Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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I Write ... Widgets?

This week I've been studying widgets and plugins. I've also been exploring comment managing systems, only to discover that all of them have substantial flaws, because the technology is new and still materializing. Essentially, the basic comment functions on the Thesis theme in "Gaiatribe" don't do everything we need, so we're exploring other options.

I just realized one of the crucial things that makes my own writing unusual: I write the equivalent of widgets and plugins for wetware. I can take something I know how to do and break it down into steps that you can follow. If it's something I do based on intuition and talent more than facts and premises, I can usually still find facts and premises to frame it, shifting the intuitive to the intellectual so it can be taught and learned. You might not get exactly the same results, because the content will vary; but you'll have the process. If you've got the basic "how to write in the English language" program in your head, I can give you a widget for writing a poem or a ritual. If you've got the basic "how to make food in a kitchen" program, I can give you a widget for pear-ginger ice cream or mango-glazed ham.

It occurs to me that, somehow, this is not the way most people write. I've seen other people do it, yes, but it's not as widespread as I'd expect. I'm often startled by how vague an author's instructions are, when it seems so easy to lay things out in little bits. Replicable bits in a neat little package you can memorize and use forever. I think this is part of what makes people look at some of my writing and say, "Wow! You explain this so clearly!" (That was the #1 reaction to Composing Magic.) I remember when my mother gave an assignment in class for us to write instructions for a robot to make a sandwich; when the bell rang, I'd written several pages of instructions and I don't think the poor thing had even gotten into the refrigerator yet. Happily, writing for humans can be much more concise because of shared basic assumptions, but the concept is the same. It's all about figuring out how a process actually works and describing it bit by bit, creating that little widget for other people to use. It has to be complete; it ought to be elegant.

I think my farmemory is showing again: this is how a lot of wetware is written, so you can buy, say, a language instead of learning it piece by piece out loud. If you do a LOT of that, the habit sticks in your mind as well as your brain. Knowledge as packets. Instructions as plugins. Writing wetware widgets that you add, as computer programs were once added, by keying them in manually.

I am fascinated that my study of blog code and construction has thrown another spotlight on a facet of my writing that has long puzzled me. It's been a while since I really dug into something that I didn't have an innate knack for and had to work hard for modest progress. It's frustrating most of the time, but occasionally there are these exhilirating epiphanies. As much as I enjoy the things I'm best at, I think some part of me is happiest when working at the fringes of my ability. At least until I rip a mental muscle in a really painful place.
Tags: blogging, personal, writing
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