How I left the Fivefold Path of Software Worrying

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The Independent Culture
Everything went swimmingly, thank you for asking. We produced what they call a "treatment" of the major multi-media entertainment project, bang on deadline and all very impressive. It's an important document, the treatment. You set out all the ideas and how they're going to hang together, so that in about a year's time, the American end (there's always an American end) can ring up and say "Hey, just one goddamned minute here. In the treatment you said there'd be a ..." and then go on to describe some episode which you only put in to impress them and which you hoped they'd forget about. Of course it's the only thing in the entire treatment which stuck in their minds, so then there's a row. Where there's an American end, there's always a row.

But we got the treatment out, and a strange and deadly calm settled temporarily over the office, rather like the cosy sort of torpor we weekend pilots get when we have succeeded in taking off in a difficult cross-wind, just ahead of the approaching squall line: the feeling that you've done your bit and the thing to do next would be to climb into the back seat with a magazine and a cup of tea.

It won't do, of course, so one has to lever oneself out of the slough. Easier said than done. On the sound medical principle of counter-irritation, I spent a couple of days peering gloomily at the manuscript of my Australia book, reaching the inevitable conclusion that the whole thing stank and would have to be rewritten from scratch. This prospect (the human mind being so perverse that one wonders how we ever managed to evolve the bloody thing) was so alarming that I found myself instantly yearning to move on to stage two of the major multi-media entertainment project instead. But then I realised that I had already been through the this-book-stinks- and-must-be-rewritten business once, and if it still stinks, then it must be sui generis a stinker and will have to be published stench and all.

So no re-rewrite for me. A weight off my shoulders? No. Not at all. Because the moment I dismissed the idea, I instantly fell back into my warm stupor in re the major multi-media entertainment project. Perhaps I have a motivation problem. I should probably seek counselling about it, except I can't be bothered. Nor do I need to now that we have Information Technology and Personal Productivity Tools.

I used to think that they were using the word "Productivity" in a special ironic sense. There was once a time when, if you wanted to write something, be it a novel, an invoice, a sermon, a letter or a writ of fi. fa., you took paper, pen and ink-pot, and wrote it. Now you have to start up your computer, select the appropriate software, check that your printer is working, and spend hours formatting the bloody thing, not to mention the colossal investment of time finding out why your computer keeps going belly-up, clearing old pornographic downloads off your hard disk, resolving software conflicts, reading computer magazines, yearning for a different word-processing program from the one you've got, and resenting your machine for being obsolete after only two years but at the same time feeling unable to buy a new one because, such is the rate of technological progress, the latest generation of computers become obsolete after just three months.

"Productivity?" I would say to myself; "Feh!" And then I would curse a little, and perhaps spit or thump the desk, before going out to buy yet another secondhand manual typewriter in a gesture of Luddite defiance.

But I was wrong. As in so many other arcane disciplines, one has to penetrate deeply into the apparent irrationalities before one reaches the pure lambent flame of truth at the centre.

There are many paths to enlightenment, but the one I took was The Fivefold Path of Software Worrying. Having written the treatment, the next stage is to write the script.

But what in? Should I use Final Draft, which offers wonderful automated formatting but no data-tracking facilities? Or should I use Nisus, my favourite word-processor, which offers me the chance to waste endless hours writing futile macros? Perhaps I should dig out my old copy of More, the powerful outliner, which would also let me turn the script into flashcards, a feature so immensely potent that I had no possible use for it.

In due course I decided that the project would blossom into fullest bloom if I used WebArranger, an information management system of such power and flexibility that its profusion of icons, layers, multiple data-views and array of print format options would lift almost entirely from our shoulders the burdens of creativity, imagination, thinking up things to interest the audience and writing the script in clear English.

So there I was, with my copy of WebArranger fired up on my Macintosh Power PC, the 20in Multisynch monitor glowing like a bastard, 2-gigabyte hard disk whirring away, 32 megabytes of RAM warming up under the hood, fully networked, colour LaserWriter ticking over in the next room ... and then the truth dawned. I remembered an icy February day in Boston; a crowd standing silent and still despite the cold; an old black man called Brother Blue holding them enthralled, telling stories. That was all. The human voice telling stories; and if you want to preserve them, you take paper, pen and ink-pot and write them down.

There was the truth at the core of what we were up to with the major multi-media entertainment project: telling stories and writing them down. All the rest is just decoration. So I went out into Camden High Street, and bought myself a 5in x 8in soft black notebook and a fresh box of cartridges for my pen. The technology is incredible: so transparent that you hardly know it's there. This could be the future; and if it weren't for Information Technology and Personal Productivity Tools, I might never have discovered it. !

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