A few weeks ago, as my long-delayed senior project was coming to a close, I started thinking about what I should focus on next. The real answer, as Jenee helpfully pointed out, is writing wedding thank you notes, but I’ve also selfishly decided to start again on Growing Up, the introductory book on web operations that I got an introduction and a chapter through several years ago, before putting my attentions elsewhere.

With my head full of the fantasy of becoming a famous author, I bought my first fountain pen and an expensive Japanese notebook.

Since then, I’ve done some writing and a lot more internet research on pens, inks, and paper. I’m aware of this, and yet I keep telling myself that it’s fine, because I’m still finding my perfect setup, and once I do that, I’ll stop buying and just write.

It’s likely you’ve told yourself the same thing in the past. Maybe you’re even doing it right now.

I’ve been reading through Matt Gemmell’s archives this week. I like his writing. I like his writing, and so I get frustrated when his stationery category contains only one article.

How am I suppose to become a better writer if I can’t buy all the same notebooks as him?

Last year, I acquiesced to a long-dormat desire and bought a camera. Me being me, I delved into the field, starting with a full read of the manual before even purchasing the camera. I’ve taken a few thousand photos, and can see an improvement between the first set and the most recent. But more importantly, I can talk the talk.

This is in large part due to spending many hours on r/photography, the primary reddit subforum on photography. r/photography has a problem, which is a fixation on photography gear; most of the posted articles are about gear, which causes the reader population to bias towards gear discussions, which in turn leads to more posts on gear (it’s also much easier to write a news article about the latest gizmo than to create a useful piece on the art of photography). This fuels what the regulars call “Gear Acquisition Syndrome” (or GAS): an unshakeable belief that the most important thing to do next is buy a new piece of gear.

I, of course, have a wishlist full of leases, umbrellas, and other photography equipment, despite not using everything I already own.

When I was a younger programmer, I delighted in learning new programming languages. I defined myself by them; I was a Python programmer, or a Ruby programmer, because that was the important part of a programmer, I thought - what languages you know.

Later I started to learn that it’s much more important whether you can solve someone’s problem than what tools you use to accomplish that.

I think the programmer equivalent of GAS is adding languages to a resume. It may be easier on the wallet than camera lenses, but it shares similar characteristics: occasionally a blocker towards skill imporvement, but far less often than we think.

Why do we fall into the GAS trap? Whether writer or prose or writer of code, I think the answer is the same: it’s an easy excuse. It’s easy to find things to put on our GAS lists, much easier than it is to set aside the money or time to acquire them. This gives us an excuse for our inadequacies, and a reason for us to delay doing any more work - for a work not done is one safe from criticism. It can remain safely enshrined in our heads, the masterpiece that’s unfortunately locked away because of a missing item. When we see the work of a master, we can comfort ourselves - we have several things just as good, just kept away from the world due to circumstances out of our control.

One day, we will be recognized for our greatness, too. Just not today.