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antirez 28 days ago. 10000 views.
(Traduzione italiana di questo post: http://antirez.com/news/137)


After two years of work, finally, Wohpe, my first science fiction book, but also my first prose writing of this length, has been released in Italian physical bookstores, on Amazon, and in other digital stores. You can find it here: https://www.amazon.it/Wohpe-Salvatore-Sanfilippo/dp/B09XT6J3WX

I was saying: the first writing of this length. But can I consider myself entirely new to writing? I have written for twenty years in this blog and in the past ones that I have kept over time, and very often I have used Facebook to write short stories, the result of fantasies or based on real facts. On top of that, I've been writing about technical stuff, especially programming, for an equally long time, and I've been a short story and novel reader my entire life. So why was writing Wohpe also learning how to write from scratch?

In the first months of writing the novel, but also earlier, in the previous months, when I was preparing myself by writing long stories that I would then trash, what happened to me often happens to those who learn to play chess. Many follow this path: they learn the rules, and that's okay, we know that you don't do much with them; the rules only allow you to move pieces legally. But then, soon after, they learn some rudiments of technique and strategy, perhaps studying hard for a few weeks. But when they are on the board, if one move is not brutally worse or better than another, all the moves seem equivalent. The unskilled, inexperienced chess player has no real taste for moves; she fails to evaluate them not only for what they are in absolute terms, but not even according to his own idea. The result is a casual game. Only later, after many hours of play, will she finally be able to express choices that, regardless of whether they are right or wrong, have at least a coherence, they were really thought: I want to move the horse here, for these precise reasons, and for these reasons I prefer this move to all other possible ones.

So whoever writes and is at the beginning, if a sentence is good, he certainly does not know it (and to continue with the above comparison, just as the chess player's game will be casual, his writing will be casual). Move a comma, change a word. Does it sound good or bad? He has ideas that he formed by writing at school and then writing as an adult, but these ideas help him little when the ambition is to write a literary level prose. The novice author does not have his own style, because before not knowing how to write he does not yet know how to read: when he reads a book he adores, he rarely understands exactly * what * happens on the page that is so convincing, and so also when he re-reads himself, he does not know if he wrote well or badly. Read, if you want to learn to write! They all say. Too bad it's not true: first of all you have to write, to learn how to write, just as you have to make short films to learn to be a director, and watching other films will not be enough (although it will certainly be useful). And to learn to write, the kind of reading that is really needed is the rereading of some books that we have chosen as models; what is useful: the rereading to fully understand its forms. Now this simple fact, of having understood what my style is, and of finally knowing how to read and have a judgment that immediately emerges when I have a work in my hands, is already more than enough compensation for the two years of writing efforts in which I have lavished.

And it is fortunate that the experience itself was of such great value, because what many new authors do not know is how violent the world publishing market can be, and the Italian one in particular. In Italy a science fiction book that has a good success, published by a small or medium publisher, sells 500 copies. It has to be fine to have these numbers. Most books sell less than 100 copies. To us computer scientists these figures make us shiver. The stupidest program I wrote had ten times as many users. I would go as far as to say that the stupidest program I've written and published with a minimum of energy has had these * readers * ten times, people who have read its source code to understand how it works. I have been, and for this I thank I don't know who, a programmer of a certain notoriety, you might say. What I mean is far beyond my personal experience. Even those who are not known by anyone and try to do something on average interesting, just well described and documented, in programming, and show it around a bit, receive enormous interest compared to what belongs to the authors of fiction. The reasons are many and quite obvious, it is not even worth dwelling on them, so why am I telling you these things? For this reason:

There are few activities, besides the literature, where there is the same monstrous imbalance between the forces needed to produce a work and the poor response of the public. Anyone who decides to devote a lot of time to writing must know this fact right away. Fortunately, I already knew everything, thanks to my writing friends; however, certain nuances of this irrelevance end up being difficult to accept.

So why is everyone writing? The ranks of those who try their editorial fortune are overflowing. I think it's a similar mechanism to what happens in IT, with many trying to create a new programming language: failure is almost certain, but doing so is one of the most satisfying companies to devote your best energy to.

Now I'm at a crossroads: I could write more prose, get back to coding, or try to keep the two activities alive at the same time. What I'll do I don't know yet. For now, let's see what happens with Wohpe, both with the Italian version and with the English translation, which a capable translator is working on right now. And on this matter of the translations, carried out with the support of the author, and what a significant experience it is from the philological point of view, maybe I will talk to you some other time (Bridget and I speak English and Italian, but we are native speakers of one and I of the other language, and this is very interesting when collaborating between translator and author). I close the post by saying to those who read me: if you feel like it, write prose! I now know for sure: it is no coincidence that for hundreds of years writing has been considered the highest art in which to try one's hand. By writing you look for things, and if you insist enough you end up really finding them.
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