I’ve always written a lot
I’ve been writing on my website, on and off, for nearly half my life. When I started, as a teenager freshly dropped out of college into my first job, I tried to write so far-flung friends and family could read it and get the references, and so that if the occasional internet stranger ran across it, they’d get a rough idea. A key learning, early on, was that my best posts included both (1) what happened and (2) how I felt about it. But the benefit I sought was primarily my own: to clarify my thinking, to remember my feelings, to document the significant-seeming rapids of my turbulently flowing life for my friends and my future self. While my writing was publicly available, if other readers were finding it, I was unaware of them; and in any case, I was convinced that people who didn’t already know me could not possibly find anything of value in my words.
I kept writing, sometimes every day for half an hour, sometimes not at all for long stretches. There was a period from late 2008 to early 2013 when this site was offline and I didn’t write. It was a relief to bring it back up (including all the drafts I never published), and a further relief to get them out of a database and into revision control. Feeling safer about my words not being lost has been (as I suspected it might) a contributing factor to my writing more often this year. Another contributing factor has been Erik Dietrich. He’s been writing on his website for a long time too, and a ever-growing audience values his voice. So thrumpteen weeks ago, when Erik offered some simple guidance on how to make my blog more valuable to me by making it more valuable to readers, I listened.
I’ve always read a lot
Of his suggestions, one that sounded most actionable was to publish new posts on a regular schedule. But I didn’t see why that was important. When I run across a post I like well enough that I’m interested to see what its author says next, I subscribe to the site’s RSS feed. My feed reader is rss2email, so whenever I feel like catching up on blogs, I simply switch to my email’s “Feeds” folder and read whatever catches my eye. Given this reading workflow (see also my coding and podcasting workflows) and my being a fast reader, it’s easy to be an opportunistic subscriber. My investment in flow is self-reinforcing, because the wide-ranging ideas and information I gather from my readings further increase the area under the remainder of the curve.
As I heard myself explaining all this to Erik, I realized just how atypical a reader I am. Most people don’t chase the dragon of consuming their entire Twitter feed or subscribing to every blog they’ve ever liked. My reading habits are weird even to most of my RSS-reading fellows, let alone reasonable people who have a more casual relationship to everything they could possibly be reading on the internet. The way I consume, I don’t care about anyone’s publishing cadence, other than to miss them when they haven’t posted for a while.
My experience may not be universally representative
But it doesn’t matter that I don’t care. Lots of readers do. Lots of folks open their browsers and go to a handful of sites to see what’s new. Readers who are not like me — which is to say, nearly all readers! — add a site to their reading rotation if and only if it pays off: if they can expect to keep getting something valuable, and if their expectation keeps being met.
Now I understood Erik’s suggestion as not only actionable, but also sensible. And I loved the idea of returning to a disciplined practice (as I’d had when I started my online journal at 19) about writing. I wasn’t confident that my well of topics wouldn’t quickly run dry, because I’d never been conscientious about filling it. But I’m a pretty opinionated dude, and my line of work regularly stimulates thought, so I figured I could probably figure out how to keep the topics coming. (Lesson learned from software development: if I want to start solving the problem in front of me, I’d better stop trying to solve problems I’m not having yet.)
Try and see
So I acquired myself the habit of writing and publishing one new post every week. This week was a little tricky, so this post was started in a car, mostly finished at a coffeeshop, and published from the guest room at a friend’s house. That’s what it took to put together my 27th weekly post in a row? So be it. In 2014 I wrote a total of 15 and wished for better; in 2015 I’ve already written 33 posts. I still carry around a low-grade, back-of-mind fear that some future week I’ll have nothing to say, but it no longer feels like an imminent threat.
I’ve always found writing to be rewarding, but painful. The process is becoming less painful for me; I’m hopeful that the results are becoming more rewarding for you. In any case, expect me to keep at it.
Plot twist: I’ve actually been writing two new things every week! Give a listen to Agile in 3 Minutes, my micropodcast about thinking and doing business effectively.