My song is perfume

Today, I finished editing and designing my late Mum’s second book called My song is perfume.

This book of poetry is the second volume of writings that I have compiled and edited from the nine-hundred or more (A5) pages of writings that I found on Mum’s laptop after her death in August 2020. The first volume was her autobiography Rosalie: In her own words (2022), the next volume will be a collection of the very many short stories and other creative writings that she penned. Nestled between is this short book of poetry.

Continue reading My song is perfume

User stories change people

Last year, while searching for a video on YouTube—that definitely sounded more purposeful than what was probably closer to the truth, “while I was mindlessly scrolling through social media”—I came across a video by story analyst, speaker and UCLA Extension Writers’ Program instruction and author Lisa Cron called “Wired for Story”.

This quotation (at 44′ 05″) stood out for me:

A story is about how what happens affects someone in pursuit of a deceptively difficult goal and how that person changes internally as a result.

Lisa Cron

It stood out for me, not just because I’m fascinated with stories and because I am in the process of a long writing project, but also because in my day job we use something called ‘user stories’.

I shared Lisa Cron’s quotation with a former colleague one day during our weekly one-to-one and we quickly started considering how this might speak to our discipline of writing user stories within software development teams.

Continue reading User stories change people

My new book: I like to write back—a collection of silly replies to unsolicited email

Book cover shows old Gmail icon

Look! I’ve made a thing!

What do you do with unsolicited emails? Ignore them? Delete them? Let your spam filter swallow them? What if you were to reply to them?

That’s exactly what I did in October 2009. Fed up of people wasting my time sending me emails about search engine optimisation opportunities, or who wanted to place adverts and guest posts on this blog, instead of rolling my eyes, tutting loudly and deleting them, I wrote back.

You can download a free copy in PDF, or buy a paperback copy on Lulu.com on my books page.

Continue reading My new book: I like to write back—a collection of silly replies to unsolicited email

Things we know but don’t know we know

I came across this ages ago and it’s stuck with me ever since. Apart from the actually remembering the order of the words bit.

Which is kind of important. But I guess I could work it out because, after all, it’s something we know but don’t know we know until we do it.

It’s from this passage from The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth about how to order adjectives:

Adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac. It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out.

Look! I’ve written it out.

Oh, alright, I’ve copied and pasted it. I’m going to write it out now:

  1. Opinion
  2. Size
  3. Age
  4. Shape
  5. Colour
  6. Origin
  7. Material
  8. Purpose
  9. Noun

Or OSASCOMPN for short.

 

An engineer who writes code should also write essays

Typewriter
A hipster PC (Image by Erik Dungan)

A couple of years ago, I came across an essay by Shubhro Saha, a software engineer at Facebook in California, entitled “Software engineers should write“.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently.

He writes,

“An engineer who writes code should also write essays.

“Software engineers should write because it promotes many of the same skills required in programming. A core skill in both disciplines is an ability to think clearly. The best software engineers are great writers because their prose is as logical and elegant as their code.

“[…] Even if nobody reads your essay, writing it will make an impact on you. It will clarify your opinion on a topic and strengthen– or even weaken– your beliefs. The process alone of putting jumbled thoughts into concrete words is valuable.”

It’s a very good essay with a very compelling argument.

At high school I ‘failed’ my English higher the first time round; I actually got a D pass but the school felt that I could do better. They were right: I sat it again in sixth year and got a C.

It wasn’t until I went to university and studied Hebrew that I really began to understand language better. After that I went back to English and read numerous books about syntax, and grammar and punctuation. And I read widely.

I read well-written books and articles and journals. As I read them I stopped to consider why they had been written that way. I questioned why certain words has been used: what effect did they have. I analysed sentence structure. And I observed how simple the best writing was.

And I wrote. I wrote a journal—I still do. And a blog (this one). And a book, which was published in 2007. I’m currently, and slowly, writing another.

Writing helps me to clarify my thoughts. It helps me to express myself better. And if any of it helps someone else, or makes them laugh, or look at something from a different perspective then that’s a bonus.

I suspect that it does also help me write better code. And at the very least: better comments.

If you are a coder then I encourage you to read the article. If you are a writer and are wondering whether you ought to learn to code then perhaps start here: please don’t learn to code by Jeff Atwood.