Remembering Jerry Weinberg

14 Aug 2018

I’ve been thinking about Jerry Weinberg’s writing over the last few days, since his passing moved many including myself to words in his honour.

His words inspired me.

I know that I’ve dipped into the pages of The Secrets of Consulting many times over the years. I should probably, in the near future, take time to refresh my memory of the excellent advice that I know that tome contains. And I know there are many other books of Jerry’s that are worth reading or re-reading.

However, of all Jerry’s writing, there is one book that stands out to me. I was moved to write about it back in 2007 in a now defunct blog. Fortunately I have an extract of the text.

I introduced my post with a a reference to a picture of a beautiful stone wall in my back yard. Whilst I’ve lost the original photo, here is a fresh one of the same wall:

And here’s what I wrote:

What a beautiful stone wall! My family is now lucky enough to have this wall in our back yard. The bloke who built it is obviously a master of his craft.

What does our wall have to do with writing? The answer is to be found in Weinberg on Writing, a thought-provoking book about how to write using the metaphor of building a fieldstone wall.

Jerry Weinberg addresses the problem of writer’s block by showing how metaphorical stones can be continually collected. Each stone may or may not end up as part of a published work. The process of collecting stones typically contributes to ongoing work on a number of potential finished books, articles, reports or even blog entries. The trick is to always be ready to write. Carry a pen and notebook everywhere so that ideas can be readily captured. Later on the stones can be organised, perhaps eventually being crafted together in a finished wall to be admired. Or perhaps not. Stones may be thrown away during the editing process.

I think the Fieldstone Method employs a useful metaphor that keeps the writer productive. Of the many lessons in this book worth heeding my favourite is Jerry’s first: “Never attempt to write something you don’t care about”. After all, a fine stone wall is built by a master craftsman with passion. Writing should be similar.

Although I never met Jerry, that’s the lasting impression I have of him. Passion poured from the pages he wrote.

The software development community is very fortunate that Jerry has left such a wonderful written legacy. If you have a thirst for learning from a pioneer of a people-oriented approach to programming about topics ranging from consulting, becoming a technical leader, systems thinking, testing, exploring requirements and, of course, writing, amongst many others, I thoroughly recommend reading his books.

Jerry may be gone but his words will live on.

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