Can a geek create? Can a nerd write novels?

I work as a software engineer (aka a computer programmer). And I also write fiction. These two professions don’t seem to go together. But, if you are also a computer programmer with a yearning to write, don’t let the apparently unimaginative nature of your work impede you. You have advantages!

For a start, you will have learnt attention to detail. Just about every computer programmer has found a fault caused by something as tiny as a comma instead of a semicolon. The same finickiness helps with prose. Consider this rather promising line:-

    She was looking forward to some extra marital sex.

And compare it to this more predictable line:-

She was looking forward to some extra-marital sex.

You’ve got an advantage – you are used to spotting these tiny details.

You will have also learnt to test, test, and test again. This endless patience will serve you well when you edit, edit and edit again your prose.

One not-particularly obvious thing that computer programs and novels have in common is ‘narrative’. They both tell a story. A good program will be written in such a way that anyone else who reads it will be able to understand the story. I have been training recently in the concept of ‘clean code’ – code that tells the story well; that is not cluttered with extraneous comments; that is clear, simple, concise. Like the best prose. Good code will use the best words available to do its job. So should good prose. Compare these two sentences:-

    He walked stiffly out of the room


He stalked out of the room

The second is better. It follows the principles of ‘clean code’ – fewer and better chosen words.

One other thing that programmers have, which is perhaps not obvious, is imagination. To write a good program, you have to be able to hold in your head the concepts and events of what may be an extremely complex scenario. You are always using your imagination to build up a mental picture of the program. It may not involve sword-fights, romance, car chases, arguments, battles, love, spies, guns, far-off countries, kings, paupers or governesses, but it can be as complicated and detailed as the plot of the longest fantasy novel.

So, be encouraged! And don’t think that because I have a prosaic job, I can’t write fiction.

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1 Response to Can a geek create? Can a nerd write novels?

  1. Eddi Goodwin says:

    Now I understand why you are such a competent proof-reader; as well as seeing the big picture you get the detail. Keep at it, Cathy. Your ideas are amazing.

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