Writing essays

I’ve just spent more than an hour trying to write an essay-like blog entry on a topic of software engineering. The conclusion is: it’s hard.

It’s difficult because every essay is essentially difficult to write. That’s why they are interesting to write. And read. The topics they cover have to be interesting too of course, that’s the obvious starting point. Yet, once the subject found and matured, comes the time for writing. I won’t start an essay on how to write essays; I’ll do that when I am satisfied with what I write or asked to (yes, you are right to see the unspoken hope of such a request).

I indeed lack practice and experience. Hence the blog. Which is worth it only if I write regularly on it. Which I failed to do recently. Which will end up in another blog entry. Proof that it requires more discipline than initially thought.

English is not my mother tongue. There are two worlds between spoken and written English, as long as you do not want to write the way you talk. I personnaly don’t, simply because I find such blogs utterly boring. Get to the point, will you! is what I have in mind when I stumble upon those. Writing proper English is an excellent exercise; I will learn lots of vocabulary, and most of all, how to turn this natural French way of thinking and building sentences into more idiomatic English. I am sure this will result in a nice cocktail. I will read The elements of style, it will serve me for both writing and programming.

My lack of experience in software engineering might obviously bias the points I try to make in related essays. The observations I make are based on blogs, mailing lists, podcasts, get togethers, etc. I can be still living in the pink world of discovering what it is to develop software, but this view has its interests too. And besides, I don’t see why the pink should fade away. I have nothing against la vie en rose.

When you write an essay, it is implicitly expected that it is not short. That would mean lack of reflection, some laziness, up to show off pretentions in the worst case. To that I want to reply that as a scientist, I consider conciseness a virtue. Along with its sister precision. That’s the ultimate goal. Concise and precise. All that’s needed, nothing more. Instead of the Saint-Exupery quote I prefer one from Pascal, in a letter to a friend: excuse me for writing you a long letter, I did not have the time to make it shorter.

Time is an issue too. Took me an hour to try to write an essay, takes me as much to write this one. Here too, it is just a matter of habits, typing speed, and experience. All I need to do is find more time to write. And by finding I mean taking. Just a matter of organization, nothing more.

In the end, writing essays is really a fullfilling experience. It is good to write down these ideas that lurk in the brain, surfacing from time to time. Writing an essay for these ideas forces you to take the time to give it more thought. It is very likely that writing an essay opens several new ideas, which makes them even more worthwhile.