On Sunday, while writing the blog entry for Monday, I tweeted (or is that ‘twoted’?):
One of these days I’m going to write a blog entry on how I write blog entries. You are going to be surprised.
That cliffhanger triggered some responses from people that wanted to know more. So, I took the writing process of my Tuesday’s blog entry as an example to describe the process of me writing a blog entry.
I hope you are not going to hate me after reading this.
The writing process
I am going to deliver the process with timestamps so that you can get an impression on how I write these 1000 words blog entries. We’ll start in the beginning, and that starts with picking an idea.
I take a closer look into my notes to pick a topic. I have a bunch of topics that I want to write about. Here is the current list:
- Working Effectively with Legacy Tests
- Task Switching in Automation
- Short-term vs. Long-term
- Where tool vendors succeed, and test automation fails
- Test This: Train restaurant
- social density and approaches to slack
As topic, I pick the first one as there appears to be the highest energy in my writing. So, I get down the structure with the title in place, tags, and category down. I then try to come up with the first paragraph. The thought and flow is still not there for me to start, so I take a nip from my beer, and decide to read yammer, mails, twitter, and maybe waste some time on facebook.
I finally begin some writing after learning that scientists found out how to explode cancer, raising life expectations of some mice from 30 to 80 days.
I got the introduction down. Three paragraphs. Now, I am going to outline the structure. I think there will be a couple of sub-headings, so I start with four h1-tags, and filling them piece by piece.
I write down the final paragraph, the conclusion first. That’s usually the thought that has the most of my energy, and I want to have that out of my way right now.
My beer is empty, let’s get another one from the hotel reception.
Beer filled in. What’s new on the internets?
While registering for the SoCraMOB 2014.2, I noticed that the information about what I wanted to learn was nowhere used again. I asked for that on the dedicated mailing list. Word count on blog entry: 221 words.
First chapter finished. Now, I have written down 467 words. I defined the term Legacy Tests, as I see it, and introduced the three patterns that I want to talk about. I laid out the structure for the remaining blog entry. My energy is high for the content, so after a nip from my beer, I continue.
Finished the second part, how to overcome red tests. That was rather a long paragraph. I am now up to 853 words. I think this is going to be a longer blog entry. Maybe 1200 words in the end, let’s see.
Oh, a new notification on twitter, let’s see what that is.
Responded to two mails, read three, read twitter, let’s move on with two more chapters for legacy tests.
Finished the long-running tests part. I feel like I am on writing flow, but my beer is empty. Better get a new one.
Poured the new beer. Checking on wordcount, I am on at 1151 words now. Maybe this is going to be longer than I expected.
Finished the part on blinking tests. Now, I am going to find a headline for the conclusion, and write it down with some closing thoughts.
1487 words, I hit “schedule” for the the next morning. Done.
Taking a step back
Roughly an hour into the blog entry. What can you learn from this? What can I learn from it?
Actually, note that I eventually wrote two blog entries on this evening: the original blog entry, and this one describing it. But how do I deal with blog entries like this?
First of all, I try to collect ideas that I feel passionate about over the day. I get them down as keywords, on paper, on the computer, and pick the idea that strikes me most when I start.
Often I get down a structure of three to five headings that elaborate on the point. I skim down the introduction, and spent some time procrastinating before finding my way into writing-flow.
That’s what I did a couple of years ago during a pattern writer’s workshop. We had 30 minutes to write something – and I spent the first 15 minutes to browse social media like twitter. At the end of the day, Elisabeth Hendrickson told me that she was impressed by the two pages of material that I had produced.
For me, it’s crucial to start with goofing off. These faces help my brain to get familiar with the content that I would like to write about. Only this goofing-off period helps me to get something down, to get into the flow of writing.
I have written before about the fact that I worked as secretary for three sports clubs in my past. I think this helped me a lot. Also chatting on more than 100 IRC channels helped.
A couple of years ago, I read Weinberg on Writing, and his fieldstone method. I find myself not collecting too many fieldstones in the sense of paragraphs that I re-use in articles and blog entries, but instead single phrases that help me get stuff down. I collect these while I am at clients, and note high energy for a particular topic.
That said, how do I deal with longer articles or book chapters? For articles, I mostly need more time, but proceed similarly. For a 2500-5000 word piece, I take 2-4 hours to get that down after an initial sketch of chapters.
For book chapters, I apply the same approach to individual chapters, and get one sub-chapter mostly done in one go.
The only difference between blog entries and articles or book chapters is, that I will deliberately re-read articles and book chapters at least three more times. For blog entries it’s more like a fire-and-forget for me. Maybe that’s why you might experience a lot of typos. But as I said earlier, I don’t care about that output, I care more about the outcomes in blog entries.