TITLE: Reading to Write AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: April 01, 2005 9:07 AM DESC: A student tells me that he may drop his CS major for English, and all I can do is have a discussion with him about literature and the life of the writer. ----- BODY: Yesterday morning, one of my students told me that he was thinking of changing his major. It turns out that he was English major before switching to CS, and he is thinking about switching back. We got to talking about the similarities and differences between the majors and how much fun it would be to major in English or literature. Some salesman I am! We need more CS majors, so I should probably have tried to convince to stay with us. Discussing the relative value in the two majors was beyond the scope of our short discussion, though, and that's not really what I want to write about. The student mentioned that he knew of other folks who have bounced between CS and English in school, or who have studied in one field and ended up working in the other. I wasn't too surprised, as I know of several strong students in both disciplines who have performed well in the other and, more importantly, have deep interests in both. Writing and programming have a lot more in common than most people realize, and people who love to communicate in written form may well enjoy programming. I myself love to read books by artists about their crafts. The "recommended reading list" that I give to students who ask includes two books on writing: William Zinsser's On Writing Well and Joseph Williams's Style. But I've enjoyed many wonderful books on writing over the years, often on recommendation from other software developers... Each has taught me something about how to write. They have helped me write better technical papers and better instructional material. But I have to admit that I don't usually read these books for such practical reasons. I just like to feel what it's like to be a writer: the need to have a voice, the passion for craft. These books keep me motivated as a computer scientist, and they have indirectly helped me to write better programs. Writers aren't the only artists whose introspective writing I like to read. The next book to read on my nightstand is Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit. Dance is much different than fiction, but it, too, has something to teach us software folks. (I seem to recall a dinner at PLoP many years ago at which Brad Appleton suggested dance as a metaphor for software development.) When I started writing this essay, I thought that it would be about my recommended reading list. That's not how it turned out. Writing is like that. So is software development sometimes. -----