Post-christmas notes #2

I finished reading the .doc issue on writing, which was very interesting. Comparing writing with software development is very interesting. There was an essay by Edgar Allan Poe (available here: The Philosophy of Composition), where he discusses the creation of his poem The Raven. My impression is that the writing process generally is fuzzy, but Poe’s delineation shows a surprisingly rational and methodic approach, where he began with choosing on the length of the poem (some one hundred lines, since the reader should read it all without pause), and then continued to decide on the impression to convey to the reader, and settled for sadness.

Having decided this, he went on and decided on a poetical tone, and found that melancholy would be the most appropriate. The next phase was to select the rhythm and sound of the poem (in line with the poetical tone), in which he chose to have a refrain with one single word: Nevermore (because of its sound). The effect he wanted wouldn’t work with a human speaking this word, since it should be monotonous. He considered a parrot, but dismissed it when he thought that a raven would be “infinitely more in keeping with the intended tone”.

He goes on in this way, thinking that the most sad thing is the death of a beautiful woman, and even more sad the mourning of her lover. He first writes the climax, and then the preceding verses, establishing that climax. And so on in an incredibly rational and non-fuzzy fashion – but I think that Poe was quite exceptional in this regard; I definitely think it’s more common for writers to use a very intuitive and chaotic process.

Reading the rest of the essays and articles – such as an excerpt from Stephen King’s On Writing and an interview with Swedish writer Kerstin Ekman – is more in line with my preconceptions about this: that writing is about exploring sudden ideas that come to you as they like. ––– I drew some parallels to software development, but I’ll have to get back to those later.

The above was posted to my personal weblog on January 1, 2003. My name is Peter Lindberg and I am a thirtysomething software developer and dad living in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, you’ll find posts in English and Swedish about whatever happens to interest me for the moment.


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