A friend recently talked to me about blogging, and it got me navel gazing a bit. I’ve not really thought about how or why I blog, and I guess it’s a good thing to be a reflective practitioner. At the risk of being self-indulgent, this is an article about how and why I blog. As you will read below, part of the reason why I blog is to help get my thoughts in order, so this will be helpful to me even if not to anyone else.
I think that if I had to sum up how I blog – the design principles I guess – it would be aiming to convey respect and humility.
When I blog, I hope that my main motivation is: This thing I’ve discovered (not me) is cool and I want to share it with you. You might know a better way of expressing it, or even a cooler thing; if so, I’d like to learn about it so that I can be better for knowing it. I assume that you’re my friend, or at least friendly and, as friends do, will tell me where I’ve got things wrong. I also assume that your brain is about as sharp as mine (if not sharper), it’s just that you’ve not come across this thing before, or this way of expressing this thing.
It’s like you and me are stood side-by-side, looking at an interesting landmark or exhibit in a museum, rather than me preening in the spotlight. If you know about something else in the museum that’s even cooler, or you know something interesting about this exhibit that I don’t, then I want you to share it with me. I’m not trying to compete with anyone other than with myself (trying to be a better blogger than I was in the past).
I try reasonably hard to make it worth your time to read it, because that’s what I’d hope other writers would do for things of theirs that I read. Not too much waffle, a bit of personality (both in the content itself and what I link to), examples, metaphors, diagrams or pictures where they make sense, broken up into useful chunks with helpful headings, with an overall structure and flow that tries to help ideas to develop efficiently and effectively in your brain.
I usually start with notes or an outline, then usually (but not always) let it brew for a bit, like a decent cup of tea. I like to not update an article if possible once I publish it (unless people point out mistakes), and the ideas for an article usually don’t all arrive at once. So I take a day or two to give my brain enough time for the ideas to wash up from the ocean of my unconscious onto the shore of my conscious, so I can pick them up and see if they’re worth adding to the pile on the beach that is WordPress. Things that occupy my hands but not my brain can help with this – doing the washing up, going for a walk and so on.
I write offline in MS Word, for spell- and grammar-checking, and to help me concentrate on the words first and then worry about formatting later. If I’m feeling diligent, I’ll write it, leave it, then review it later. This is to fix any clunkiness such as over-long paragraphs or clumsy ways of saying things, or simple mistakes that Word hasn’t caught.
To avoid a large unbroken screed of text, once I’ve written all the words I think about pictures. If the article has called for diagrams, I create them in Word rather than anything flashier. If there aren’t any diagrams I search online for a free-to-use image that goes with the article – hopefully an image that adds to the words, or at least a relevant image that gives your brain a break.
I link to my articles from my LinkedIn profile, and when LinkedIn automatically creates a thumbnail for the article the thumbnail looks better if it can extract an image from the article.
Advice I ignore
- I don’t blog regularly;
- I don’t concentrate on one thing, although over time I have realised that I tend to blog about some things more than others.
But then I’m blogging as a hobby rather than as part of my job. If it were part of my job, then I think I’d follow the advice above rather than ignoring it. I guess it helps to establish what your brand is about, and helps to establish your blog as something that’s worth following for new stuff.
If I have a burst of enthusiasm and inspiration I might come up with articles in quick succession – this one is coming out soon after the previous one, for example. If I were being more professional about things, I’d schedule this one to publish in the future, so that things came out more regularly. However, that requires more willpower than I can be bothered to muster, so I publish things as soon as I think they’re ready.
Coming up with ideas
I think that this is a hard part for some people. Sometimes I blog about stuff I’ve worked out how to do or finally understood, or things that I think are cool or that make me grumpy. Because I don’t have a schedule to keep, I don’t do anything like maintain a spreadsheet of ideas, but I think I would if I wanted to blog more regularly.
The basic idea behind the article about authorisation, authentication and the chain of trust literally came into my head in the time it took me to walk two paces by my old college. As I wrote this down as notes later that day, I realised that this pulled in more ideas and details. So I don’t think it’s worth getting stressed about not having a fully-formed bit of writing pop into your head.
I don’t read many blogs – not because I’m snooty, but because I prefer listening to podcasts while I’m driving or walking to yet more screen time. I think it’s important to absorb ideas from others as part of trying to generate your own, and podcasts have helped me with that.
Why I blog
I enjoy it – it’s creative, and I also like helping people. I can put it on my CV as evidence that I occasionally have ideas and can express them tolerably well. It acts as a searchable index to my brain (at least the bits that I’ve taken an imprint of onto the blog).
I write only when I feel I have something to say. It’s like an itch builds up in my brain, and blogging scratches the itch. It also helps to get my thoughts in order, and lets me see how different ideas relate to each other.
Getting to there from here
It took a long time to get into a groove, and I’ve still not built up a huge adoring fan base, so if you’re looking for fame and fortune via blogging you’re almost certainly in the wrong place. It takes a while to find your voice (what you want to talk about and how you want to say it). I think the best way to find it is to try writing, and keep trying it even when you think what you write’s rubbish, keep trying it as you take silence or pointed comments on the chin, and keep trying it as you slowly get better at it.