Especially for writers starting out, day jobs are essential. Sometimes those jobs can feel like a drain–of energy, of creativity, of joy. But often, skills you develop on the job can actually help with your writing. This series, comprised of interviews and posts from authors for children, focuses on how non-writing work has helped writers with their craft. We hope you might glean some craft tidbits from their experiences and that you might look for how your other interests enrich your writing.
We’re so happy to welcome Aimee Lucido to the blog! Aimee’s debut middle grade novel, Emmy in the Key of Code, comes out September 24 (find San Francisco launch info here). But Aimee majored in computer science and has worked as a programmer in Silicon Valley since then. Below, Aimee shares that programming and writing have some surprising things in common.
KidLit Craft: Briefly tell us about yourself as a computer programmer and a novelist.
Aimee Lucido: I’ve been coding ever since junior year of high school, which was when I learned Java. When I went to college, it was a no-brainer to major in computer science, since Brown had an incredible and tight-knit computer science program. Computer science was always such an easy path for me, even when the work itself was challenging: I interned at Google one summer, Facebook the next, and when I graduated I went to Facebook as a full time Android engineer. After two years I went to Uber, also as an Android engineer, and I was there for three and a half years. But just because a path is easy doesn’t mean it’s right, so, back in April, I decided to leave tech in order to focus more time on writing.
As far as writing goes, I’d always been interested in writing, and I’d always been good at it, but it was never a serious pursuit of mine until college. I took fiction classes, and ended up adding literary arts on as a second major in my sophomore year, mostly so I could get priority into the advanced fiction classes. But the same summer that I was at Google, I decided to write my first novel along with some friends who were committing to writing 500 words a day that summer. I didn’t expect to love writing as much as I did, and that project became my senior thesis, as well as the first book I sent off to agents.
That being said, the book is horrible! But through writing it, I learned how to write. I learned how to write every day, even when I don’t want to, and I learned how to revise. And it taught me how to fail, since I failed over and over (and over) again in my attempts to get it published.
It wasn’t until I was querying my second book, still hitting roadblock after roadblock, that I decided to get my MFA. I went to Hamline University, where I participated in their low-residency program in writing for children and young adults, and it was in my fourth and final semester there that I started writing the book that would one day become Emmy in the Key of Code.
KidLit Craft: What of your experience programming helped you in writing your novel?
Aimee Lucido: Writing code and writing books have always felt similar to me. In both cases you start with a big idea that exists only in your head, and it’s your job to convey that idea in a way that other people can see and understand. Both coding and writing involve holding large maps of dependencies in your head, and knowing the architecture so intimately that if someone changes one sentence or one line of code in one tiny spot, you know exactly how that’s going to affect the rest of the book/program. Both writing and coding can be frustrating, both writing and coding can make you toss and turn at night trying to solve a problem, and it feels equally amazing to fix a bug in your code as it does to fix a plot hole.
Both writing and coding are about creating something bigger than yourself, and both require intense dedication, practice, training, and patience. I don’t think I’d ever have learned to write if I didn’t know how to code.
KidLit Craft: What was different about writing novels from what you expected (possibly based on your experience or your preconceived notions of novel writing)?
Aimee Lucido: The biggest difference between my expectation of novel writing and the reality of it was that it was something I was able to do! I had always written short stories because I would write in these bursts of inspiration that would exhaust me after a day or two, and then I’d never touch the project again. But it was surprising to me that I actually had the patience and persistence to work on a single project for years and years, and maintain an interest long enough to revise it a million times. I was surprised that I was able to hold that much information in my head at once, and create a world that people actually wanted to read. I was also surprised at how bad I was at it at first, because I definitely thought I would be a natural and get published right away!
I wish I were joking.
KidLit Craft: What lessons did you learn in translating your programming to novel writing that would be helpful to other writers?
Aimee Lucido: In both writing code and writing books, you have to make compromises. In code, if your designer wants to include a fancy animation that you can’t build using the tools you’re given, you have to go back to that designer and come up with an alternative. In writing, maybe you start the project wanting to make a story where a girl is both a werewolf AND a vampire, and then you end up cutting the vampire part because it doesn’t work with the tools you have.
When we build things for public consumption, we can fall into the trap of perfectionism. Fancy animations, bi-monstral characters… and we could spend eons trying to make the final work match the picture in our head. But it’s only when we let go of that and realize that maybe the project isn’t exactly what we intended it to be, but it’s pretty fantastic in its own right that we actually get our art into the world.
Thanks, Aimee! You can find out more about Aimee and Emmy at aimeelucido.com.
Aimee Lucido is the author of the upcoming novels EMMY IN THE KEY OF CODE (Versify, September 24, 2019), and RECIPE FOR DISASTER (Versify, Spring 2021). She has worked as a software engineer at Uber, Facebook, and Google, and she got her MFA in writing for children and young adults at Hamline University. She lives with her husband in San Francisco where she likes to bake, run marathons, and write crossword puzzles.