Why Learning to Code Has Made Me a Better Writer

Source: public domain CC0 image obtained through Rawpixel

Writers draw inspiration from everywhere—childhoods, travels, daily lives, memories, hopes, fears, dreams, imaginations. Almost everything that a writer does has some kind of influence on their creative work, shaping, informing, and changing the fabric of their creations.

My own writing has undoubtedly been influenced by many aspects of my life. I’ve seen a lot of different things and worn a lot of different hats in my life so far—I’ve lived in several foreign countries; I’ve worked at coffee shops, restaurants, offices, animal shelters; I’ve held jobs as a tutor, researcher, pet sitter, secretary, personal assistant, and small business owner, among others. 

All of these experiences have shaped, influenced, and bettered my writing in their own way. Places I’ve visited and lived in, people I’ve known, experiences I’ve had, jobs I’ve worked: everything gets woven into my writing in one way or another. Some influences might be obvious, some might be more abstract, but everything that I’ve experienced appears in and/or impacts my writing in some way, in some form.

Earlier this year, I transitioned to a career in tech, a sector unrelated to anything I’d done previously. When I first became a web developer, I never anticipated that it would have much influence on my writing. After all, at first glance, web development and writing seem to have nothing in common. The tech world and writing world are usually viewed as polar opposites, each focusing on entirely different skillsets. What surprised me, though, was that becoming a web developer actually had a huge influence on my writing—and it has made me a better writer in the process.

I didn’t expect this to be the case, but I found that web development and writing are not that different. They might appear different on the surface, and in some ways, they certainly are, but they actually share the same fundamental goal and purpose. Both are ways of encoding and conveying information through symbols and syntax, and both seek to convey this encoded information in ways that are meaningful and engaging for their intended audience. When viewed through this lens, web development and writing are actually remarkably similar. The same skill is essential to both: the skill of conveying information effectively and meaningfully between reader and writer (or user and coder).

For me personally, one area of writing that I have consistently struggled with is structure. The act of writing itself, the flowing of words and ideas onto the page, usually comes easily, but where I always run into trouble is organizing these words and ideas into a structure that conveys them well and that effectively captures and delivers the central idea, feeling, purpose, etc., that I want to communicate to the reader. Many aspects go into making a piece of writing effective, and having good structure is often just as important as the piece’s words and ideas themselves. (“Good structure” is a subjective term–I personally define good structure as whatever structure you think will best achieve the goals of your piece.)

In the past, I felt like I could never quite figure out how to use structure effectively in my writing. My writing felt “unevenly cooked” in a lot of ways—underdeveloped in some areas, bloated in others. I knew I needed to improve this aspect of my writing, but it was hard for me to get a handle on. I tried plotting out my stories more carefully, tried using 3-act structures, read books on story and character development, but when I sat down to write, I still felt lost, unsure of how to best meter and measure what I wanted to say, unsure of how to best organize my words.

Learning to code and develop websites was what changed this for me. Structure is one of the most important and central components of web development, so I was thinking about structure, and, more importantly, seeing structure all day while making websites. Web development’s approach to structure is straightforward: you address the big picture first, fitting smaller components inside larger ones to make up the big picture. I had never thought about structure this methodically or visually before. Seeing structure represented in a clear, tangible way, hour after hour, week after week, made it less overwhelming for me to understand.

Sample website layout. Source: Microstrategy.com

While structuring websites, I began to see parallels with my writing. In fact, the term “story” is used in web development as well as in writing. In web development, a “story” describes a specific end goal or experience that the developer wants a user to have while interacting with a website, page, or app. Web development “stories” are goal- and purpose-oriented: what do you want the user’s main takeaway to be? What is the main purpose of a particular page or element of a page? What meaning or information do you want to be conveyed? These are also questions that writers might find themselves asking when they sit down to write a story. I found that approaching my writing through my “web developer’s lens”, visualizing my story’s structure the way I might visualize the layout of a website, helped me approach my writing with more confidence.

This shift in approach did feel dry and analytical at first when applied to the creative process, but it became more natural with time. Instead of feeling like I was lost while trying to pull words and ideas together to make meaning, I felt like I had a better foothold when it came to writing (and developing) my pieces into what I wanted them to be. I had better mental templates for how to organize thoughts, ideas, and themes. I still do struggle with structure in writing, but web development has given me tools and frames of thought that have been central in helping me address these issues more effectively.

Web development has certainly helped my writing more than I ever imagined it would. It has helped me think about and see structure in a different way, a way that was easier for me to understand. Of course, every writer’s path in life and in writing is different and unique. Each writer struggles with different points in the creative process, and what each writer will find beneficial to remedy these struggles is unique to the individual. Often, we find inspiration where we least expect it, and finding these unexpected sources of inspiration is something I’m grateful for whenever it happens.

What are some “unexpected sources” of inspiration for your own writing? What has influenced and shaped your writing the most so far? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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