A 2010 issue of Wired magazine contains “The Master Planner,” an article/interview with Fred Brooks, an early computer programmer and former department head for IBM. Over thirty-five years ago he wrote a small book, The Mythical Man-Month in which he argued against the idea that two programmers can achieve twice as much work as one in a month. This became known as “Brooks Law.” He has now written a new book The Design of Design a collection of essays dealing with leadership, hardware systems, and more.
Two comments from the interview caught my attention; comments that deal with life and creativity. Author/editor Kevin Kelly brought up a statement Brooks made about some of his early work. Brooks called the IBM 360 OS, “The worst computer programming language ever devised by anybody, anywhere.” When Kelly asked him about the frank self-appraisal, Brooks said:
You can learn more from failure than success. In failure you’re forced to find out what part did not work. But in success you can believe everything you did was great, when in fact some parts may not have worked at all. Failure forces you to face reality.
This bit of honesty is difficult for some to follow. People in my profession are often insecure about their work and often become defensive. Who can blame them? They work alone and try to create from nothing a piece of work that will entertain, educate, and please not only readers but a phalanx of editors, pub boards, professional reviewers, amateur reviewers, bookstore managers, and more. Sometimes writing for publication seems akin to baring one’s back for flogging. So, we become sensitive souls; tender in all the wrong places.
Writing, however, is a craft and an art, one which requires the writer to have the guts to commit to self-examination. You need to know this: I am the poster boy of insecurity. I always have been insecure. I’ve felt that way in every career I’ve had, and I’ve had several of them. Yet I’ve learned that professional growth comes faster when I focus on what I could have done better rather than what I did right. Not only that, I've discovered that I often have to re-learn what I thought I already knew. Old dogs can be taught new tricks, but we often have to be taught them again.
Writing is a continuous process of learning. Early on I discovered that I couldn’t read a book I had written once it hit the shelves. I kept seeing things I could have done better. More than once, I’ve thought about one of my earlier books and realize it could have been better.
The second quote—an anecdote—that caught my eye is this:
Edwin Land, inventor of the Polaroid camera once said that his method of design was to start with a vision of what you want and then, one by one, remove the technical obstacles until you have it.
I’ve heard similar statements, but this one hits the bull’s-eye. What do you want from your writing? Can you see it? Does it seem real to you? Good. What stands in your way? Start removing obstacles. Al’s Axion #45: See it, believe it, do it.
Consider Brook’s quotes together: Learn your from your mistakes; start removing obstacles.
Alton Gansky is a full time writer, director of BRMCWC, and founder of Gansky.Communications. He is the award winning author of over 40 books. Prior to turning to full time writing, he was the senior pastor to three Southern Baptist churches. In addition to his writing, he speaks to writers groups and church organizations. www.altongansky.com
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