Another Change To My Writing Workflow

Till not long ago kept all my drafts in one big posts’ drafts. It was a good way to log things I’ve learned, while preparing to share those learnings in this blog. Keep this huge file public, meant to encourage me to iterate on drafts and eventually turn them into posts.

In an earlier post I mentioned that this strategy didn’t work very well, as this draft file turned into a draft cemetery – whatever got into it, didn’t come out. I, therefore, changed my workflow, and implemented the WordPress scheduling feature. I found that writing a first draft, and setting a publish date 2 days or so into the future, is much more effective in keeping me focused finishing up posts, and eventually help me write more.

The only thing is that I need to write those drafts somewhere, and I still want those drafts to be online. Instead of going back to my old single draft file, I figured I can start drafts in separate files, categorize them as drafts and publish them into the future. But I don’t want those drafts to show on the main page, so I installed the “Ultimate Category Excluder“, which let me exclude posts from certain categories to show up in the homepage.

Update: This “hiding category” solution won’t work… to begin with, even if I hide a category, when publishing a draft post, subscribers get a notification that there’s a new post on my blog. I don’t want that to happen. Second, the whole scheduling thing doesn’t work anymore, because the post is already live when I post it as draft… so no motivation to go back to it, more than do it when it’s part of a larger file…

 

Revising My Approach To Drafts

a blog post is like a news story about yourself

This was an insightful commnet made by Nathan, a member of my Blog Writing  Meetup. He made this remark in the context of writing style and voice – he would like to reflect his personality in his posts, rather than simply report on facts. But thinking about this insight from another angle might help me understand why I accumulate so many unfinished drafts, and why I rarely go back to them.

News vs. Blog post

News (n): newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or important events

I won’t go into explaining news nor will I try to redifine it. I’ll simply assume that if you’re reading this post, you can tell a news article when you see one1.

The thing about news is that it’s ephermal. No one will care about this Apple iPhone 7 release date a year from now; or as we joke in my team – chatbots are so April 2016….

Going back to Nathan’s comment, I think of a blog post as coverage of one’s thoughts and ideas, a translation of what goes in one’s mind. And so, writing a blog post is really like writing a news story, covering what’s going on in the writer’s head2. And since thoughts and ideas come and go, not reporting on them in time (obviously, reporting on those worth noting), makes them stale, irrelevant and less interesting. Mind you, though, that they become so in the writer’s mind, and not necesserily in the readers’3.

My Drafts Graveyard

It now makes sense why I accumulate tons of drafts, but don’t go back to edit and publish any of them. It’s not that they’re not good, or not interesting, but that they’re not relevant to me anymore. I lost interest, as new thoughts are gushing through my head.

When I started this blog, I implemented a writing hack I thought was useful (I still do) – keeping a draft section in my blog. Every post I start goes into this section, which suppose to help me capture ideas and serve as a springboard for future posts. In reality, though, it’s less a springboard and more graveyard of half backed posts.

Fight Back

The formulation of the problem is often more essential than its solution

― Albert Einstein

So now that I understand why I never go back to rework on my drafts, it might be easier to find ways around it. My current approach is to use the “burn the bridges” strategy 4, inspired by Sacha Chua’s “Clear out your drafts by scheduling Minimum Viable Posts” post.

The idea is to write a first draft that captures just enough of a thought to make it understandable. Then, instead of putting it aside and plan to get back to work on it (which rarely happens), I would schedule this post to be published in a day or two. Now, I know it’s going to go public and I have no way around it5; I can either iterate on the draft or let it be. But draft it won’t be forever.

I use this new strategy with this post, with that very paragraph, which I’m writing during the grace period before the post published. Next thing I’m thinking to go through my drafts, and start scheduling few of them, reminiscence of past time thoughts’ news…

 

 


  1. To further your understanding of news, I recommend The News: A User’s Manual, by Alain De Botton 
  2. I’m not going into the differences of writing styles between news articles and blog posts. 
  3. The user will not know, of course about worthy thoughts that have been discarded or laying as uncompleted drafts, craving to be published some day… 
  4.  “When your army has crossed the border, you should burn your boats and bridges, in order to make it clear to everybody that you have no hankering after home.” -Sun Tzu, The Art of War 
  5. Of course, I can cancel the scheduling, but the idea is to let go of that option… 

Aim Away From The Target

Yesterday my blog writing meetup got together. We talked about voice:
how do you transfer raw thoughts from your brain, to your hands and type them to the screen without losing their authenticity. How can you make your writing read as if you were speaking it? How can you make your readers hear you speaking to them through your posts?

Here are couple of posts we read, as examples for strong sense of unique voice, which the authors were able to maintain, or maybe convey:

My biggest takeaway from the discussion last night was that voice isn’t something I can think of or plan for when writing. Instead I should not think of it. Only when I won’t, my voice will find its way, and slip into my writing.

Holly, on of the group members, put it nicely,  paraphrasing on “Zen in the Art of Archery”

Aim away from the target.

If only it was that easy, though…

On Not Writing

I’m sitting in Pret, at my favorite spot in the store, dark coffee with tons of sugar, listening to Requiem For A Dream for the gazillionth time. This was the soundtrack of my life for the last month, playing in an infinite loop, and with every repeat charging me with more energy. So much energy, that I’m about to explode.

For a month now, I’m doing some of the coolest stuff I’ve ever did. At work, the product and team I’m leading got the recognition it deserve1, being featured by Mark Zuckerberg in the opening keynote at F82.

In parallel, I’m working on my own thing, and while looking for a technical co-founder, I’ve started to get my hands dirty with code. Elastic search, python scripts, email scrapping, logstach and kibana are just few of the technologies I got myself familiarized.

Everything’s good except for one thing, though: I didn’t write a single post during all that time. If writing was part of me, this would have been the best month for it to flourish. I could share so many experiences, learning and lessons; I could also even brag (just a little) about some the successes my team had. But nothing got documented. This month was like a dream vacation where I took no photos.

But all is not lost. When I started this blog, I “bought” an “insurance policy”, specifically for that situation. I initiated the Blog Writing meetup and surrounded myself with people who are passionate about writing, who can support me, while supporting each other, to stay on the wagon (or is it off the wagon…).

This week, I made a claim to my insurance. In our monthly meetup, I shared with the group my struggle in keep writing during this crazy month, and my frustration when finding that the writing mussel got weaken so quickly when not being trained for only this short period, hindering me from getting back to writing.

Fortunately, my investment paid off. I learned from members of the group not only the writing-hacks that might help me get back on writing, but that I’m not the only one suffering from those symptoms.

Sue Hellene, a novelist and a published author, shared that she has different moods for writing, and can’t write productively at night. She also related with my feeling that writing is like a muscle, and that it weakens if not trained regularly. Melody had many good tips to overcome writers’ block. For her, setting a deadline for each post, absorbing herself in the editor, eliminating any possible destruction (read – disconnect from the internet…), and, sometime, the a glass of wine, help keeping her writing on track. Dee-on reminded me of the morning pages, which were my initial inspiration. And lastly, Joe’s post, “The Look of Silence”, helped me think of my posts as notes-to-self again, and not worried about those who might read them, hence freeing myself to write whatever on my mind.

And thanks to that group, here I am, writing again. Sitting in this coffee place, starting from a morning page that turned into this post, my Emacs is in full screen and I’m committed to push publish before going back home. Nothing special, interesting, or helpful in this post, just a small, personal, step forward; a light jog after a month of no exercises. Rarely will a quote from physics will be that appropriate:

“Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.” Newton’s First Law of Motion

Footnotes:

1

At least from the technology world. wish it would have a fraction of it internally…

2

Details on what that product is will come in a follow-up post…

No Exuses To Blogging

No-Excuses-Guide-to-Blogging-Sacha_Chua-v2.jpg

Awhile back I wrote about my experience learning to touch type. While writing it, I found this related article by Sacha Chua, which helped me rationalize to myself why it is such an important skill to learn. I ended up spending almost an hour browsing Sacha’s site. The amount of resources, posts, tips and tutorials that she shares is humongous!

Continue reading No Exuses To Blogging

On Touch Typing and Failure

I’ve started to learn touch typing. It’s embarrassing to admit that I still haven’t learned it, given the amount of time I spend on a keyboard everyday. But it’s better to do it later than never.

My goals in doing so are 1) to become more efficient and proficient with my writing and 2) to reduce friction in my thought process. I want to be able to capture thoughts as soon and as they appear, and as accurately as possible.

I use an app, called typist, to walk me through the process, and monitor the two main KPIs that infer progress: accuracy (or error ratio) and words per minute (wpm).

Initially, everything went smoothly. I advanced quickly through the exercises, and felt I’m doing well. I thought it will take no time before I master the new skill. But then, this encouraging trend withered. My improvement stagnated, plateaued, and turned backward. Soon, I typed worst than I did before starting the exercises.

Not knowing how this can happen, I decided to sacrifice speed, and focus instead on accuracy. Once I type fluently, I thought, it will be easier to pick up speed. That didn’t work, though. I spent hours trying to type the same paragraph over and over again, as slow as possible, but I just couldn’t complete the task without making any mistake.

“…it be came clear that it was not only pointless to continue these exercises but positively dangerous, since I was oppressed more and more by a premonition of failure…” Zen in the Art of Archery, Eugen Herrigel

My conscious attempts to avoid mistakes actually also contributed to them. It was as if I had knew a mistake is imminent, and thus imminent it became.

I’m still learning, and fighting my anticipation of mistypings. But I did modify my strategy, aiming at crossing this chasm. Instead of focusing on an entire paragraph, I’m now trying to concentrate on only one word at a time, absorb this word, touch type it, return my fingers to the home row, move my attention to the next word, and repeat. This new routine improved my accuracy, and more importantly, redressed the anxious wait for a mistake to happen.

This pattern isn’t new to me. I experienced it many times before, when acquiring various new skills. It’s the accumulation of new knowledge that uncover subtleties I wasn’t aware of before. Learning english was, and still is, one such experience. The more I learn, read and communicate, the more aware I become to the mistakes I make.

“Among swordmasters, on the basis of their own and their pupils’ experience, it is taken as proved that the beginner, however strong and pugnacious he is, and however courageous and fearless he may be at the outset, loses not only his lack of self−consciousness, but his self−confidence, as soon as he starts taking lessons. He gets to know all the technical possibilities by which his life may be endangered in combat…”, Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki

As frustrating as this progress is, I keep reminding myself that those mistakes are signs of improvement and progress. He who does not fail, nor makes mistakes, will not get anywhere.