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neal stephenson's USENIX keynote

Scott Rosenberg on Neal Stephenson's recent USENIX keynote:

Some fascinating notes on a Neal Stephenson lecture about his approach to writing, with parallels to programming: "A good writer (and a good programmer) does not work by distilling good ideas from a large pool of bad and good ones, but by producing few if any bad ideas in the first place. It is important to give ideas time to mature [in the subconsciousness] so only good ideas percolate to the conscious level."

This is most definitely how it works for me. I am rarely able to create a lot of ideas and then improve them incrementally; I might spend a lot of time doing (apparently) nothing and then write everything down, something that just seems to work (both for programming and writing). All of this closely linked to that state of mind we call flow. Stephenson apparently didn't mention much about editing though, which is also crucial, and it exists in both cases (though, for programming, we call it debugging). Editing/debugging is not part of the creative process per se, but an important component in polishing up details, clarifying concepts, or removing small inconsistencies that are always introduced in the process of transfering thought "down" to any medium.

Posted by diego on July 17, 2003 at 8:55 PM


Ah, sweet, sweet rain. What a relief. The past couple of days have been a bit hellish: high humidity, hot... lots of sun... work during the day wasn't terribly pleasant, but it had to be done anyway. Today it's been great though. Complete cloud cover, gray skies, raining all day (raining pretty hard too, at the moment). Temperature's nice, cool wind... perfect conditions.

For work that is.

Isaac Asimov said once that he preferred rainy days because then he could write ten hours a day without anyone pestering him about "going outside". I'm sort of in that camp :), both for writing and coding, but I also enjoy rain (and climatic variety in general) because they are part of enjoying sunny days more (and viceversa). After all, if every single day it's beautiful and nice, then it's more difficult to appreciate it. Besides, rainy days have a sort of melancholic quality that I find irresistible.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 17, 2003 at 1:43 PM

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