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Learning To Code Killed My Writing Hobby


In 2015, I was accepted into a Master's Program in Creative Writing. I had been writing my whole life, loved (and still love) writing, and had even toyed with the idea of getting my undergraduate degree in Creative Writing or Journalism. Ultimately, I took the more practical path for my undergraduate program and got a business degree. But when I was more financially stable and a little later in my career, I decided to finally pursue writing in a more serious way.

I was accepted into a few Creative Writing programs but ultimately chose Arcadia University in Philadelphia. I had only applied to low-residency programs because I had a family in Dallas to worry about. Arcadia was perfect because I only had to travel three times during the entire two-year program, and one of those times was an international trip to Edinburgh, Scotland.

I knew the money I spent on this graduate degree wasn't going to pay off in a financial sense. I'd be taking on debt to effectively pursue a passion. But writing had gotten me far in my career, and if I could get better at writing fiction, it was worth it to me. And who knew, maybe one day I'd be able to get an agent and publish a novel? That would be icing on the cake, but it wasn't a necessary outcome. I just wanted an impractical education in something I enjoyed.

I spent the two years of the program writing dozens of short stories, critiquing other stories, and eventually capped it off with my "thesis". In a Creative Writing program, your thesis is a book. We could choose between a collection of short stories or a novel. I chose to write a novel. I'd written novels before, but they were poorly structured and inconsistent. This felt different. This felt professional. By the end of the program, I had nearly 25 of my short stories published in literary journals and magazines, and I had a finished first draft of a novel. It was wonderful.

However, during my program something else important happened. Something that would positively affect my career but negatively affect my writing.

I learned to code.

I've written before about learning to code in my 30s and how it took me literal decades to get over the hump of programming concepts to finally be able to build anything. What I haven't written about is how that new skill took me away from writing fiction. Before we get into that, I should explain why I finally learned to code at all.

During my graduate program, we used Google Docs heavily. All our writing was in Google Docs. Around the same time, there were numerous reports of people losing access to their Google accounts, losing access to their Docs, to everything. I had also come across a few horror stories from writers who had used Microsoft Word exclusively and didn't have backups of writing that they eventually lost due to hard drive crashes and other catastrophic failures. The writing I was doing in my graduate program was so important to me that the thought of losing it for any reason was physically painful.

So, I decided to build a solution. My criteria were relatively simple. I wanted a writing interface that felt nice (didn't have to be as robust as Word or Google Docs), I wanted my data to be controlled by me so I could never get locked out, and I wanted to be able to access it anywhere on any device. With that list in mind, I started watching YouTube videos and taking Udemy courses. I built prototypes and I converted what I saw in tutorials into code that would serve my own needs. After months of trial and (mostly) error, I had a working prototype for what would become Graphite Docs.

I had no intention of showing the app to anyone. I wanted it for myself. I was no programmer. The idea of other people using an app I cobbled together with duct tape and YouTube was insane. But a couple of friends saw the app and they encouraged me to share it. This led to others being interested in using it which led to me making it available for anyone, which led to it being...real.

I worked on Graphite for three years, constantly polishing and adding/removing features. Graphite was my gateway drug to coding. After building Graphite, I felt like I'd been dropped in a vat of radioactive material that gave me superpowers. Much of my young adult and adult life was spent wanting to create businesses in tech, but I didn't have the skills to build the products I wanted to. Now, I could create anything.

Coding is a creative process, much like writing. This unlocked a level of creativity I had only previously felt while writing fiction. But there was an added benefit. With coding, I could make money.

I started a company around Graphite. Along the way, I also built additional apps. I ended up joining a startup accelerator for a different product I built. I joined a startup as a contract engineer. Finally, I joined Pinata where I've been ever since. And through it all, I've continued to code in my spare time. I love building apps for writers (A writing sprint timer, a writing group discussion app, a blogging app, etc, etc). But, I stopped writing.

My first book was published at the height of the pandemic in 2020. It was a collection of short stories, but the stories were all written between 2016-2018. Since then, I have written maybe a handful of stories. I tried writing another collection of short stories but so far have only written five stories in three years.

Writing was a creative outlet for me, but coding has replaced it. This used to bother me, and I still feel the nostalgia of writing fiction, but I've come to embrace coding as a creative process. I still write. A lot. It's just not fiction. When the mood strikes every year or so, I'll sit down and write fiction, but by and large writing has been replaced by coding.

And that's ok.