Sometimes when I write long blog posts, I like to run the text through Grammarly as a way to pick up on some spelling or grammar mistakes that I may have missed. But sometimes, it tries to make me “less wordy”, remove words that “aren’t necessary”, or change the whole tone of the post.
In the past, I would blindly accept any suggestion that was made. Because surely Grammarly knew best? Maybe I just can’t write properly.
But I’m now becoming of the opinion, that seeing as this is a personal blog, my writing should mirror the way I think and talk. I’m not creating legal documents, marketing material, or a school textbook, this blog is about me, so it should probably sound like me too.
The way I worked started to change around when I became a mid-level engineer. I led a small workstream of a few engineers and to get my work done, I was writing more and more without realizing it. Soon writing became a significant part of my work outside of coding. This became even more true when COVID hit since most conversations moved to async chats and word docs.Almost everything software engineers do requires writing. We need to write when we ask technical questions, comment on code reviews, or create design docs. This is because writing software is collaborative. The better you are at writing, the more effective you will be at building software.
Being a software engineer and a writer, my opinion is likely biased in favour of this opinion. However, I have noticed that as I have progressed in my job, I have found writing to also be much more important. Whether it’s writing documentation, reviewing code, planning features, analysing future architecture, or even just helping other engineers. There’s a huge benefit to being able to write clearly, and to be able to explain your thoughts to your future self, and others.
I wrote about this last year when I talked about having a culture of writing at work. I won’t repeat everything here, but here are the five benefits I said come from a good culture of writing:
Easier for others to understand, they can digest at their own pace.
It allows more people to read and learn from it.
Showcases your work and knowledge.
Written information lives longer.
Saves time, both when sharing information with a large group of people, and allows you to explain complex topics in more detail.
I think a lot of internet writers go through a stage where they focus more on refining their workflow than they do than actually writing. What I’ve noticed is that for me, this can be represented as a sine wave. In that I go through phases of really wanting to nail a perfect workflow for every situation, then periods of time where I just don’t care about how I write, I just get on with putting words somewhere and then publishing it to my blog.
Right now, I’m at a stage where I feel like I can write a blog post in any application that can handle plain text. In the past few weeks, that’s mainly been Obsidian, but I’ve also used TextEdit recently, and even the Ghost web interface for my blog.
That may sound rather boastful, but I say that while thoughts about refining my workflow start to creep back into my head.
I already know now, that at some point in the very near future, I’m going to be spending more than necessary trying out new writing apps, working out more efficient ways to publish to my blog, and generally focussing on my writing process.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. While it may seem like misplaced effort, a moment of introspection can be very valuable. Because it can make you think about not only the process of how you write, and how you publish, but also what you write about and who you’re writing for.
The next stage I usually go through, after a short period of refinement, is that I usually write about what I’ve learned, and what my new writing workflows are. Essentially, I start to write about writing. At times that can be seen to be a tad too meta, but I’ve found that process useful to get myself back into the habit of writing regularly. Once you’ve built up that habit, you can start to relax back into the flow of writing more, and focus on the actual content. And with that, the cycle starts to repeat.
As you may expect, this will probably mean that I will no doubt be doing the above very soon. I’m sort of looking forward to it. Once I’ve improved my writing workflows, the tools I use, and also spend time deciding what I want to write about, I know I’ll then be able to spend more time writing. Which hopefully means I can continue to improve.
As someone that tends to both subscribe to a lot of websites via RSS, and likes to sometimes quote what I’ve read on my blog, I sometimes worry if that piece of writing is too old. If maybe the post has had it’s time.
This is mainly caused by my regularly high unread count, meaning if I always read the newest posts first, it can potentially months before I get to read something. Once in a while, I go through the entire list and clean out some posts that I know I won’t read, and try to make it more manageable. But regularly, I find myself a few months in the past, with something interesting that I’ve read. And then I’ll want to use a portion of the writing as a quote, and offer my thoughts/perspective. Except, I’ll notice how old the post is, and wonder if it’s worth bringing up again, or if it’s moment has passed. Which means I refrain from writing. And I just move on to the next unread item in my list.
Maybe this is odd, but this is something that I’ve thought about quite a lot. And I’ve come to two conclusions. The first one being, yes, of course, you’re “allowed” to quote a piece of writing many months after it has been written. And the second being that, if after a few months a piece of writing becomes “out of date”, meaning the contend is no longer valid, the situation has changed, or it was only ever relevant in that hyper-specific moment of time, then has anything been lost? Because if I feel like the content I’m quoting was only ever relevant at that point in time, then anything I would have added, would have also become irrelevant as well.
This realisation has stemmed from thinking about my own writing, and that I don’t always want my writing to be about current affairs, or reactions to immediate events. Because if that’s the case, in a years time, nothing on my blog would be worth reading. I want to have pieces of writing that can stand at least some length of time. So with that personal goal in mind, if it’s relevant, then I think quoting another piece of writing from months (or maybe years) ago, should be perfectly fine.
Only a few years ago, after his passing, I was made aware of Anthony Bourdain. Ever since then, I’ve watched a lot of his television shows, and read quite a bit about him. I’m not sure I’m able to describe him in words, but one of my favourite aspects of him and his work was his focus on real people. Not large population statistics, or generalisations, but individuals.
Before I set out to travel this world, 12 years ago, I used to believe that the human race as a whole was basically a few steps above wolves.That given the slightest change in circumstances, we would all, sooner or later, tear each other to shreds. That we were, at root, self-interested, cowardly, envious and potentially dangerous in groups. I have since come to believe – after many meals with many different people in many, many different places – that though there is no shortage of people who would do us harm, we are essentially good.
I think that quote gives you a glimpse into his feelings on people, but I’d still urge you to read the full piece.
I’ve since read more on his blog, and I’m constantly left amazed at his writing. Not only because of the stories he told, but also how he wrote, and the type of things that he wrote about. I wasn’t blogging much in the “good days” when things like Google Reader existed, and when RSS apparently wasn’t dead, but if people’s blogs were anything like his, then I can only imagine how much I missed out.
Raises the quality bar: When you open up your work to a broader audience, you naturally do more polishing before you share. When everyone is doing that work for each other, the average for the company goes way up!Good ideas bubble up: If the ideas are compelling, they will spread. And it doesn’t necessarily matter who wrote it. I’ve seen documents written in a corner of an organization make their way all the way to the CEO and meaningfully influence top-level decisions.Ditch the “roadshows”: Publish a document to get your ideas out there and it not only democratizes it, it saves time! Docs create a single destination/artifact for anyone around the org to reference and opine on when appropriate or required. I like to call this the ‘YO, FYI” approach. Draft your doc and blast it out with the simple message of ‘YO, FYI” to those that may want to know.
I’m someone who writes a lot at work. For many of the reasons that are pointed out in the above-mentioned list. But if I would come up with the main benefits that I see myself from writing a lot at work I’d say:
Increases chance of understanding - You can spend more time explaining something when writing it out, and the reader can read it at their own pace, and take their time to understand it fully.
Gives the opportunity for more people to gain knowledge - Sometimes when you’re on a call or in a meeting, knowledge stays within small groups of people. But by having a written record, it allows more people (if shared appropriately) to also read it. For example, maybe a new employee wanting to know more about a piece of work/functionality, or someone on the same team that wishes to gain a better perspective of a bigger piece of work.
Showcases your work and knowledge - This can be taken the wrong way, but by offering more detail on discussions, decisions, or any learned knowledge, you can both help others with the shared information, and showcase your work to others. Perhaps it helps your boss to see what you’re up to, and reassures them that you’re on track. Or possibly it shows hard work, and potential for promotion.
Information has a longer lifespan - Instead of staying within the confines of a conversation, information can live longer. And at the same time, it can be used as a living document that is constantly updated.
Saves time - Both as a method of sharing information to big groups of people, and to explain complex topics that may take a while to read and fully understand.
Anecdotally, I have noticed that at my work the people that write more, tend to have a better reputation, and from my perspective, seem to be better at their jobs.
There’s a type of content, that I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, but for quite a long time, I’ve itched for it to find a place. There might be a word or phrase for it already, but I can only describe it as informal, ephemeral, and sometimes very meta.
I think for some, this is social media. But as a person with a blog, I’ve always felt as if it should be more like that, instead of writing on a closed platform like Twitter. That has led me to trying to use Micro.blog multiple times, and also Mastodon recently (which I haven’t been active on for a while).
The only places where I’ve similar content to what I’m talking about is actually on Micro.blog. However, not those that use Micro.blog as a Twitter replacement, which is what I essentially did. But instead, those that really leant into Micro.blog as their sole blogging platform.
Part of me always wants to steer towards hosting all of my writing in one place, and keeping it live and accessible forever. Which is the reason I always end up giving up on platforms like Micro.blog, but I’m starting to think I might just have to accept that it’s probably the best fit. Because the alternative is to share it here on this blog, and I really don’t want to go through all the hassle where I have essentially a full blog and micro blog merged together, but also separate.
I think I’ve talked myself into microblogging again.
Should I use Micro.blog, or keep it self-hosted and syndicate it to Micro.blog (and everywhere else)?
Something that I have been thinking a lot about lately is the content that I want to write about and how it’s changed over the years.
When I first started writing online, I was focussed on writing about Apple, apps, and related technology news. At one point, I remember trying to cover all Apple-related news. That didn’t last long.
Then I tried to do more app reviews. But after a while, this started to bore me as well. Since sometimes, it felt as if I was reviewing an app for the sake of it, rather than simply sharing something that I enjoyed using.
I’ve written a few blog posts about development and a few guides relating to development (which still get regular traffic). But I’ve never been the sort of person to spend most of their time on a particular thing, which means my development work is always done in bursts. So I realised that writing a development blog probably wouldn’t be suited to me.
However, recently I’ve transitioned this blog to a “personal blog”, and I think it’s something I’m going to settle on for a while. I find it a lot easier to write about personal experiences, to share things that I’ve enjoyed, and also to sometimes comment on things such as news or other people’s writing that I’ve read.
When I think back, there has always been a small part of me who just wanted to write something personal. But I think a more prominent role has always felt as if it wouldn’t be that popular, so I shouldn’t be writing about it.
That’s also where my attitude has changed too. Whereas before, I would write reviews and cover news to appeal to as many people as possible. I’ve now adopted what may not sound like a very friendly attitude, where I don’t particularly care what any “audience” may think about my writing. I write about what I want to write about, and I’m not contractual obliged to write about anything in particular.
It may seem odd to “not care” what your audience thinks, but I also believe that being more honest is better for myself and potentially for anyone that would be interested in what I have to say. But I’d much rather have no audience than have an audience that I don’t want to write for.
I wrote about this a while ago in a piece called “Showing Your Own Perspective” but essentially, my point is that we should all be a bit more real* with our writing. Because I personally think there’s so much more value to writing when it feels like there’s a person behind it.
I wrote last month about showing your perspective and owning your biases. It’s something I’ve continually thought more about since transitioning this blog to become more personal, rather than try to attempt to write generalised reviews or present this site as a source for news.
Before I may have written about an interesting app in a general sense, explained its features, and analyses the pros and cons. But now I tend to write more about my own experiences with an app, good or bad.
I used to think that this type of review wasn’t worth writing, since if I’m writing about myself then it probably won’t apply to a massive audience. But I realised that when I was reading other people’s writing, while I was usually interested in the topic itself, I found the most value when the author made it personal and provided their own perspective. And that’s what I’m trying to do with my own writing.
Now when writing about a topic, I remind myself that if anyone reads my blog, they’re probably not coming here as their primary source of news. So I may as well make it personal because what else have I got? I’ve only got access to one perspective. My own.
Continuing my quest to find the perfect writing app, I turned to TAIO (Text all in One). It's been touted as the next best writing app, with it's modern design, and extensive built-in automation support.
I must admit, that clearly I didn't do my research very well. Because as much as I love the level of appearance customisation, and the overall structure to the app, I did not realise that it is not available for Mac.
The developers are working on a macOS version, but don't plan on releasing it anytime soon. That's good news, and means I'll probably look at it again once it's out. Since by then I assume the overall product would have matured even more.
It's unfortunate, since I think TAIO has a lot of potential. But I really want to use one app across all of my devices. So for now I'll be going back to iA Writer.
That will be it for a while I think. I'll spend the next few days putting together some thoughts on what I took from the past few experiments. But I expect that I'll be sticking with iA Writer for a while.