Martin Rue

I build things on the internet.

Creativity: My Top 5 Feelings

1: When you fix a hard bug

Going from "this thing doesn't work properly and I don't know why" to "holy crap, I've found it" can be a wild ride. Some bugs are easy, but the best ones demand a lot from you.

In a story I've told before, one particular bug took me days to solve. Days and tears. In the end it was never going to be solved the way I thought, and honestly it was a rough ride. It was also a great lesson in the perseverance and emotional regulation required to solve something that isn't helped at all by a quick 5 minutes of head scratching.

It can be a deeply frustrating experience, especially when you feel like you've exhausted all possible options. You have nothing, no path forward, but you still need to fix that damn bug. It can be all-consuming.

However, when inevitably you find the little shit, it's a great feeling. It immediately validates your effort and confirms you were doing the right thing by sticking with it. Not to mention the absolute relief that the bug is gone and you have your life back.

It's not really about "fixing a bug", it's about learning how to stay in the game, how to stay calm, collected and work through a something that demands a lot from you. This is a skill much wider ranging than just fixing bugs.

2: When you find your voice in writing

I'm currently writing a lot of material for my new language learning app. PS: it's now my full-time job and I'm super excited about that.

While the app is cool (my clear bias notwithstanding) and has taken a lot of work, the real value is in the language lessons themselves, which are predominantly text. Good writing has character and its own voice, and there's a huge difference between writing that has a bland, neutral voice and something that has its own unique voice and style.

When I first started writing it had a "here's a fact and here's another" aesthetic. As informative as that can be, the bar for engaging writing is much higher than that.

My early years as a programmer were made infinitely better due to Joel Spolsky's blog, Joel on Software. I still miss Joel's commentary.

Aside from the interesting observations he made about starting companies, hiring engineers and other things in that world, it was his writing style that really hooked me. It was unique, funny, snappy and it always made me want to read more.

When you spend enough time writing you eventually develop your own style. You inevitably experiment with it, learn how to be more serious, more amusing, how to play with your words.

Developing that skill to the point that you feel comfortable taking a piece of dead tree and reviving it into a piece of engaging writing is a wonderful feeling.

3: When you break through creative resistance

In his well-known book, The War of Art, Pressfield writes:

Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second we can turn the tables on Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work.

There's no better feeling for me than being in flow; when ideas pour directly out of my fingertips onto the page / editor. When I have a clear picture of what I'm trying to achieve and I feel like I'm 3 steps ahead in my head. That steady flow of progress is great.

Unfortunately, as any creative knows all too well, this is not the default state.

Sometimes you just don't have the right mindset, energy, focus. Sometimes you're distracted, unmotivated, undisciplined.

But when you do manage to fight through that. When you manage to sit down and do your work, as Pressfield puts it, it's an amazing feeling.

My trick is to get into motion as quickly as possible. It doesn't really matter what I choose to do, the purpose is just to get from stationary to doing something. Once I'm moving, once I'm doing things, the other towers of creative resistance start to feel more knockoverable, and I'm then in the game of knocking things over.

4: When you receive good feedback

It's not that all feedback must be good, of course. The most valuable kind of feedback comes from critical thinking, wrapped up in a constructively-shaped box, signed, sealed and delivered.

I am personally grateful for anyone taking their time and attention to tell me what they think of some piece of work I've done.

But let's not ignore the fact that we do work to create value. We do work to try and do our best work, and then we put it out into the world for someone to enjoy or benefit from it in some way.

Hearing that someone has enjoyed or found your work useful is an indicator that you're achieving the goal you set out to achieve, and that's a very rewarding feeling.

And just as important is to go and give positive or constructive feedback to people being courageous enough to put their work into the world. Be the person to others that you want them to be to you. It's a great feeling, even when it's not reciprocated.

5: When you see traction

Most of my "art" is in the form of code – I like to build things with computers and code is ink. Every year I have at least one or two "side ideas", which inevitably I dedicate some time to just for the enjoyment of making something new and throwing it out into the world.

Most of the time, the goal behind that is simply to do the work itself and enjoy putting my skills into practice. A true artist does their work to learn how to do their work better.

While some of my smaller projects have been pure, esoteric indulgence, there's also a good number of ideas that have been attractive to me because I can imagine other people finidng them useful.

When that turns out to be true, it's an awesome feeling.

I'll give you two examples.

A couple of years ago, upon discovering an alternate protocol to HTTP, made by those who prefer text to images, and nothingness to adverts and JavaScript, I became curious and jumped right in.

Gemini is essentially a very simple web. It's full of enthusiasts that gives strong 90s/00s internet vibes. I presume no further explanation is required as to how I fell in love.

Part of that 90s/00s vibe is that everyone hosts their own stuff, just like on the early web. There were no "platforms" like we have on the big fat web, so I made one. It's basically a minimal version of Twitter, built for Gemini, so that people can contribute their voice and ideas without hosting a server.

I expected maybe 10 people would find it useful, but every day for 2 years more and more people sign up. When I drop in from time to time and see people making new friends, discussing and sharing things, it's just such a great feeling. The 2-3 weeks of work was easily worth it when I see that.

Coming in strong second is my text-to-speech experiment. I realised I could create automated speech in the constructed language Esperanto if I were to transliterate textual Esperanto into phonetic Polish, and then feed it into a Polish text-to-speech engine (AWS Polly). For obvious reasons, text-to-speech engines for Esperanto don't exist.

So I put together a proof of concept, which works surprisingly well. It was a fun few weeks putting it together and even more fun seeing that such a crazy thing actually sort of works!

Fast forward to a few weeks ago and somebody informed me that they're using it with a blind student studying Esperanto as part of their degree in Africa. It's being used to convert textual learning material into spoken so she can participate. How awesome is that?

I can't really even put into words how great it was to hear something like that.

Seeing people use and value your work or art really adds a huge amount of satisfaction and purpose for me.