Deconstructing blogging

This is the second in a series of posts about learning to blog (inspired by this talk by Josh Kaufman). The approach he suggests, and which I’m sure has been suggested in much the same form many times before, is to (1) break down the skill you’d like to learn into its constituent ‘sub-skills’, (2) learn to ‘self-correct’, (3) remove the barriers to practicing, and (4) knuckle down and deliberately practice for a sufficient period of time. The key point here being ‘sufficient’ — if you’re aiming for world-expert level, 10000 hours is the figure bandied about. But if you just want to be ‘competent’, then Josh suggests much, much less time still yields really good results — he suggests 20 hours. I’m not sure where that number comes from, but it seems like a reasonable place to start. Most importantly, it feels achievable so you’re more likely to actually do it.

My goal (perhaps? see below…) is to be able to write blog posts fluently and consistently. It’s not 100% clear to me that this is a ‘well-defined skill’ — but it is a goal: I want to make writing 1 post a day something that I just “do”, not something that feels like a heroic effort. So what does it take to do that? What goes in to producing content of a reasonable quality reliably and efficiently?

  • Choosing a topic
    • Brainstorming
    • Asking yourself questions
    • Topics that choose themselves — blogging what you’re learning or as you’re learning
  • Drafting the post
    • Structure
    • Avoiding editing while writing
    • Writing quickly
  • Editing the post
    • Textual tics
    • Restructuring
  • Publishing the post
    • Scheduling posts for future publication
    • Uploading to the hosting service
    • Adding categories and tags; making it ‘discoverable’

As I’m writing about this, I’m becoming less confident that ‘blogging fluently and consistently’ is my real goal — it’s something I’d like to do, but in the pursuit of something else: something like “regular reflective practice”. I think Sacha Chua’s blog is the closest model I’ve come across.

This transcript of her interview with Holly Tse is particularly useful. Some points I really like:

  • To get started, “ditch your expectations”, and “write for yourself”
  • “it’s ok to bore yourself”
  • writing about small things enables you to see the larger patterns — and eventually, to develop your own voice.
  • It’s ok to not make sense.
  • Use your blog as a way to ‘figure things out’
  • “If you don’t have at least one thing worth writing about each day, there’s more in your life that you can hack and improve.” (and I could always write about that!)
  • Ask yourself questions; some suggestions: “What did I learn today that somebody else might want to learn?”, “What do I want to do to make things better the next day?”
  • This quote: “For example, if I’m working with a particularly knotty programming problem or I’m trying to figure out a difficult decision, I’m not waiting until the end, when I’m busy and other things demand my time; I’m writing in the process of figuring things out. Then, afterwards, it’s just: Can I tidy these notes up and share them with other people? Which parts am I saving in my private notes, and which parts am I sharing on my blog? That takes five minutes, ten minutes to clean things up for other people after I’ve been writing in the process of learning.”

Some closing thoughts:

  • I’m not sure that I’ve managed to define what it is I want to achieve clearly enough to ‘deconstruct’ it yet, but I think I am making progress! This is something I expected to have trouble with — I’ve always struggled with goal-setting at the first ‘identify the goal’ stage. Do I make things too complicated?
  • That said, I have named some skills that seem useful, and I can build on those.
  • I can definitely act on some of Sacha’s suggestions:
    • I like the idea of writing while I’m learning, and then tidying my notes up into something I could post.
    • Asking myself questions: building up a nice list of questions wouldn’t be a bad way to proceed.

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