Ed. Note: Posting this in honor of once-again breaking the blogging logjam myself. Seemed fitting that it was a post sitting in my backlog forever!

I had a conversation last year with a developer I respect and admire. They were talking about how they just couldn’t seem to blog, though they wanted to.

Some quotes from them:

For me it’s mostly about structuring the text and getting in some kind of flow. I know what to say, but every sentence is difficult to formulate in a way that I’m happy with it.

Not sure if it makes sense or not. I see some people write a blog post about something in an hour (or quicker), and it’s like magic to me. I have about 50 topics for things I’ve been thinking about really hard that I would want to share with others, but just getting started writing is a huge roadblock.

I thought I’d post some points of response to them on the off chance it helps someone else, because it’s certainly not the first time I’ve said these things.

Advice from “Bird by Bird”

There is a fantastic book that you might find interesting about this. I read it during college and I still keep a copy with me. It’s called “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott – it’s a quick read and the way it’s written is kind and funny.

Two aspects of that book really stuck with me, and I think are applicable to software as well as writing:

  • “Shitty first drafts” – When a sentence makes it out onto the paper it doesn’t have to be good; it just has to exist. Then you read it over, loathe it, wrestle with it for a bit, and then it’s better.
  • “One inch picture frames” – the author keeps a one-inch picture frame to remind herself that she only has to write down a small piece of the whole picture at a time. It’s about breaking these things down into small assignments rather than trying to bite off so much (even if the weight is mostly psychological, which is definitely a real thing.)

Batch it up!

A related concept for productivity is batch work. I got some great advice on this from Ali Spittel as well (thanks, Ali!) Do one task across multiple things. You have 50 topics you want to write about. Maybe pick 5, and spend a solid hour doing nothing but coming up with a small bulleted list outline of what you want to say. Then maybe your next batch will be ensuring that the “why this matters” (to your, or to your audience) is clear. Etc. etc. – however you work, do one task at a time across multiple articles rather than trying to tackle one article at a time. It helps keep you in a similar head-space which helps focus and flow.

Don’t Duck the Rubber Duck

Another technique I used to use with folks I worked with was akin to rubber ducking. I’d ask them what they wanted to express or say about a topic. Then I’d ask a few completely open follow-up questions like “what do you think is most interesting about this?” etc. And I’d just write down parts of what they say and repeat it back to them. Things would click and they’d say “oh, yeah, that sounds like a paper.” So you might want to let yourself try rambling and talking about it out loud and just jotting down key phrases as you go.

No Pressure

Also, take the pressure off! Your blog posts don’t have to be canonical references that stand the test of time. Anything you put out now is going to help someone who isn’t you level up. Also, people will have questions and feedback – no matter what.

Writing, like giving conference talks, is definitely a muscle memory. I used to sweat giving talks and now I can structure a 60 min talk and deliver it with very little notice. When I’m out of practice writing, I find it’s hardest to get back into the habit. But once I’ve built up the muscle again by forcing myself to do it, it does get easier.

Give Yourself a Scratch Pad

Last tip – something I do personally.

My blog is on GitHub, and therefore is a repository that can make use of GitHub issues. I post ideas for entries into those issues. I give myself no requirements for it, so as not to get in my own way. I jot down whatever I have. Sometimes it’s bullet points, or an observation, or a killer one-liner (in my eyes at least :sweat_smile:) that I want to build something around. Sometimes those things sit there. Then I’ll take some time to go break down the ideas. Every once in a while I’ll think “wow, that’s essentially pretty much written” and I’ll create a PR for it and polish it up. My goal is that once it gets into a PR it gets out the door ASAP before doubts grow or before it stagnates.

There are a lot of possible ideas sitting there. They’re not all gold, and they don’t have to be! Sometimes I’ll realize I didn’t want to write about something as much as I thought and I’ll close it; sometimes I’ll get in a writing mood and draft 5 items from my notes. But having the list and having the notes broken down is crucial for me.

What Did I Miss?

Post your favorite tips for getting un-stuck in the comments!

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