Chris Hannah

Writing


My Writing Cycle

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.

Do Blog Posts Have an Expiry Date?

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.

Parts Unknown

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.

And now, thanks to Nick Heer, I’m now aware that he used to have a blog on Tumblr. The first post I read, Parts Unknown, has to be one of my favourite blog posts I’ve read.

Here is the beginning of the piece:

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.

Having a Culture of Writing at Work

Brie Wolfson, wrote a great article listing their favourite things about working at companies that have a culture of writing. I’m a big fan of writing (and sharing) at work, and I tended to agree with everything in the post.

My favourites on the list would be:

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.

Finding the Right Place

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)?

The Evolution of What I Write About

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.

What Is Your Perspective?

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.

My (Short) Experience With TAIO

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.

This Is How You Write →

Greg Morris, writing about how you should write. Not how you should write, but how you should just write, and write however you want, wherever you want:

While you are worrying about everyone else’s opinions on the correct way to do things, you’re not writing. While you’re casting aspersions on other people that do not do things what you consider is the correct way, you’re not writing either. There is enough room on the internet for everyone to publish, and not feel like they don’t fit. There is no way you should be writing, no perfect blogging for you to be doing, and no advise that needs giving.

— Greg Morris, This Is How You Write

I would suggest that although there are positives and negatives to some decisions when it comes to writing, for example you might a certain app fits you well, or maybe a specific platform is better suited. These decisions are refinements, and can be done once you’ve started writing. Because the most important part about writing isn’t where you’re doing it, the tools your using, or the look of your blog, it’s the process of writing itself.

Using 1Writer as My Writing App

As you may or may not know, I’m currently in the process of finding the right writing app for me. I’ve tested many in the past, but so far I’ve experimented with Craft, Werdsmith, and now 1Writer.

The short answer is that it’s yet another app that doesn’t quite fit what I want.

In some ways it seems similar to iA Writer (which is my default app I use as a fallback) in that it has a utilitarian design, and has good Markdown support. And it doesn’t just support Markdown and convert it to rich text, you view the formatting as you write, which is something I prefer, and is something that apps like Craft lack.

One thing I really liked was that you can add external file providers to your library, so this allowed me to use the same folder I use for iA Writer. It’s one of the nice touches that I want in a writing app, because I want everything to have a level of flexibility so I’m not stuck in any specific process.

Flexibility is also a reason why I’m moving away from 1Writer, since I would prefer better automation support, either in the form of dedicated Shortcut actions or at least a URL scheme. A lot of my writing starts off with a shortcut to generate a basic template or link post, and while there is a Share extension, I’d prefer to have this fully automated.

The final reason why I’m not continuing with 1Writer is that it’s only available on iOS, and while I do most of my writing on my iPad, I still write a decent amount on my Mac. Which meant I was using iA Writer on my Mac and 1Writer on my iPad, and I think that’s a rather pointless scenario when iA Writer is available itself on iOS.

So, again I’m left with another app crossed off, but this past week has helped me to redefine what I want in a writing app. I want it to be flexible regarding putting data into the app, and also taking it out and publishing my writing to my blog. I want an app that shows me the raw Markdown, possibly with a few visible formats like bold/italic, but I want to see the raw file as I write it. And I also want this app to be available on macOS and iOS. There are a few other things I would like, but these few points are what I’m setting as a standard going forward.

I’ve got one more app lined up in my experimentation, and that is TAIO. It’s a relatively new app, and I’ve waited to see some opinions of others before I give it a go. Iv’e seen some optimistic opinions on it, so that is where I will head next. After TAIO, I think is when my my decision will be made. As of right now, I’d say I’m heading back to iA Writer, but we’ll see.