Why I Write
People are often surprised when I explain that I put out a weekly (once a week, if not always on Sunday) newsletter, and have done so for almost 5 years now. It is admittedly a difficult effort to sustain at times, and there are times when I wonder if there remains value in continuing.
I see this newsletter as different from most blogs, in a couple of important ways. This isn’t a stream of consciousness thing, and I try to write something that is relevant to people that are in the business of developing software. Few readers would have much interest in how many bran muffins I had for breakfast, or that I had read or seen something interesting somewhere else. There are some very prolific bloggers out there, I wouldn’t suggest that I’m on par with them, or that there is a better or worse: we’re just different.
Probably the most important difference from the traditional blogs is that I’ve stayed true to the weekly schedule, rather than posting something whenever the muse hits. While this stems the tide on those occasions when I have a flurry of ideas, it also forces me to produce something even when I’m challenged to come up with a topic.
I’ve learned the hard way over the years that it is very important to keep to a schedule of practice if you wish to improve at something (what would I tell my kids about their need to keep up their piano lessons if I didn’t stick to my writing?). There was a point a couple of years ago where a partner wrote perhaps a dozen issues, over maybe a 6 month span. The most amazing discovery from this was not that I had a welcome respite from the weekly deadline. On the contrary, I found that falling out of the weekly habit actually made it a lot harder to get back in the saddle when it was my turn again.
Five years ago, I placed an article in the Cutter IT Journal, one of the better industry journals that you probably have never heard of (unless, of course, you have placed an article in it and received a free year’s subscription). At the time I had not yet experienced work with a professional editor, and the feedback I received for my first draft was devastating (also known as a six-pack evening). It took a while for me to overcome the initial shock and realize that the feedback was actually very constructive criticism. In embracing that feedback, I came to learn a bit more about writing effectively.
As I am finding out now however, the shock of having your writing critically reviewed never really goes away completely.
It was just after that experience that I started writing this newsletter, and perhaps 200,000 words later, it is still something that I look forward to on a weekly basis. Subsequent articles placed in the Cutter IT Journal went through a lot more smoothly, an indication that I am actually learning a thing or two. Practice, practice, practice, but the goals here encompass far more than simply getting better at writing.
When I started, there was perhaps a handful of topics that I could write about, and I initially thought that a weekly piece may be a bit too aggressive. What I have found is that there is no shortage of topics to write about, almost all of them are based on experiences I have with clients.
If I’m caught in a training session unable to reasonably answer a question, an article is a great way to step back, clarify my thoughts and figure out what I might have said in the first place (because it is a safe bet that the question will come up again in a future session). I’ll often write about behaviours I see with clients, both good and not so good (more of the latter, so the former really stand out), and I have found that these observations resonate with a wide range of readers, indicating that our experiences are rarely unique, despite what we may think.
I’ll often write as a means of discovering how I stand on a certain issue, though I try to be sensitive to the concern of stepping on too many toes. There are a few things that I have a pretty strong opinion about, but it is important to recognize that opinions do not equate to facts, and my views are sometimes not aligned with the views of others. Perhaps that is another difference from many blogs, where the blogger often doesn’t seem to care about the views of others. There have been a number of blogs that I have unsubscribed to after seeing one too many ad hominem arguments.
Yes, there is certainly the element of marketing in my blogs. A number of the issues have been picked up by the Cutter IT E-mail Advisor, and it is always interesting to see links from around the world back to the website. These clearly drive a large number of viewers to the website, and while I know that at least some business has come directly from my writing, it is more often the case that the weekly visit to readers’ inboxes is a gentle touch point that serves to keep me top of mind, should a need arise.
First and foremost, the goal is to provide at best a useful service, at worst an interesting diversion from an otherwise chaotic workday. I try to keep the content informative, and avoid the salesy pitches that can be found elsewhere.
Like a lot of activities that may seem to be a bit hair-brained on the surface, there are a wide range of reasons to invest the time and effort on a weekly basis. If I couldn’t find those reasons, I’d likely find other ways to spend my time. Just thought I would pass along the reasoning behind my doing this every week – I hope you are continuing to find this valuable in some way. – JB