I started the 8 Crazy Blog Posts Challenge as a way to stretch myself and get back in the habit of writing. As in writing software, blogging regularly is difficult when there’s no pressure to ship.
It certainly got me to release more material than has been my recent practice, but it’s worth analyzing the process, the outcomes, and the cost.
The Creative Process
My usual blogging workflow (if such a thing can exist) looks something like this:
- Wait for something to really interest or bother me
- Let it simmer for a while as more complex ideas develop
- Figure out what I want to say about it
- When I have time, develop the ideas into the beginnings of a post
- Sit on it some more
- Come back to it eventually and finish the post
- Edit heavily
- Ship It
This leads to a smaller number of (hopefully) high-quality writings worth sharing. In contrast, my workflow this week looked more like this:
- Freak out about an impending self-imposed deadline
- Frantically brainstorm until coming up with an idea that seems worthwhile
- Flesh out the idea as I write
- Edit lightly
- Ship It
The result was a lot more content, but on occasion I wondered whether the stuff I was publishing was worth reading. Trying to be faithful to my arbitrary commitment, I may have pushed through an idea that wasn’t perfect, or wasn’t fully developed in my head yet.
Interestingly, though, I found that the very act of writing was less capturing thoughts and more creating them. Starting with just the nugget of a thought, the experience of writing allowed the thought to develop into a full-blown argument or hypothesis.
I know everyone writes differently. Some people start with an outline, then fill it in with details as they go. I have never worked that way as long as I can remember. In elementary school, when teachers would ask for an outline as the first step of an essay, I would hand in my outline, get it graded, then throw it out and actually begin writing. To me, the written word is a river; I go where it flows. My words and myself are partners in creativity, building crude thoughts into concrete concepts and coherent frameworks.
Incidentally, this is also how I write poetry. I don’t have a destination in mind; I write the first line, then the second, and let the words guide me wherever they may. Of course, in poetry and prose, there are editorial steps as well, but those merely optimize the core of the idea as it stands when first composed.
In truth, the artificial time pressure made room for a workflow more suited to how I naturally write. I’m not in a place to judge the end product, of course. I leave that as an exercise for you, dear reader.
I can’t say whether or not my (small) audience did or didn’t enjoy my posts. I can, however, comment on their more objective elements.
One easily quantifiable measure is the ratio of technical to non-technical posts. We can knock out the first, introductory post, as well as this one, leaving us with 6 posts to analyze.
This Is Your Brain on Ruby was decidedly technical. Diversify Your Learning and How to Give a Great Tech Conference Talk were decidedly not. The remaining 3 posts focused on the area where I’m most comfortable and (I think) most effective, namely the human side of technology.
Comparing this to the past, through mid-2015 I only wrote technical posts, then I abruptly released 5 straight completely non-technical posts. In that light, this exercise was a recalibration for me, centering me between the purely human and purely technical.
Another significant outcome for me was the ability to flesh out some back-burner thoughts into ideas that I may now use to submit to conference CFPs. Some of the stuff I wrote about was never fully developed, and having this obligation helped me to realize that there was significant depth where I hadn’t perceived any in the past.
One final note is in order. I’ll readily admit to being an attention seeker, and this exercise brought out the worst in me in that regard. I tweeted daily about the experiment, and watched my Twitter notifications and Google analytics to see if anyone noticed.
No one did. (Well, except for this really nice comment from Peter Cooper.) And honestly, it kind of hurt.
Yes, I know it’s a really busy time for the world. People are with family, or taking vacations, or whatever. Somehow the logic part of my brain resented it anyway.
So it became an opportunity to exercise discipline, and accept that I write all this not because other people read it, but because it’s worthwhile in itself. Expressing my ideas, and staying accountable by doing so in public, allows me to form a more concrete perception of who I am, and why I do what I do. It also allows me to turn on myself with a critial eye, and figure out whether I’m fooling myself into doing things that counter my self-interest or harm others.
It’s not an easy lesson to learn, but maybe it was more valuable to me to have my blog ignored than it would have been to have people reading and talking about it.
Wowee. It’s been a long week.
I started the challenge with 2 blog posts already written, 1 good idea, and the knowledge that the final post would be a “lessons learned” exercise. That left 6 posts to write, 4 of which needed ideas. This is actually a pretty tall order for someone like me, who tries to keep the content high-quality and valuable to others.
Coming up with post ideas mostly happened while walking around, or otherwise going about my daily business. There was some dedicated brainstorming time, but that wasn’t too significant.
It helped to have a lot of vacation time, and even working hours were pretty relaxed since lots of people take vacation in the last week of December. That meant I had time even during work hours to be cranking out posts, though mostly they were done during personal time.
Also not helpful: My 18-month-old got sick this week, sicker than she’s ever been. Seeing your child with a temperature of 40℃ (that’s 104℉ for you imperialist Americans) is terrifying, and practically it forces you to drop everything. The worst of it lasted about 2 days, during which time I didn’t get much done in general.
I had hoped to stay ahead of the curve throughout the 8 days, always at least one post ahead, but reality hit hard, and I ran out of headway by Friday. I had to crank out one post on Friday morning, and another on Saturday night. (Anything computer-related is off-limits to me Friday evening through Saturday evening, since that’s the Jewish Sabbath.) So I made it, I guess, but it was down to the wire and quite stressful.
Even when I was ahead of the curve, I found myself staying up hours later than usual just to get things done in time. This made it much more difficult for me to function throughout the day.
If I do something like this again, I realize I can’t push myself this hard. It’s just not worth it. Releasing a post a day could be fun in the future, but I’d want to have all, or nearly all, the posts ready well in advance.
Concluding the Conclusion
In the final calculus, I think it was a worthwhile experiment. I paid a heavy price in terms of stress, but it helped me to think of blogging as part of what I normally do, and to find a more balanced voice with regard to the content of my posts.
I hope this experiment will inspire me to keep growing as a writer, to keep developing interesting ideas, and to share them with you, my readers.
Whenever you read this post, whether it be a day or a decade after I wrote it, I hope you find its contents, and the products of this week’s efforts, valuable and interesting. And I hope this week turns out to be the beginning of a very productive 2017!
Written as part of the 2016 8 Crazy Blog Posts Challenge.