This morning, I was struck by one of the similarities between working on both a well thought-out software project and a well thought-out novel, and why it feels like magic.

When you’re designing a piece of software (I mean the information design and architecture, not the visual design), you can’t foresee every possible implication and use of it. You can take a guess. But at some point, you have to apply what you know as well as you can, trust the process that got you this far, and just write the thing. You’ll encounter problems along the way, little details that you didn’t consider, but you’ll work your way through it. Then, you launch.

Here’s a practical example. At work, I wrote a task management system, because the ones we had available didn’t meet my needs, and we weren’t allowed to use popular third party systems. Now, about a year later, about 1,000 Googlers use my software to manage their projects and day-to-day tasks. They think of ways of using the software that I never considered. They have needs that the original design didn’t take into account. They show up at my digital doorstep asking for features that will help them do a better job.

Here’s where the magic happens.

Quite often, I’m able to go into the existing software and add the feature with very little work. Here’s this problem I had never considered (I need the software to do something it doesn’t do), and yet the solution presents itself as soon as I look at it, nestled nicely within the original architecture and design. I write it, and launch a new version. The software is better than it was before, and it’s because of a collision between good design and the real world. When that happens, it feels like magic.

What it actually is though, is a good original design.

How does this relate to writing a novel?

Well, right now I’m in the synopsis stage, where I write a fairly detailed synopsis of each chapter, following the story beat cards that I detailed Writing a Novel: Part 1.5 post last time. As I add detail at this level, and later on when I go to write the actual book, problems pop up. Things I hadn’t considered at the story beat level. Somehow, almost like magic, those problems resolve themselves. And when they resolve themselves, it’s in ways that actually make the story stronger. The feeling is exactly like the “new feature” feeling when writing software.

When either happens, it’s a rush. Like you won something.

Like magic.

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