How becoming a writer is like starting a tech firm

The founder of a platform that highlights up-and-coming writers says coding and writing are surprisingly similar skills.

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If you’re a writer, you need to be able to feel some pressingly personal thing that’s also big and sweeping; and then you’ve got to talk about it in such a simple and intimate way that everyone will think you’re a mind reader. If you lose your way, your words are worse than pointless; they’re noise. Coders work from the same binary.

Photographic writing: The last time you were at a concert or a game or a restaurant, you probably saw a bunch of people taking photos to record the experience. Maybe you were one of them. The idea is that the experience will be captured and the memory of it enhanced. But research shows that unless you review the photos later, you’re better off leaving the camera in your pocket if you want to remember something. Unless maybe you’re using it as a notebook. In this piece for The New Yorker, Casey Cep writes about how she’s ditched her pen and pad for her phone’s camera as a way to record experiences and conversations she will write about later. It’s certainly an available, and probably easier, alternative to a paper notebook, but the camera has its limitations. Journalists or bloggers will struggle to report events with no audio or text to rely on. Fiction writers may rely too heavily on photos. Cep quotes the literary critic and author James Wood in his book “How Fiction Works”: “the unpracticed novelist cleaves to the static, because it is much easier to describe than the mobile.” Phones are replacing notebooks, and in terms of creating content, phones are far better at pictures than at anything else. Cep calls it “a more useful first draft.” Writers on a train: Traveling offers the rare chance for adults with responsibilities to live without expectation for a few hours. So naturally, it’s a good time to get some work done. Recognizing this, and the creativity that traveling can inspire, Amtrak has begun offering writing residencies on their trains. A few have already happened. “Residencies” in this case mean free or reduced fare tickets for writers on long trips. This seems to have received as a universally good idea by writers, and why not? Changing scenery, peace, and quiet and a free/low-cost trip to Chicago isn’t a bad way to tell yourself you’re getting some things done. Airline social media managers, are you paying attention?

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