Writing Code Is Not Writing Words

So, I’ve been learning to code in JavaScript recently. Before that it was some basic jQuery. Before that it was CSS3. Before that it was HTML5. Wait, I learned some Bootstrap as well…where was that in the order? Sigh, I can’t remember. What I can tell you is this, writing code is not writing words.

It’s not that one is inherently harder than the other. Writing words is easier for me because I’ve had so many years of practice at it. Even if I didn’t, though, I still think writing code would be more challenging for me. Constructing sentences and scenes, deploying alliteration and cadence, these things come with a lot of wiggle room. I can fudge the math, so to speak, and play fast and loose with some of the rules.

That appeals to me, which makes me wonder if there isn’t a more adventurous, anti-authority rebel hiding deep down in my secret heart of hearts.

That wiggle room doesn’t exist in coding. There are almost always multiple paths to a solution, so there’s a little room for style, but you can’t fudge the math. The rules are absolute. Forget a punctuation mark, use the wrong kind of bracket, or forget to declare a variable and the whole thing implodes in an epic fail bomb. Do not pass go. Do not enjoy a working algorithm.

That said, I suspect it’s probably good for my writing to work in a system that is so unforgiving. Having to stay that conscious of the rules in coding has a bleed through effect. I’m simply more conscious of grammar rules and the rules of good writing. I’m also more conscious of the rules that I never really learned. I cannot, to this day, explain pluperfect tense. I’d be willing to bet that I use it in my writing, though.

(Side note: I looked up pluperfect tense, and I do use it in my writing. Most writers do.)

I think the bigger point here, and one I’ve made before, is that writing benefits from new experiences in obvious and subtle ways. That heightened consciousness of rules is a relatively subtle, but very helpful, benefit of my coding experience. The more obvious benefit is that I can now include real-to-life scenes about coding in my fiction.

I probably won’t, except in the most abstract ways, because coding is a lot like writing. It’s someone tapping away at a keyboard, which is difficult to make sound interesting on the page. What I can do now is get the emotional tenor right. I can talk sensibly about a novice coder’s emotional experience. (It’s mostly rage, punctuated by brief moments of relief and happiness bordering on hysteria.) As a writer, that information is worth its weight in gold.

CNN’s Marketing Fail…

photo credit: Justus Koshiol via photopin cc

photo credit: Justus Koshiol via photopin cc

(…Or, A Major Multinational News Service Inexplicably Obfuscates its Intention of Advancing Understanding of Innovative Consumer Interaction Restructuring.)

So I just read Erik Wemple’s article about CNN’s Redesign and was struck, as he was, by the God awful marketing speak CNN used to describe the redesign. However, as is so often the case, we can learn more from failure than success. The redesign itself was, of course, intended to facilitate access from a wide range of devices, incorporate social sharing and encourage engagement. By all appearances, the redesign accomplishes these tasks. The descriptions of the changes to the site, however, leave a lot to be desired.

The descriptions were littered with nigh meaningless phrases, such as “seamless integration,” “total re-platforming,” and “automatically re-optimizes.” Yes, Strunk and White are rolling over in their graves. Clarity is the heart of good communication, and phrases like these – common as they have become – are the enemy of clarity. What is worse is these phrases defeat the purpose the redesign they attempt to describe.

CNN’s site modifications/upgrades improve the user’s experience. The changes make it easier to share, easier to discover, and easier to access. So, one might ask, why employ language that is more appropriate to a political cover-up than a renovation that should generate increased traffic? After all, that is the holy grail of online news reporting.

There is no way to know for sure exactly what the point was, unless it was an attempt to make the changes sound more impressive. It might be that simple. There is a lesson to be learned from this failure, though. When it comes to marketing yourself, your site, or your product, keep it straightforward.

Trying to bury the purpose of your marketing in obscure language not only insults your audience, it undermines your marketing efforts. If I’m trying to encourage people to buy my new novel in eBook format, I don’t call it “an opportunity to invest in a re-optimized version of an entertainment experience that seamlessly integrates with ereaders.” I say, “Get your copy of Rises: A Samuel Branch Novel, available for Kindle.” (Achievement Unlocked: Shameless Self-Promotion)

The second version of that statement doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not. It’s a pitch, albeit a short one best used on Twitter. Maybe someone clicks on the link, maybe they don’t, but no one is left scratching their head. If they do click, it’s because they understand exactly what they’re getting into. What CNN did was try to reinvent a wheel that already worked. In doing so, they confused rather than clarified and, by proxy, undermined good communication.

If you want your marketing to work, deliberately forego utilizing needlessly complex linguistic machinations. I mean, embrace clarity.

Link Roundup – Tech and Software

photo credit: EssjayNZ via photopin cc

photo credit: EssjayNZ via photopin cc

As a writer in the Age of the Internet, you have two choices. You can either hire/beg someone knowledgeable to handle all of your technical/software/website issues – a perfectly valid and even wise course of action – or you become tech savvy. Of course, as a writer, the lion’s share of your time is probably spent on writing, not picking apart the pros and cons of the latest WordPress update or theme. So, here are some resources that I found helpful in navigating the brave new world of technology and software.

WordPress Hacks – How To: Move Your WordPress Blog to a New Domain

The info in this one is getting a touch dated, but I found it invaluable for getting started when I moved my blog from one domain to another about a year ago.

SiteGround: cPanel Tutorial

If you’re running your own website, there is a good chance you’ve been confronted with cPanel. It’s one of the major interfaces that hosting providers use to simplify website management for customers. cPanel can be daunting at first glance, but the tutorials found at SiteGround walk you through most of the essential functions.


Sometimes your website does weird things and you wish you knew how to fix it. Well, that’s what Codecademy is all about. It offers free training on HTML, CSS, Javascript, jQuery, Python, Ruby and PHP. Odds are good that whatever problem you’re dealing with is rooted in one of those languages. Even if you aren’t interested in becoming an expert programmer, understanding the basics of HTML and CSS will let you deal with a lot of the website issues you’re likely to bump up against. Plus, the courses cater to the rank novice.

Copyscape – Plagiarism Checker

Even the most honest writer can trip over the line into plagiarism and never even know it. With so much written content in the world, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll end up with sufficiently similar phraseology to trigger a plagiarism alert at some point. Copyscape is the go-to plagiarism checker for pretty much anyone buying content from freelance writers with the intention of publishing it online. It is a paid service, but remarkably cost effective at 5-cents per scan. That nickel is some of the cheapest peace of mind I’ve ever bought.

Write or Die

When it’s hardcore, do-or-die, you must get the words on the page this instant and keep at it until you’re done time, there is no substitute for Write or Die. When set to “consequence mode,” this little bit of software will literally start deleting your words, which means you have to get it down on the page (or screen) without stopping for pesky typos or to polish that awkward sentence. This is not for the faint of heart. If you’re ready to step up to kamikaze writing, though, it’s absolutely worth the $20.

There you have it, five of the most useful tech and software resources I’ve run across in my years as a writer.

Is there a tech or software resource you’ve found especially helpful? Leave a comment below and tell us about it!