Everyday I try to work with my pet software SchoolPad. There are times I get home early and with a lot of energy left, I pour in 3-4 hours of coding in Ruby on Rails. When I’m a bit tired, I only explore the application and write comments and ideas on my handy-dandy notebook. Sometimes, I am too tired and do nothing.
Last week, I spent a lot of time with SchoolPad but no Ruby was involved. I worked on things that many programmers hate and probably will never do in their coding career — write website copy, help files, and a 1-page advertisement.
It is easier for me to get started with coding that with writing. Although the ideal programming environment should be interruption free, I still manage to write code eventhough my wife is watching his favorite soap. With writing, I need a quiet moment just to get the 1st paragraph out.
I used to consider writing manuals a brainless task. I used to wonder why technical writers can’t produce manuals or online instructions that are easy to understand. After all, the interface is there; it just needs to be described. What so difficult about that?
Having written several manuals and procedures myself, I now empathize with people whose job is to make sure impatient customers don’t get more confused when reading instructions. If you’re job is to write code only, consider yourself lucky. Writing manuals and instructions are not easy. It is even more difficult if you designed the software.
As a developer you are intimately familiar with how the software works. That’s why if you are to write instructions to complete a task, you will most likely do a bad job because as you see it, the steps are obvious. Blah blah and you think you’re done.
It is also takes more brainpower to write a clear instruction than to write a clear code. In programming, it is difficult to deliberately write confusing code (especially if you are using Ruby :)). There are only a few programming elements to play with. In writing, there are a lot of words to choose from, composition styles to use, and even a misplaced comma can make your text take a different meaning.
Even though writing is harder than programming, there’s no escaping it especially if you want to run your own small software business. You need to compose text for your website, write autoresponders for account signups, and sales letters among other things. Last week, I spent 4 hours composing a 1-page 127 words invitation letter for my target customers. In the same amount of time, I have written my own in-place editor and a photo browser (with paging capability) with Ajax blind-up/blind-down effects. I am using Ruby on Rails and it is so damn easy to do that; if you are using other languages, your mileage may vary.
How long did it take me to compose this post? 1 hour and 28 minutes.