Editor πŸ’ͺ
  20. Collect Idioms πŸ“¦
  21. First Learn All The Rules Of Writing You Can πŸŽͺ
  22. Then Write Unencumbered By Rules πŸ„
  23. Get To Know Your Left Brain πŸ‘“
  24. Get To Know Your Right Brain 🎻
  25. Do Not Rush Your Writing πŸš…
  26. Learn About The Act Of Creation πŸŒ‹
  27. Recognize The Limitations Of Digital Media πŸ“Ί
  28. Believe In Yourself 😚
  29. Believe In The Goodness Of Mankind πŸ™Œ
  30. Listen To Mark Knopfler Songs 🎸
  31. Never Give Up On Your Search πŸ”­
So I wasn't joking when I said earlier that we have a lot ground to cover. Let's jump right into the advice, shall we?


1. Listen To Yourself πŸ˜½

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.
~ Plato (428 BC – 348 BC)
Courage is as often the outcome of despair as of hope; in the one case we have nothing to lose, in the other, everything to gain.
~ Diane de Pointiers (1499 – 1566)
First and foremost, start cultivating the belief that you have something to offer to the world. You have the perfect right to ask, Why should I believe you? I'm glad you asked, because the answer is simplicity itself: I know that you have something to offer to the world. The simple fact that you're a human is plenty right there to convince me that you've been endowed with what it takes to offer something to the world ⛩

Remember, you will want to truly believe the same, at least to the same degree that I believe in you: Yes, it's never too early—or too late—to start cultivating a rock-solid belief in the trueness of what you're writing; after all, your writing is what you'll be offering to the world.

No doubt there's some work to be done to get there; all of us have to pay our dues. So what do you need to do to get there? It is simply this: Through your proverbial "blood, sweat, and tears", elevate your writing to its zenith; climb your own Pantheon πŸ—»

Writing is not about making money; if it were, that's news at least to your blogger. Writing is about passion; it's all about busting your guts in the telling of the stories that you have to tell πŸ‘½

But what if we want to write about basket-weaving? Um, uh, so let's see πŸ’€

So I may not be much help in that area, fine and noble though such endeavors may well be, but let's look at it this way: Why don't we find a topic that you're passionate about, and then we take it from there? Yes, yes? πŸ’₯

Great. I'm glad you asked. The rest of this essay is about exactly that, plus a bunch of related themes to help you grow as a writer. Read on.


2. Don't Listen To Yourself πŸ™‰

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.
~ F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Crack-Up
The difference between school and life? In school, you're taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you're given a test that teaches you a lesson.
~ Tom Bodett (1955 - )
"Okay, so this blogger guy Akram is plain nuts 🌰 🌰 🌰 🌰  I mean, for crying out loud: First he tells us to listen to ourselves, as in the previous advice. Then he turns right around and tells us to not listen to ourselves.

Come on, are you like that two-faced Janus or something? You know, one of those weirdo characters that we had to get ourselves acquainted with and suffer through—along with all those other, equally bizarre characters that plagued us—back when we took our ill-starred mythology class? I mean, "Make up your mind, for crying out loud, 'cuz I got way better things to do with my time than watch this Janus-like soap opera!" πŸ“Ί

Whoah, wait up, dear Reader. Wait up! I mean, hold your horses 🐎

I beg of you to imagine how Charles Dickens—now he sure was a dickens of a writer—would have fared had he been pelted with a question like the following one from a potential publisher on first submitting his historical novel A Tale of Two Cities:
  • Publisher: "Mr. Dickens, you really should make up your mind. Now was it the best of times or was it the worst of times? Surely it couldn't have been both." 😾
  • Charles Dickens: "Excuse me. Yo, what did you just say?" 😼
See, I told you so; there is a method to my madness. What I did above—I might as well spill the beans now—was to appeal to your finer sensibilities by hauling writing greatness into the fray: Mr. Dickens himself, yes, the dickens of a writer that he was. Look, if Dickens can speak of two seemingly opposite ideas in the same breath—kind of like how the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that SchrΓΆdinger's cat can be simultaneously alive and dead—then surely a lesser writer like your blogger can do the same. 🐱 Can I, please? Pretty please—with sugar on top—just this one time? 🍯

Now if only Dickens could've stopped short of bringing weirdos like Miss Havisham into the mix of his novel. Oh well, let's put this all in perspective: other artists have committed far worst atrocities when they got carried away. I mean, wasn't there the famous artist—that Van Gogh dude, methinks—who cut off his own ear? πŸ‘‚ ✂

Oh. My. God.

One piece of advice: Don't do anything even remotely like that, please don't!

Again, may I suggest that you all, you aspiring writers, maintain lifestyles that are, um, slightly more staid—in the beginning at least—and stay away from bizarre stuff like that. Once you're rich and famous, of course, all bets are off πŸ‘»

So you see, my essays—loony though they may appear on first blush—aren't that  loony after all, especially when compared with what you read above; what I proposed, come to think of it, is what I would like to think of as falling within the rubric of "dialectic wisdom", and that, too in the realm of "dialectic wisdom"—well, I grant you that it's not that much of a dazzling display of dialectic brilliance, but still...

Come on, you've got to give your blogger a break sometimes, guys and gals πŸ‘

Just sayin', just sayin' πŸ˜—


3. Intend For Others πŸ™‹

The only way to avoid being miserable is not to have enough leisure to wonder whether you are happy or not.
~ George Bernard Shaw
Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.
~David Hume (1711 – 1776)
But how, you may well be wondering, could one ever intend for others when—with our ever-attendant and all-too-human foibles—we more often than not have trouble intending things for ourselves, let alone intending for others πŸ™ˆ

I mean, aren't we turning solipsism on its head here? Would we not be thereby turning the micro-cosmic into the macro-cosmic? Are we perhaps blazing anew the path shown to us by the legendary physicist Richard Feynman when he enlightened the world on the eerie phenomenon of electrons tunneling backward in time? Allow me to clarify—what I mean by "Intend For Others" is simply this:

When you write, always treat others—after all, you're presumably writing not only for yourself, but also for others—as though they were already the selves that you wish for them to be. Yes, as if they've already attained that selfhood πŸ˜‡

Again, a little clarification, I think, will help clear up the matter in tying this advice back to how it can inform your daily writing journeys:

Always write—just as you behave—as if you readers already are the way you would wish for them to be: their best selves. Do that, and the rest will naturally follow.


4. Extend Yourself πŸƒ

Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what's a heaven for?

Robert Browning (Andrea del Sarto, line 98) 
The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious.
~ Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180)

How Writing Really Works

Work hard. Really, really hard. When you think you've written enough for the evening, write some more. Write until you are transported into the throes of fatigue and on the verge of collapsing into sleep right there at your keyboard, or next to your writing pad if you prefer the time-honored—and eminently sensible—way of writing in longhand; I'll have something to say about exactly that in a bit.

Where others may be tired and ready to call it a day, you're just warming up—so if ever you entertained a thought otherwise, I invite you to think again. Yes, if you think that your day's worth of writing is done when you're merely tired, please think again. That isn't how writing works πŸ’

This is how writing works ⛏
A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.
~ Thomas Mann
As I revised this section—more on the crucial topic of "revision" later—something cool happened, as in: Oh. My. God.

So as I looked up online the quotation above—I had merely recalled it from memory and needed to make sure I was quoting it with integrity—my search randomly turned up an article by Joan Erakit: Being a Writer Is Hard. Joan's article is clearly written from the heart, and I've bookmarked it for later re-reading!

Here's the thing: Much as I told you earlier in this essay, I didn't consult any resources—online, or in book form, or otherwise—to see what advice others had given on the subject of writing and stuff like that. But what do you do when marvelous advice (such as the one Joan has to offer in her Huffington Post article) lands on your lap? 🐱

Sing Your Life With Your Words

What I say here can be taken literally as much as can be taken metaphorically. How you choose to view it is fully in your purview; the choice is yours to make.

But first, shall we quickly check out some haunting lyrics from a classic Roberta Flack song? It goes like so
I heard he sang a good song
I heard he had a style
And so I came to see him
To listen for a while
And there he was this young boy
A stranger to my eyes
 
Strumming my pain with his fingers
Singing my life with his words
Killing me softly with his song
Killing me softly with his song
Telling my whole life with his words
Killing me softly with his song
 
I felt all flushed with fever
Embarassed by the crowd
I felt he found my letters
And read each one out loud
I prayed that he would finish
But he just kept right on

~ Roberta Flack (Lyrics from Killing Me Softly With His Song)
If you can do with your prose what the "young boy" in Roberta Flack's song—the one who was "Singing my life with his words"—did with his singing, then you know you've got a shot at it.

Extend Yourself

Meanwhile, the advice we're talking about here (i.e. "Extend Yourself") is so crucial that I'll now devote a good chunk of this essay to it: In other words, even if you don't take away anything else from this essay—and while I'd like to think that there at least a handful of points that you could take away—if you garner a single piece of advice, please make it this one:

Always remember that you were born to create great art. You, and you alone—you'll know this in your heart of hearts—are destined to create the art of prose that nobody else ever can.

Let me try to explain what I mean: So I rely on my readers to keep me educated. I try to avoid wallowing in my ignorance as often and as much as I can. In fact, this is as good a time to encourage you to feel free and contact me—I'm very approachable—thorough your comments, through Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

Creating Great Art

Having got that out of the way, let's see if we can get a grip on what it means to create great art; and I'm not talking about Rembrandt or Van Gogh. Writing is—to my mind at least—as much an art as any other you care to name. So that, I would like to think, leads us to wonder what great writing looks like: Is there a litmus test—I offer profuse apologies for bringing up this topic to anyone who has reviled the study of Chemistry and deemed it a sordid mess—in which to dip a piece of writing and get the result out, yay or nay, something like the Harry Potter hat? I'm afraid not; at least there wasn't one the last time I checked. And I'm not holding my breath for it either...

My two cents' worth on this is that you'll know that you're on to writing good prose when what you write moves you. Once that happens, you know you've got something good going. At that point, do everything in your power to propel it forward till you reach the stars. Yes, this sounds nebulous, especially since you have an engineer and computer scientist—all rolled into one—serving this advice... My point is that you have to take that leap of faith when you arrive at your springboard. When that happens, the need for the fabled litmus test—I offer profuse apologies for bringing up this topic a second time to anyone who has reviled the study of Chemistry and deemed it a sordid mess—that'll be your calculus for deciding whether what you've got in your hands is great or just so-so.

The Pyramid Of Writers

During literally the past 48 hours, I've had the pleasure of discovering a remarkable book by Stephen King: On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft. Folks who know me may have been surprised—and possibly startled—to hear me mention the name of the maven of the horror genre. I never was into that genre, and am still not drawn to horror books in the least. But I have every reason to believe—and I say this based on the great things I've heard about King's books—that he is a great writer.

And while I've merely skimmed through a few sections of King's On Writing, I can already vouch for its stellar quality. Closer at hand, there's an amazingly apt section in that book that I'll now briefly share with you. King notes how
Writers form themselves into the pyramid we see in all areas of human talent and human creativity... 
The next level is much smaller. These are the really good writers. Above them—above almost all of us—are the Shakespeares, the Faulkners, the Yeatses, Shaws, and Eudora Weltys. They are geniuses, divine accidents, gifted in a way which is beyond our ability to understand, let alone attain. S**t, most geniuses aren’t able to understand themselves, and many of them lead miserable lives, realizing (at least on some level) that they are nothing but fortunate freaks, the intellectual version of runway models who just happen to be born with the right cheekbones and with breasts which fit the image of an age (expletive occluded).
~ Stephen King (On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft — Scribner)
People don't just arrive at this out of nowhere. It takes years of cultivation.

Noblesse Oblige

Or maybe there are a few writers, a rare breed to be sure, who can bypass the whole process—somehow short-circuiting the seemingly unavoidable and admittedly arduous processes that writers of all stripes undergo in their training, maturation, refinement, and elevation of their prose into art form—and rely simply on the artfully-linguistic (or perhaps linguistically-artful) primordial soup that somehow brews unbidden in their brains. If you're one of those, thank your lucky stars and know that you have to share your art with the world; and there are no ifs, ands, or buts here; and no, I'm not beguiling you by leading you down the alley of noblesse oblige—a French phrase that literally means "nobility obligates"—I assuredly am not. For one thing, I wasn't born into nobility or anything even remotely like that 🎭

But yes, I've written those exact words—the phrase noblesse oblige—on a green board with a white chalk that I ferreted out of a drawer in a table near which I happened to be seated, all alone in a classroom, in-between classes one afternoon as an undergraduate in Houston. I still haven't quite fathomed why I did that. All I recall is that I had to pick up the chalk and write that phrase; was this my way of getting it out of my system? I was at that time—and remain to this day—an unabashed geek who revels in the joy of learning and helping others learn. So with my mental accelerator wired to the floor, as always, what I reflexively did that afternoon was perhaps the ideational equivalent of a tic, a reflexive and unbidden act of creativity, an ode that had to see the light of day. But whatever it was, I still haven't unraveled the ball of yarn that beckoned me that afternoon. All I recall—and it's one of my clearest memories ever, just as if it took place yesterday, not on an afternoon a couple of decades ago—I distinctly recall doing so, unbidden.

We Joke Around Here And Such

Dear reader, you know me well, always joking and stuff, you know. Yeah, relax. After all, this is the playground of ideas which we have—as the years have rolled by—come to know as Programming Digressions central. You can always come here and bask in the sunshine of comfort, camaraderie, collegiality, kinship, and, most of all, for the unencumbered exchange of ideas. We're pretty much all geeks and nerds hanging out here in these quarters. Okay, so as the impresario here, I'll never allow this place to become seedy; if you wish to plant the seeds of fertile ideas, though, I'll take you by the hand and encourage you like you've never known encouragement before.

You trust me, and I trust you—you all are simply the best. I couldn't have asked for a better set of readers. Period. And to that end, to serve you as best as I humanly can—I consider that my top priority as I write every single sentence, every single word—I try my best to be forthright and express myself candidly. If ever I find even the slightest trace of deceit or deception make the faintest of inroads into what I write, I know that my writing life is done; as much as honesty is a salve, deception is poison.

A Solemn Note

I've got something solemn to share—So yes, I'm always joking in my essays and stuff like that; we're all a relaxed bunch here. But a time arrives one is compelled to make a statement, and when your heart is in the throes of breaching self-disclosure; this is such a time, and I feel compelled to engage in some self-disclosure.

I. Am. Dead. Serious πŸ’€

As you read what I'm about to say, please keep these two points in mind and you'll be good: Self-disclosure. Allegory. To that I'll add a third: Parable.

Okay, for the sake of accuracy, let's quickly revise what we just read: Please keep the three points
above—Self-disclosure; Allegory; and Parable—in mind and you'll be good πŸ‘Œ

Beholding A Spectacle

But first, you need to know something... No matter what happens, no matter where we all end up—closer still to one another or perhaps farther away—please keep what I'm about to say close to your heart. I will, as ever, remain forthright and candid in all matters except one this one, and to which I happen to be privy: I've intimately known someone who can tap into the artfully-linguistic—or linguistically-artful if you will—primordial soup that brews in unbroken cycles, unbeknownst and unbidden even to them. I was in awe as my eyes beheld the creation of art of the highest order.

I suspect that I'm not doing a good job at all of describing the experience of witnessing someone in the midst of the act of effortlessly producing art, hammering out prose just as fast as they could type, and doing all that with effortless ease. I was in awe. I felt like when I was a little boy, gazing heavenward at the billions and billions of shining stars, lighting up our elegant universe.

I said above, and you probably noted as much when I said it—that they were "doing all that with effortless ease"—and it still rings true with me. Could it be that they were like the proverbial duck, paddling... I doubt it, though the duck metaphor did cross my mind so, for what it's worth, I wished to run it by you. We're talking full disclosure here, anyway, right?

Trying To Describe An Artist At Work

But whatever words I could conceivably choose with which to paint a half-decent picture of a true artist at work, I already know that the effort is futile; I will invariably fail at describing it adequately enough. What I'm trying to describe borders on the outer boundaries of reason, entering the realm of ESP... and stuff.. Bromberg said about that book. It holds between its covers... But I have seen it with more than my eyes, I've felt it with my sense. So while I can't say that I've seen it in action, I can say with utmost confidence that I've witnessed it in action; like when you wake up from a dream and know what you've witnessed and yet you're unable to fully retrace the steps through which all that happened.

The mere realization of something so subtle and yet blindingly obvious taking place before my eyes nearly made me faint. I may even have gone into a syncope. It's a blur, but when I came to, I realized that I had witnessed true art being created before my eyes. I was in awe, and I wanted to tell them—I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs—that they truly had the rarest-of-rare quality in having what it takes to write words that drip with gold, verses that shimmer with the sheen of silver. But I couldn't. Somehow it all eluded me. I'm sorry, I really am πŸ˜”

A Promise

But you have my word: When I meet them again another time—and I sure hope I do so because it was a deeply moving honor unlike any I've known in my life—I just might have better luck. Then again, I might not. But I'll give it my best shot; I'll try my best to let them know that our world needs to know about their art. They can make spirits sing and they can make hearts weep. They have what it takes. And yes, they have the moral responsibility to share their art—their prose—with the world and lift it above the humdrum of the noise of everyday life. When that happens, we'll no longer need to live lives of quiet desperation. I look forward to the dawn of such a day, a day that'll be its usual selfsame self and yet find itself tinged with dripping gold and bathed in shimmering silver πŸ‘‘

Okay, you all can breathe easy now and, in turn, so can I. Whew, was that intense or what? I don't know about you, but I was mostly holding my breath all the while I wrote the couple of paragraphs above. And truth be told, I even debated a few times in the first place whether I should even divulge what I just did. But of course I've gone ahead and done exactly that. And you know what, at the end of the day, we're all in this together; if we don't share our experiences freely with one another in sincere acts of helping one another grow, then much will have been lost, or even worse, never even gained, though what was never gained can perhaps be regained.

Yes, there are those rare souls who truly have what it takes of tap into phenomenal powers of creativity and commune with their fertile imaginations where most of the rest of us would simply fall flat on our faces, tripping all over ourselves in our zeal.

Mere Mortals

And then there are the rest of us. We, mere mortals. I know this all to well because I've fallen and bruised my face from lack of dexterity in weaving words into strands of gold that might have captivated my own heart; that is a first, essential step; but if I can't quite take that step yet, then I know that I have a long way to go still. But that's okay. I take heart in the wise Chinese saying that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And indeed it does.

So not to worry even one bit; we're in this together. We'll help one another create absolutely the best art that we're capable of creating, just you and I—be it be the loveliest prose you could set your eyes on or be it code of breathtaking beautiful that make your heart skip on beholding it. You have my word. If anyone asks who told you so, would you please tell them that Akram did, and on good authority, too? Thank you.

Sprezzatura

Let me close this thought with an example with which I was recently enlightened by a reader—a reader of these essays who just happens to also be a most highly esteemed friend—about the nature of great art. They enlightened me on how
The Italians have a word for it: sprezzatura. Making something difficult look easy is the mark of a truly gifted performer or writer.
Then I got to thinking that I have a good friend (based in Canada for many years now) who is originally from Italy. Who better to get insight into an Italian word than someone who grew up speaking Italian. So that's where I went next. On reaching out to my Italian friend, I got a gracious and detailed response. For reasons of confidentiality, I can't share the entire response (personal communication). But here is a part—intact, including the tears-of-joy emoticon—of what my friend wrote back to me:
... The word [sprezzatura] is actually not a common one in Italian. It's essentially the ability to hide one skill by performing an act so effortlessly that it looks easy. Think a great painter making it look so easy but when you try to do the same it looks like a 5-year-old painted it. πŸ˜‚ I would consider it one of the highest compliments.
Ah, if only I could set my sights that high πŸ”­


5. Write For Yourself πŸŽ§

All of a writer that matters is in the book or books. It is idiotic to be curious about the person.
~ Jean Rhys 
Poetry creates the myth, the prose writer draws its portrait.
~ Jean-Paul Sartre
You all know me well as the software craftsman that I am, to which credentials I'd like to add—with obvious pride—that I'm also a nerd, and a technologist whose imagination has recently been given a pair of wings through the aegis of a book that goes by the name of Plato and the Nerd (The MIT Press), and I'm a programming languages enthusiast, too. But gosh, surely I'm not a writer—remember everything we read earlier about how I sometimes suspect that you all would rather have my essays towed away, and at my expense, too? Or something like that, right? Or can somebody actually convince me that I am a, gulp, bona fide' writer?

But hey, I take heart in what Ralph Waldo Emerson's observation when he had memorably advised to
Hitch your wagon to a star
That, surely is a dream floating far away from me, ever so elusively; like the butterfly which hasn't alighted, yet, on the flower on which it was destined to alight. Ah, if only I could be that kind of a writer. But wait, maybe I am one, already and just don't know it?

You see, I tried my hand at rhyming verse in an earlier essay—and folks haven't pelted me with tomatoes, so far, anyway—so maybe I could take that as a sign that I'm a poet and I just didn't know it? Hmm...
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

~ John Lennon (Imagine)
Yeah, this is precisely what happens anytime I entertain discursive forays into solipsism and stuff like that; cool though it surely is, it also makes me think back to my undergraduate days taking a class in Philosophy... As a side note, I came first in my class—goodness, come to think of it, the enrollment in the Philosophy class that semester was quite massive; I had at least 150 classmates. I don't quite recall whether that class was oversubscribed just that semester or something, but I distinctly recall the auditorium in which I used to sit—my classmates and I, packed like sardines in a cavernous auditorium—taking in each word of my professor with rapt attention. Indeed, your blogger is just plain nuts.

Hey, methinks I doth digress. Nevermore. Quoth the Raven ✈

(Okay, okay—hey, you wise guy snickering there in the back row—I do know my raven from my airplane, okay? It's just that I can't find the emoticon for a bird, let alone a raven, in the palette available to me. Your artist has come up short; can you, like, live with that, for crying out loud?)


6. Write For The World πŸŒ

Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you.
~Roger Ebert (1942 — 2013) 
Whatever inspiration is, it's born from a continuous "I don't know."
~ Wislawa Szymborska
Question your assumptions and open your heart; when you do, your writing will open unto you. And that happens—when your writing opens unto you—you will know that it's time to open your writing to the world in which we live.

Allow plans larger than you own to fold.

And be patient. Miracles will take place before your very eyes.


7. Get To Know Yourself πŸŒ±

Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.
~Oscar Wilde 
Solitude is a good place to visit but a poor place to stay.
~ Josh Billings (1818 – 1885)
No matter what comes your way. No matter what life hands to you, always remember this: You, and you alone, are destined to create what nobody else will ever be able to create. All this follows from keep the following adage close to heart:
To Your Own Self Be True
I was tempted to call this section "Believe In Yourself" but that sounded too Tony Robbins. So there.

Of course, there will be times—for writers and everyone else—when you'll be compelled to seek growth; it's an all-too-natural process. Just as a snake sheds its skin, we humans, too, outgrow our old selves and need to shed them; indeed, to grow into new states of being. So should you wish to change, not to worry a bit. I found some advice on exactly that, too:
To change one’s life:
1. Start immediately.
2. Do it flamboyantly.
3. No exceptions.

~ William James
Wow, did you notice that James had his stuff down as a list, did you now? Pretty impressive, I would say. I mean, we nerds actually could've made an engineer out of James, what with our propensity for list-making at the drop of a hat?

Just imagine: William James the resident engineer. Hmm... Um, while good for us all who dwell in the realm of technology, and should such a happenstance ever have transpired—i.e. William James having a change of heart and devoting his life to the pursuit of engineering—all that may not have gone over too well with the Psychology department at Harvard University. I mean, who would've gone on to write The Principles of Psychology with which to put legions of future students in the ivy-lined classrooms to sound sleep? 😴

[I meant, ivy on the outside, not inside, or at least that's how I hope things there were and are]
[Pics from my tour from ages ago (undergraduate days) of Cambridge: Harvard / MIT, plus Amherst / Etc. go here...]


8. Read A Lot To Write Well πŸ“¬

It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.
~ Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973) 
I have nothing but confidence in you. And very little of that.
~ Groucho Marx
Perhaps I'm stating the obvious. But there's simply no substitute for reading widely, even as you read deeply—it will do wonders for your own writing, guaranteed, or your money back. Um, or something like that.

Hopefully, this piece of advice is descriptive enough, so I won't elaborate beyond what I've said above πŸ“£


9. Diversify πŸ™

Training is everything….Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.
~ Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson 
Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.
~ Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)
Read widely; do not limit yourself.

Broaden your horizons; the sky truly is the limit.

Reach for the stars.

(I owe the genesis of this piece of advice to my friend, the late John Vlissides of IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center—the "V" in "GHJV" (Gamma, Helm, Johnson, and Vlissides), the inimitable Gang of Four (GoF)—who enlightened the world with gifts that I have seen in rare, few others. Vlissides remains one of all-time programming heroes of all time, right up there with Guy Steele, who, by the way, is widely regarded as the father of Common Lisp, and just happens to be the lead author of the Java Language Specification).


10. Commit Professor Trimble's Book To Memory πŸŽ“

Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.
~ Edgar Degas (1834 – 1917) 
At one time I thought the most important thing was talent. I think now that the young man or the young woman must possess or teach himself, training himself, in infinite patience, which is to try and to try until it comes right. He must train himself in ruthless intolerance--that is to throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love that page or that paragraph. The most important thing is insight, that is to becuriosityto wonder, to mull, and to muse why it is that man does what he does, and if you have that, then I don't think the talent makes much difference, whether you've got it or not.
~ William Faulkner
Should you take away from this essay only one book to get for yourself, please make it Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing by John R. Trimble. I refer to the volume fondly as WWS. My writing life can be cleanly divided—much as the World Wars (WW) divided history into pre- and post-WW—into pre- and post-WWS. Enough said πŸš‘

And should you wish to explore more, I invite you to check out some earlier essays, for example the essay on beautiful code and beautiful prose 🌹


11. Read Anything By Philip Bromberg πŸŽ­

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
~ Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014)
Never apologize for showing feeling. When you do so, you apologize for the truth.
~ Benjamin Disraeli (1804 – 1881)

Sublime Prose on Display

Should you wish to see examples of truly sublime prose on display—and while YMMV, I encourage you to try the strategy of learning-from-examples—look no further than the work of Philip M. Bromberg. His writing is replete with honesty, humor, and thoughtfulness. I've written about Bromberg's work in several of my earlier essays; for example, you can check out this essay which explores the nexus between beautiful computer code and beautiful prose.

And since we are—and will be—seeing Dickinson's genius on display (in this essay) by way of her verses of poetry, it's only fair that you have the chance, too, to briefly check out the work of Bromberg, a more-contemporary genius; though he may not not quite be in the league of Dickinson, surely he isn't too far behind either. Interestingly enough, Bromberg has written quite a bit of and about Dickinson, for example. On top of that, as if this wasn't a barrel of monkeys already, for crying out loud, yet another individual, a professor at UPenn (Max Cavitch), decided to join the fray—in "meta" or "recursive" fashion—and written about his (i.e. Bromberg's) writing about her (i.e. Dickinson's) work. Fancy that! 🐡 🐡 🐡

An Example

In my book, Bromberg is the master of crafting seamless prose, which is something that I've tried to explain in an essay elsewhere, and which was in the context of chatting about his book entitled Awakening the Dreamer πŸ˜΄
At this point in time an increasing number of analytic clinicians, researchers, and theoreticians are arguing that, and presenting evidence that, the human personality begins and continues as a multiplicity of selves or self-states, each with its own dominant affect and sets of characteristics, which are always shifting in configuration and moment-to- moment availability to one another... 
That is to say, if all goes relatively well early in life, one's own self-state shifts are normally as unobservable as the beating of one's heart, and self-state coherence goes on without disruption... 
In the face of psychological trauma, self-continuity is threatened, and this threat, for most human beings, is countered by the use of dissociation as an evolutionary response that is as important to survival as certain genetically coded response patterns of lower animals to a life-threatening attack by a predator. The responses of lower life-forms to overwhelming threat sometimes make instructive analogs to what happens to the human self in the face of trauma. 
For instance, there is a strange-looking sea creature, the holothurian, that is best known for its disconcerting ability, when attacked, to divide itself into unlinked parts and regenerate from that part which escapes death. "Non omnis moriar—I shall not wholly die!" Consider the following brief excerpt from a poem by a woman awarded the 1996 Nobel prize for literature when she was in her late 70s, the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska.
~ Philip M. Bromberg (Awakening the Dreamer: Clinical Journeys — Routledge)
Bromberg then goes on to quote an excerpt from Szymborska's superb poem, entitled "Autotomy", which is—in Bromberg's own words—the "biological term for the capacity of certain living things to give up wholeness in order to preserve life".

Voldemort In Reverse

Hmm... "Voldemort In Reverse"?! What in the world could be going on here. Here's what...

So we had got to talking some about that holothurian critter above, whose name, by the way, sounds right up there—actually right down there since we're speaking of ocean-dwelling critters—with another equally-hideous-sounding name: coelacanth. What are those marine biologist guys and gals thinking when they cook up such outlandish names? 

Just look at what those marine biologists have already thrown at us simple folksholothurian, coelacanth, elasipodida, pelagothuriidae—I mean, sheesh... Where does this all stop, if ever it does? Next, we'll be hearing about critters with names such as Arabor, Dor-lΓ³min, Mithrin, Elrond, and stuff like that. Good grief, Charlie Brown 🐢

Marine Biologists: Please Meet Bilbo Baggins

I mean, why can't they use honest-to-goodness names that we folks—all of the rest of us who live on Main Street—can relate to as well? How about Bilbo, or Baggins? Better yet, let's have our esteemed marine biologists name the next creature they discover Bilbo Baggins. Is that memorable or what? Maybe even Gollum πŸ‰

Now try remembering a name like holothurian, coelacanth, elasipodida, pelagothuriidae. Exactly, that's all I'm saying—just sayin', if anybody would only listen. Sigh 😞

Anyhow, speaking of the holothurian, doesn't it's philosophy of life remind you of "he who must not be named"? You know who I'm talking about here, don't you? In case you've been living under a rock and somehow eluded exposure to the Harry Potter series, here's what's up...

Okay, so I will toss caution to the wind and somewhat grudgingly divulge the name—notwithstanding the dire warnings of doing exactly that—of "he who must not be named"Voldemort, pestiferous dimwit if ever there was one. I mean, think about it this way: 
  • Voldemort—proactive baddy that he was— was kind of like a holothurian in reverse action, having planned ahead by splitting and stashing. You know, stuff like that.
  • Any given holothurian is sort of a reactive Voldemort, splitting when threatened with mortal danger.
I mean, something like that... 

A Poem That Rocks

Ah, and let's not forget that Szymborska's poem ("Autotomy") goes like this
In danger the holothurian splits itself in two:
it offers one self to be devoured by the world
and in its second self escapes.
 
In the middle of the holothurian's body a chasm opens
and its edges immediately become alien to each other.
 
On the one edge, death, on the other, life.
Here despair, there, hope.
 
To die as much as necessary, without overstepping
the bounds.
To grow again from a salvaged remnant.
 
Here a heavy heart, there non omnis moriar,
three little words only, like three little plumes ascending

~ Wislawa Szymborska (Autotomy. In: Postwar Polish Poetry, 3rd ed., ed. & trans. C. Milosz. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 115-116).

How Does He Do It?

I have one word of reaction—a single word, nothing less, nothing more—to describe what Bromberg manages to do with his "word-painting" or "word-sculpting", if that's what you wish to call it: Wow!

I don't know how he does it, but he does; his awesome writing makes me green with envy 🍏

Frankly, Bromberg immediately comes to mind as the other notable writer—in addition to the inimitably brilliant mathematician-philosopher Bertrand Russell—who appears to be as fond of using those sparkly em-dashes in their writing as your blogger is πŸ’

Read up Bromberg's writings; I suspect that the writer in you will thank you for the wonders it will do for your writing.

12. Fall In Love With The Allure Of Words πŸ’

Suit the action to the word, the word to the action.
~ William Shakespeare
Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.
~ Oscar Wilde, (The Critic as Artist)
I'm just nuts about words 🌰  There are no two ways about it πŸ’˜

Please, I beg of you: Give yourself permission to fall in love with the allure of words. This allure is the surest cure for a flagging spirit, the purest salve that'll give you endurance, sustaining you during times when even you begin to doubt yourself. What I've got in mind is perhaps best expressed through some delightful lyrics from a Steve Winwood song:
Stand up in a clear blue morning
Until you see what can be
Alone in a cold day dawning
Are you still free
Can you be
When some cold tomorrow finds you
When some sad old dream reminds you
How the endless road unwinds you
While you see a chance take it
Find romance, fake it
Because it's all on you
Don't you know by now
No one gives you anything
Don't you wonder how you keep on moving
One more day
Your way
Ooooooooh, your way
~ Steve Winwood (Lyrics from While You See A Chance)
How does that grab you? If you find yourself resonating with the words above, I suggest that you grab it right back: Run to your nearest bricks-and-mortar bookstore and grab a copy of a great thesaurus: My favorite is The Synonym Finder Revised Edition (by J. I. Rodale), although the highly regarded Roget's International Thesaurus, 7th Edition Revised (by Barbara Ann Kipfer)—I used to have a copy of it back when I lived in Minnesota—is pretty good, too.

Go grab a copy of either one of two thesauri above and knock yourself out.


13. Seek Physicality In What You Write πŸ‰

If you would write emotionally, be first unemotional. If you would move your readers to tears, do not let them see you cry.
~ James J. Kilpatrick 
Time is a great healer, but a poor beautician.
~ Lucille S. Harper (1912 – 1995)
You simply have to imbue your prose with emotion; if your prose isn't suffused with the physicality of feelings and tinged by your true feelings, it ain't going anywhere. Period. Try to imagine what it would be like to read cold and forbidding whale-like paragraphs. Does it sound inviting? Indeed, it does not. Now put yourself in your reader's shoes, and you'll get an idea of what you need to do to fix the problem: Bring your to life with vivid prose that lives and breathes the life you'll be putting into it.

Yep, it behooves us all to dig deeper into this area of writing which is, oddly enough, sometimes overlooked.


14. Invest In A Bookshelf πŸ“– Or Two πŸ“– πŸ“– Or Three πŸ“– πŸ“– πŸ“–

I want to write books that unlock the traffic jam in everybody's head.
~ John Updike
The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.
~ Gaylord Nelson (1916 – 2005)
Obvious or trite though this advice may sound, please follow up on it: Invest in a bookshelf, or two, or three. Your (writing) life depends on it. This is vital stuff. You can cruise the web all day long, reading online, but there never was—and likely never will be—a substitute for physical books. Take this from a writer who also happens to be an engineer and computer scientist.

Please get yourself a bookshelf, or two, or three. It really doesn't matter what kind of bookshelves you invest in: get them from IKEA, your local Target or Walmart. What does matter is that you line your home with a bookshelf, or two, or three.

Okay, so I'll stop sounding like a broken record now.

Now that we're in business—at least I hope we are, with you having heeded my words above—shall we take up the fine matter of lining them up with some books?


15. Invest In A Good Dictionary πŸ’°

All the words I use in my stories can be found in the dictionary—it's just a matter of arranging them into the right sentences. ~ Somerset Maugham
I often quote myself; it adds spice to my conversation.
~ George Bernard Shaw
Ah yes, to fall in love with words through contact with the pages of a dictionary that you can hold in your hands. While it may sound old-fashioned, there's simply no substitute for physical contact with a tangible—compared to an online—dictionary. The experience of interacting with the physicality of a good dictionary simply can't be recreated by its online counterpart, especially when you're learning words for the first time; if all you're doing is looking up a dictionary to verify your understanding of a particular word, by all means fire up your web browser and look up the word in an online dictionary; I do that all the time.

So won't you please—pretty please, with sugar on top—invest in a dictionary, a really good one? Thank you, your cooperation is appreciated.

And don't forget to write to me with your experience when your investment (in a corporeal dictionary) is rewarded in spades ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ 


16. Invest In A Few Great Books On Writing πŸ“•

When I have a little money, I buy books; if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.
~ Erasmus 
There's no money in poetry, but then there's no poetry in money either.
~ Robert Graves
Okay, let's go grab more stuff with which to line our empty bookshelves, cool? Heading over to the bookstore now 🚴

So this advice—while it may appear to be along the lines of my advice in the previous item—is actually far more fun. Yep, we'll have you run to your nearest—or farthest, if you so wish—bricks-and-mortar bookstore and have yourself some browsing fun. I mean I'll be the last one to stand between you and your getting good exercise as you take a brisk walk (or leisurely stroll, as your mood suits you) to the bookstore at the farthest corner of the earth.

One way or another, once you're in the bookstore, you'll inevitably find books on writing style that speak to you, because, as they say, different strokes for different folks. When you find those books, invest in them. You'll be more than repaid in the dividends you reap down the road.


17. Read With A Highlighter In Hand πŸ“

Reinforcing Hawking and GΓΆdel, Wolpert uses a similar self-embedding to conclude that predicting the future is impossible even in a deterministic world (chapter 10). Even basic mathematics becomes suspect. Popper struggled with reconciling the truth of mathematical equations with his falsifiability criterion for science (chapter 1). Consider the equation 1 + 1 = 2. Can any imaginable experiment falsify this equation? If not, then according to Popper’s theory, the equation is not a scientific theory.
~ Edward Ashford Lee (Plato and the Nerd: The Creative Partnership of Humans and Technology — The MIT Press) 
I not only use all the brains I have, but all that I can borrow.
~ Woodrow Wilson (1856 – 1924)
Indeed, please make it a point to read with a highlighter in hand. It'll do wonders for your writing life in truly helping you grok the content in a way that just might surprise you; yes, highlighting isn't for students only. So please read with a highlighter in hand.

You know what I'm saying, right? Yes, yes, you nod your head in affirmation. Yep, you got it: Don't just hold the highlighter in your hand. Actually remove the cap—or click the clicker if your highlighter is one of those retractable kind—and start highlighting. Once you start, you ain't gonna want to stop. Yay, have fun!

Make the book you're reading your own marked-up, lit-up piece of art. The book should cease to be a faceless stranger. Make the book your friend. Have a dialog with it. It's quite all right; nothing schizophrenic about it πŸŽƒ

...[inner speech][fascinating book about...][Andy Clark][Surfing Uncertainty][embedded cognition]...


18. Revise What You Write πŸš

You write that first draft really to see how it's going to come out.
~ James A. Michener 
Half my life is an act of revision.
~ John Irving
A dear friend—one of the best writers on this planet—once wrote to me, saying
They say that revision is the heart and soul of writing
(Personal communication with author, I mean, blogger; the two are the same, though, right?)
I still find myself nodding in complete agreement; I can't of anything to add to the elegant simplicity of the advice above!

If anything, I'll merely add an afterthought, which taps into my engineering and programming background: As any fellow programmer—with the notable exception of legendary computer scientist Donald Knuth—will care to admit, our first pass at writing any computer program can result in sloppy code. But obviously we don't stop there; in fact, our first pass is merely the beginnings of creating a computer program, and which serves as the launchpad for refinement-unto-refinement-unto... Ad nauseum, until we have a finished product; a robust computer program.


19. Become Your Own Editor πŸ’ͺ

It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.
~ C. J. Cherryh 
The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for. ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 – 1951)
But Akram, I don't have the budget to invest in a course or two for becoming an editor—or for that matter, the time to take a class πŸ’Έ

Relax. What I've got here is far easier than what you might be thinking. All I've got in mind here is simply this: Each word of every sentence that you write needs to carry its weight; dead-weight simply doesn't fly in the realm of great prose. Period.

Keep that in mind, and you'll be golden.


20. Collect Idioms πŸ“¦

Get into a rut early: Do the same process the same way. Accumulate idioms. Standardize. The only difference(!) between Shakespeare and you was the size of his idiom list—not the size of his vocabulary.
~ Alan Perlis (Yale University computer science professor, first-ever recipient of the Turing Award) 
Immortal is an ample word
When what we need is by,
But when it leaves us for a time,
'Tis a necessity.
Of heaven above the firmest proof
We fundamental know,
Except for its marauding hand,
It had been heaven below.

~ Emily Dickinson (In Poem XXI, from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson)

Herein lies a goldmine of writing wisdom, beckoning for you to mine it for its hidden nuggets. As you go about embracing this crucial advice, be especially mindful—in the words of the inimitable poet-genius Emily Dickinson—of the message she had in saying that "Except for its marauding hand, It had been heaven below" (italics mine).

Once you get that, it's off to the proverbial races 🐎


21. Learn All The Rules Of Writing You Can πŸŽͺ

There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, no one can agree what they are.
~ Somerset Maugham 
Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
~ Mark Twain
The whole point of this advice is to get the rules of writing style—as many of them as you can get under your belt (for my male readers) or your obi (for my female readers)—so ingrained into your consciousness that you can use them reflexively.

The writing advice above leads naturally to the piece of advice in the next item.



22. Then Write Unencumbered By Rules πŸ„

There are no rules in writing. There are useful principles. Throw them away when they're not useful. But always know what you're throwing away.
~ Will Shetterly 
Writing every day as one practices the piano every day keeps one nimble, and then when the great moments of inspiration come, one is in good form, supple and smooth.
~ Anais Nin (in The Novel of the Future, pg. 146) — as quoted in The Quotable Anais Nin: 365 Quotations with Citations (Sky Blue Press)
If your mind is occupied all the time with considerations of whether you're violating the rules of writing—and they are valid concerns, please don't get me wrong—as you write every single sentence, then the writing process is going to be ploddingly painful. To comfort you, I offer that I, too, have felt that pain, albeit in a different context: that of writing code in the C++ programming language

Before any of you C++ programming aficionados get all roiled up by my preceding comment, let me assure you that I wish C++ programming the very best; it's just say that when I discovered the Java programming language, I never looked back. The story is rather long, and I refer anyone with an interest in this particular digression to an essay that I had written earlier; it's one of the handful of occasions where I've touched upon that topic.

In sum, internalize the rules of writing until they become second nature; aim to put yourself in a position where you don't even have to think about rules; they inform your writing unbidden. In other words, work hard to get those rules engrained deeply enough where they become like the air your breathe; exactly, in the same way you don't notice your breathing, you shouldn't have to notice that you're applying this rule or that at any point of your writing process.

I'm sticking by my story even if it reeks of heresy and would be branded as such by a purist grammarian.


23. Get To Know Your Left Brain πŸ‘“

Personally, I don’t think there’s intelligent life on other planets. Why should other planets be any different from this one?
~ Bob Monkhouse 
I have always believed in AndrΓ© Breton’s freedom, to write as one thinks, in the order and disorder in which one feels and thinks, to follow sensations and absurd correlations of events and images, to trust the new realms they lead one into.
~ Anais Nin (in her Diary 1, pg. 11) The Quotable Anais Nin: 365 Quotations with Citations (Sky Blue Press)
Getting to know your left brain is, of course, the realm of logical thinking. Don't ignore. Remember, though, that writing greatness does not lie here. It is a start. By the same token, this is an important area that deserves serious attention: this is the realm of writing tasks such as creating a coherent outline for you writing task at hand, making sure you supply plenty of arguments to bolster your claims, and other stuff (essential) stuff like that.


24. Get To Know Your Right Brain πŸŽ»

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.
~ Albert Einstein (The Ultimate Quotable Einstein — Princeton University Press) 
Moving around is good for creativity: the next line of dialogue that you desperately need may well be waiting in the back of the refrigerator or half a mile along your favorite walk.
~ Will Shetterly
Just as there is art in magic, there is magic in art. As a writer, ignore this dictum at your own peril.

Find your muse: be it soul-moving sonatas or masterpieces of paintings. Then let those sonatas and masterpieces move your writing.


25. Do Not Rush Your Writing πŸš…

Manuscript: something submitted in haste and returned at leisure.
~ Oliver Herford 
I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in 20 minutes. It involves Russia.
~ Woody Allen
The best I can do here is point you to some fabulous advice I came across several years ago:

Successful students don't spend much more time working than their peers, they just spend their working time smarter. Take three days to write your short papers—your mind, your body, and your professors will thank you.
~ Cal Newport (Item # 41: Use Three Days to Write a Paper from his book entitled How to Win at College: Surprising Secrets for Success from the Country's Top Students — Crown/Archetype)

What works for student sure can work for writers, too.


26. Learn About The Act Of Creation πŸŒ‹

The spirit of creation is the spirit of contradiction. It is the breakthrough of appearances toward an unknown reality.
~ Jean Cocteau
Art is never finished, only abandoned.
~ Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)
Writing is creating. Invest some time exploring the spirit of contradiction and, even more importantly, set aside time daily to meditating on why (true) art is never finished.


27. Recognize The Limitations Of Digital Media πŸ“Ί

I must say I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go into the library and read a good book.
~ Groucho Marx 
Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking, just as the man who spends too much time in the theater is tempted to be content with living vicariously instead of living his own life.
~ Albert Einstein (The Ultimate Quotable Einstein — Princeton University Press)
This particular advice might strike you as a tad Philistine, especially after having read my recent essays on a brand new book entitled Plato and the Nerd (by Edward Ashford Lee, published by The MIT Press)—a bit more on it shortly (specifically in the advice coming up under the 31st item: "Never Give Up On Your Search"). But quickly, here again were the essays devoted to unraveling the nuances of Plato and the Nerd, each of which essay you'll enjoy, dare I say:
  1. Read up at your leisure the very first deep dive into its wherewithal and gestalt 🏊
  2. Follow up that deep dive with a slightly different perspective on its offerings πŸ‘“
  3. Finally, settle down for a relaxed home stretch that's suffused with some slight poignancy 🐎
Going back to my comment above regarding how this particular piece of advice might strike you as a tad Philistine, here's what I had in mind: As a matter of fact, nothing could be farther from the truth—since we spoke of Plato and the Nerd just a breath away, suffice it to say that you'll benefit tremendously from a deliberate study of what Edward has to say on the concept of "continuums" in that book I just mentioned. Rather than elaborate on that concept—as well as a ton others which are helping me hugely in my life as a writer—I refer you to a perusal of the three essays above. They will get you situated with a hopefully fuller appreciation of what all the remarkable volume has to offer to you, as a writer and thinker.


28. Believe In Yourself πŸ˜š

To lose one’s faith surpasses
The loss of an estate,
Because estates can be
Replenished, — faith cannot.
Inherited with life,
Belief but once can be;
Annihilate a single clause,
And Being’s beggary.

~ Emily Dickinson (In Poem XXXVI — Lost Faith, from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
Life in the service of an idea can be good if this idea is life-giving and emancipates the individual from the fetters of the self without propelling him into a different bondage. Science and art can work this way, but they can also lead to enslavement or unhealthy pampering and over-refinement. But I would not dispute the notion that these efforts lead to an inability to cope with life. After all, even water is a poison if you drown in it.
~ Albert Einstein (The Ultimate Quotable Einstein — Princeton University Press)
Touchy-feely though this advice may sound, it is important. To that end, I invite you to spend some time soaking in the intent of the two quotes atop this piece of advice.


29. Believe In The Goodness Of Mankind πŸ™Œ

The opposite of love is not hate, its indifference.
~ Elie Wiesel (1928 — )

Are friends delight or pain?
Could bounty but remain
Riches were good.
But if they only stay
Bolder to fly away,
Riches are sad.

~ Emily Dickinson (In Poem XXIX — Friends, from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson)
The day I stop believing in the goodness of mankind will be the day I stop writing. Period. And I don't see that happening anytime soon; yes, despite all the doom and gloom that envelopes our society under darker clouds by the day. 

I believe in the goodness of mankind—and womankind, to be sure. It's part of the fuel that serves to propel everything that I write, and to inform everything that I do. In fact, at a very basic level, I want to paraphrase Elton John and say
You can win the fight, you can grab a piece of the sky
You can break the rules but before you try
You gotta love womankind
You gotta love mankind
Mankind and womankind, to be sure; you can take this from a proud feminist.


30. Listen To Mark Knopfler Songs πŸŽΈ

A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.
I say it just
Begins to live
That day.

~ Emily Dickinson (In Poem VI — A Word, from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
The historian records, but the novelist creates.
~ E. M. Forster
Reader: "Oh. My. God."
Blogger: "Relax. I need some information first. Just the basic facts."
Reader: "Stop in the name of all things sacred."
Blogger: "But why?"
Reader: "Why? I'll tell you why: At the rate you're going... The next thing we know, you'll start pontificating on ritornellos!"
Blogger: "Rita-what?"
Reader: "Ritornellos, dude. Aren't you educated or something?"
Blogger: "Oh, those. Yeah, yeah"
Reader: "Good grief, for crying out loud."
Reader, again: "This guy is just plain nuts."
Blogger: "Right, so I was saying..."
Reader: "There. He. Goes. Again!"

Appreciating The Lyricism Of Music 

Listen up, because here's the deal: While I may know nothing about music, my Mom does, so you be careful about what you say, hey! And while I have a biological mother—the sweetest soul on earth—who enjoys music but doesn't know the rubrics of music (neither to I, for that matter), don't forget that I also have an adopted Mom, another truly gracious, caring, and refined soul. And dude, she knows music backward and forward. That's right, so you better think twice before making snide remarks as you did above πŸ‘Ί

And Appreciating The Music That Dwells Everywhere

My adopted Mom has taught me a thing or two about what it means to appreciate music. While sheet music may forever remain an enigma in my mind (Greek that it is to me), I have, however, learned from Mom—and continue to learn from her every single day that I'm alive on this planet—something about the music that lives in the recesses of prose. Yes, these are lessons on the music that dwells in prose, waiting in the wings, poised to take flight and soar to heights unlike anything we've seen before πŸš€

Much more than even all that, they are—those lessons from Mom—lessons in life itself 🌹

Therefore, you be a good boy—and you be a good girl—and listen up to what I've got to say, hey now πŸ‘¦ πŸ‘§

An Invitation

With that, I invite you to go out and learn something about the genius of Mark Knopfler. He is a singer-songwriter, guitarist (of the British music group Dire Straits) who has already made several appearances in Programming Digressions essays. Knopfler's songs are deeply symbolic, steeped—soaked, drenched-but-not-bedraggled, if you know what I mean—in the syrup of some of the most thoughtful lyrics you'll ever have heard. Ever. Really great stuff; well worth your while.

Check out his songs. If you find yourself resonating with their lyrics—I surely have—allow their lyricism to leave their impression on your writing. Your writing just might become that much lyrical; I sure hope mine will, one day, if perhaps in some small way only.

You May Also Listen To...

I'm not trying to sell the songs of Knopfler; far from it. Come on; we're democratic here, after all, unlike some other places πŸ””

And that leads me to make mention of how the title of this section—"Listen To Mark Knopfler Songs"—just as easily might have been any one of the following, depending on your taste in music:
In other words, all I'm saying here is this: allow music to hold at least some sway over what you write. You don't have to, but give it a try; you don't have anything to lose, except perhaps a fistful of dollars you'll spend buying some songs to listen to. And hey, if you're cheap like I am, all you have to do is turn on the radio and listen to some sad songs, because they say so much. Oh yes they do πŸŽΆ 🎸 🎸 🎸 🎢

In yet other words, see if you can swizzle some music into your prose; your writing just may take a turn for the lyrical. Even better, the admixture might work miracles for your writing, it just might 🎈

As For Alvin and the Chipmunks

Whatever you do, I beg of you to please never, ever listen to Alvin and the Chipmunks—those annoying, anthropomorphic chipmunks: Alvin, Simon and Theodore—because if I find out that you do, I'm going to hang up my hat and you won't get another essay out of me or my hat 🎩 🐹 🐹 🐹 🎩

Exactly, you ain't gonna see no more essays from yours truly πŸ˜‰

I mean, sheesh... Don't their grating-mechanical songs—if they can even be elevated to being called songs—just drive you nuts? It's like being forced to hear someone drag a sharp set of nails across a chalkboard πŸ’…

Yikes. I'm outta here; someone holler and I'll be back when their infernal music stops πŸƒ

Can you even imagine what irrevocable havoc such stuff could wreak with your prose? All I'm saying is this: you have to draw the line somewhere

(In full disclosure, we were just having some fun here: I have nothing whatsoever against those adorable-and-pesky-at-the-same-time chipmunks) 🌰 🐭 🐭 🐭 🌰


31. Never Give Up On Your Search πŸ”­

I can't get no satisfaction
I can't get no satisfaction
'Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can't get no, I can't get no
When I'm drivin' in my car
And that man comes on the radio
And he's tellin' me more and more
About some useless information
Supposed to fire my imagination
I can't get no, oh no no no
Hey hey hey, that's what I say
I can't get no satisfaction
I can't get no satisfaction

~ The Rolling Stones ((I Can't Get No) Satisfaction)

Saving The Best For Last

I saved the best for last. Here it is.

So the search I've got in mind here is the one for that oh-so-elusive spark. This is the spark that will unlock your muse; it will give your imagination the wings with which to soar heavenward; and yes, it will also validate your belief in yourself (as a writer, among other things). Imagine that, all rolled into one 🍰

Allow me to illustrate this seemingly nebulous advice—though to my mind it is anything but—with a personal anecdote. I'm acutely aware of how I wear you all out by my rambling, but what I'm going to tell you now is, I believe, substantial enough to merit your attention: I never give up on my search for the spark. I hung in there through the good times and the bad 🌝 🌚

And Then It Happened

Then, one Sunday afternoon, I walked into our local bricks-and-mortar Barnes & Nobles bookstore (B&N). I can't quite describe it all—I begin to choke up even as I try to recall details of that fateful trip to the B&N—because that moment was ineffable, suspended at it still is in my mind its selfsame animation. Frozen in time ⛄

I don't know how it happened, it all took place so quick. But it remains etched in my mind, in my soul. So I was drawn—as surely as the moth which is drawn to its fateful embrace with fiery embers that will ultimately scorch it to death—to a bookshelf that held for me the gift of a lifetime 🎁

With my right hand I reached out into the rack and held the gem in my hands. From that moment onwards—though I didn't the timer on my stopwatch—it took all of some 30 odd seconds of flipping through the pages of that book and I knew it right then and there: I had found my spark ☄

The Prize Was In My Hands

Before rushing to the row of cashier's desk to check out the prize that I held clenched in my hands, I looked again at the book to make sure I wasn't dreaming 😴  So I asked my wife to pinch me. She did. And I said, Ow! It was then that I knew I was fully awake 😳

I'll add this much—in the spirit of full disclosure—that I did also cast a furtive glance at my hands just to make sure they weren't scorched. They were not. Whew!

Evidently, this moth was the one that got away 🎈 Drawn though it was to its fiery embrace with the spark, this time the moth was not so much as singed. Its integrity—wings, spirit, soul—remained intact even as it made contact with the fire which was going to light up its life πŸ”₯

I had found my spark, woohoo ☄

And Then It Began...

Yes, it was precisely then then it began... 🌱 🌿 🌾 🌴 🌲 🌳
And yes, as they say, the rest is history: I went on to write not one but a whopping three essays as a paen to my spark 🎷

No doubt, many of you may already know all about those (three) essays; it wasn't that long ago that they appeared on this blog (which we fondly call Programming Digressions around here). But for our new readers—the thousands and thousands who I'm happy to see pile on to partake of the exchange of ideas that is the raison d'Γͺtre of Programming Digressions—I owe you a quick roundup.

Roundup By Way Of Three Pointers

Without further ado, what follow below are directions—one each to the three essays—which will whisk you away to some reading fun that is waiting for you:
  1. Read up at your leisure the very first deep dive into its wherewithal and gestalt 🏊
  2. Follow up that deep dive with a slightly different perspective on its offerings πŸ‘“
  3. Finally, settle down for a relaxed home stretch that's suffused with some slight poignancy 🐎
Have fun reading up the essays above. Remember, too—and this is best of all—that Plato and the Nerd is written by a fellow nerd. He's one of us πŸ‘•

The Spark That Speaks Your Language

See if you, too, can make that spark—if indeed you find it speaking your language—yours for life. One way or another, remember to never give up on your search. Ever. One way or another, and hopefully sooner than later, you'll find your very own spark, waiting just for you...
When the river was deep I didn't falter
When the mountain was high I still believed
When the valley was low it didn't stop me, no no
I knew you were waiting.
I knew you were waiting for me
With an endless desire
I kept on searching
Sure in time our eyes would meet
Like the bridge is on fire
The hurt is over,
One touch and you set me free
~ George Michael (Lyrics from I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) featuring Aretha Franklin)
So remember: Never give up on your search. Never, ever. One day, you'll find your very own spark; just keep your eyes peeled πŸ‘€