I recently wrote a couple blog posts about writing. Is this meta-writing? I reckon. The posts are titled Writing a Technical Book
and One Way to Write a Technical Book
. Writing a Technical Book
is a generic-ish look at the process of writing a technical book, while One Way to Write a Technical Book
is more about what I've learned about the process along with some advice. This post is about getting started because getting started is hard.
Getting Started Writing
The screenshot at the top of this post is an example of me getting started writing. You may look at that title - and maybe even the single sentence that follows (note: you cannot see the single sentence in this screenshot. It's "A data story begins with the creation of data.") - and think, "WOW! That's going to be fantastic, Andy! I cannot wait to read that!" The truth? Odds are you will never see the finished work.
Most of the things I start writing are never published. I am not including personal journal entries in this number. Most of my ideas don't even make it as far as the screenshot you see above. What happens to my ideas, then? Well:
- I forget. I have some spark of inspiration but I'm in the shower or otherwise indisposed to stop and write it down so I will remember it later.
- I write it down but never again look at that note.
- I start the document or post but never complete it, or it's ramble-y, or I don't believe it will help and I choose to not publish it - or not publish it at this time.
This T-SQL Tuesday post will get finished later today (I'm writing this 5 Sep 2018), Lord willing. Probably even later this morning (I'm writing this sentence at 7:27 AM EDT while watching Kendra Little present SQL in the City Streamed on another monitor). Because of these reasons (and more), I estimate I don't publish more than I publish. It's not a huge difference - probably 51/49 or 60/40. But that's the split. Is that a good thing?
"I Don't Know"
"Wait. Andy, you write a lot
and you don't know
whether how you write is good or bad?" Yep.
I write because I like to write.
I don't write for eyeballs, likes, or retweets.
I don't write because it's good advertising (it is
good advertising, by the way).
"What if I Don't Like to Write?"
My response? "I don't know." I can empathize but not sympathize. Can I motivate you to change and want to write? Maybe. You could be like me before I started writing. How was I before I started writing? I was missing out on something that I really enjoy - now. I kind of want to ease you into the next bit of The History of Andy (Part I) because it sometimes shocks people. It's not my intention to shock you, but... I am not a good writer. There. I wrote it. It's out there. And I can produce witnesses. There's a difference between writing a lot
and writing well
. Being prolific is akin to having a big mouth, and I can produce a lot of witnesses who will testify to the fact that I have a big mouth. I am a good re-writer.
I am a decent editor.
I am a so-so proofreader.
"How Does This Help Me, Andy?"
The truth is this may not help you at all. It may help you realize that it's ok to do what you do because you like doing it, though. Are there things you don't like to do that you should do? Absolutely. But here's my point - and this is an important point: You definitely need to figure out why
you do what you do. Some folks say do what you're passionate about. Full disclosure: I am one of those people. Others say become passionate about what you do. Still others say learn new stuff and then become passionate about the new stuff. Even others say we should become passionate about learning new stuff. I can see validity in each perspective and even other perspectives I didn't list.
Understand the Constraints
As I type, first-time author (and friend) Malathi Mahadevan (@sqlmal
) just tweeted the following:
Your "why" comes with baggage (no extra charge). If you write to receive positive feedback, stars, reviews, etc., you are going to be disappointed. For whatever reason, people who do not like something are the more motivated to share their feedback. Positive feedback is rare. You should therefore cherish it when you receive it. Negative feedback is less-rare. You should therefore temper your response, realizing the negative feedback is usually over-represented - and positive feedback under-represented - in the pool of responses you receive. You get to choose how to respond, though. I choose to look at negative feedback as folks telling me where I failed. For free. I fail all the time. How do I feel about failing? I feel like I want to fix it and succeed. Does failure hurt my feelings? Goodness, no. If negative feedback hurts your feelings, do yourself this favor: Divorce the emotions from the feedback. ...even if it's emotionally-charged feedback... Hang in there, Mal. One benefit of writing because I like to write is I am mostly insulated from criticism. If I wrote to receive accolades, I would have stopped long ago. When I receive positive feedback, I am happy to read that something I wrote helped someone. That's another part of my Why: I am here to help.™
I'm an introvert who chooses the thrill of sharing way more than I am comfortable sharing. I know, I'm weird. If you're new here, it's good you saw this early. I hope this post helps someone find their why.
I hope it inspires someone to overcome whatever entropy is blocking your next awesome thing.
Friction exists. Overcome the obstacles.
Starting is hard.
Start anyway. Peace.