The following is what I wrote to a friend about this question:
[...] I've shelved that for now. I don't think it's a bad idea, but it's really not urgent, and I think it was an attempt by my brain to distract me ("look, nice shiny fun coding over here!! you always wanted to be a programmer!!"), because what I'm writing right now (in the new novel) is something my brain would like to stay away from, since it's more or less 9/11/01.
As I may have mentioned, the new novel is about sex, September 11th and state power (if I ever teach writing, I'll talk about the importance of concentrating on "three S's" 🙂 ). Well, I'm at the September 11th part, and part of me would rather be coding PHP.
(He asked why I would want to do something that I'd really rather not do, and wondered if this was further evidence, should any be necessary, that writers are weird.)
Very true (writers are weird), and this is an interesting question. There are at least two answers.
One is that, as Dorothy Parker once said, "I hate writing, but I love having written." You have to do the writing in order to get to the nice "having written" feeling (or, to quote Alanis, "the only way out is through").
But more importantly, it would be weird to have gone through something like 9/11/01 and not to write about it. (Not literally "write about it" of course, perhaps a better phrase would be "use it").
Maybe that's a little writer's macho, a little Papa (if i can invoke Hemingway and Morissette at the same time without bursting into flames), that it would feel like cowardice to shy away from writing about the single biggest historical event I was ever in the middle of (so far).
(He also commented on an article he had read which indicated that people are reading more non-fiction books and fewer novels and short stories.)
I responded that it would be interesting to have statistics about how this has changed over time.
But, in any case, I think it's a bit of tunnel vision, just looking at publishing. Fiction outsells fact overwhelmingly in movies, for instance, and in television as well (leaving out the question of the so-called "reality shows" which I don't feel equipped to comment on, thank goodness). So, people still like fiction, they just prefer it on a screen rather than between hard covers.
As for myself, I seldom read fiction these days (though I see movies and read comic books), mostly because I'm writing a lot right now, and it's difficult to write and read at the same time (Hemingway commented on this). You start to write like whoever you're reading. I have a few things which I can look back on and know that I was reading Douglas Adams at the time. I start writing in his extremely distinctive rhythms. The only problem is that I'm not funny (well, not in the way he was, and certainly not as funny as he was, though I do occasionally write something that cracks me up), so the rhythm is there but not the laughs.
In general, I almost never read contemporary fiction. I've read a few authors completely, or nearly completely, like Hemingway, Burroughs, Zelazny, Joyce, Stout (Rex Stout, the creator of the detectives Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, whose relationship was a huge influence on Jan Sleet and Marshall). I've read some other writers up to a point, but then they got too esoteric or theoretical for me (Delany, Durrell).
But, as I've probably mentioned before, I'm more influenced by movies and TV and comic books and old-time radio shows than I am by books. So, if fewer people are reading, I can't complain (even though I'm writing) because I'm not reading much either.
Most of the fiction I've read recently has been written by a friend of mine whose writing I've been critiquing.