July 22, 2019: Third Walls and Eighth Bolts

My brother Jeff used to talk about the third wall. When you’re painting a room, the first wall is easy because you’re excited about getting a chore done. The second wall is OK too because you’ve found your rhythm, and the fourth wall goes pretty quickly because the end is in sight. The third wall, though—that’s the killer because you’re tired, you’re bored, and you can see how much you still have to do.

He and I used to talk about the eighth bolt as well. We assembled an Ikea bed frame when I moved into my first apartment in Toronto; the first seven bolts went in smoothly, but getting the eighth one to seat properly took half an hour. At one point we were holding the partially-assembled frame upside down and shaking it to try to get the damn thing out so we could start over.

I think a lot about third walls and eighth bolts when I’m writing. JavaScript for Data Science has passed that stage—while there is still a lot to do, we can see the finish line—but The Tidynomicon still feels like a pile of parts scattered across the floor. Some don’t appear to be in the instructions, others don’t fit where they’re supposed to, and it’s very tempting to just walk away and start something else. That, I think, is part of why I enjoy writing and teaching with other people: what gets you through the third wall is a painting partner, and eighth bolts are funny after the fact if someone else shared your frustration.

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