Friday, 30 March 2018

Why do I write a blog?

A few years ago I decided to put a bit more effort in to my blog and commit to writing at least one post every month. This is my third year of that routine and so probably a good time to reflect and ask myself "why do I do this?"

First question - why write at all? I am (or was) a mathematician and a programmer, neither of which really requires written English, right? Well, me, allow me to disagree with myself. My career as a developer has been spent working on projects with other people. Whether through documentation, presentations, Slack, proposals, or whatever, a key part of that job has been clearly and persuasively expressing my opinion in writing. Now I'm working in a leadership role it is even more important - at a recent leadership event I listed "being able to write" as one of the most important skills for someone aspiring to do what I do (as an aside, I still feel weird thinking that I'm now in a job to which people aspire, but anyhoo).

Like any skill, writing requires practice and self-critical analysis. Everyone may have a novel in them, but not everyone can get it out in a form others would care to read. I write this blog as a way to practice putting together ideas into a coherent narrative and placing them on a page in a way that flows relatively well. Clear writing requires clear thinking; crystallising ideas into something that can live outside one's own head, and that is a great way to turn ideas into something that can be made real.

Practice takes time, and that is one of the reasons why I'm still using Blogger as a platform. I certainly could move it to some other hosting platform, run my own thing, or whatever. However I have finite time and lacking an amazingly compelling destination I know I could spend hours fiddling with templates and different technologies. Hours I could be spending writing instead.

Ok, but why share? I do not kid myself that I'm an influential blogger. With a couple of exceptions, I get between 100 and 200 readers per post and if I'm honest with myself, most are likely bots. I could write these posts in Google Docs and they'd never see the light of day, however, the motivation for writing something in public is much stronger for me and I do have occasional conversations with people who read my posts and have gotten something from them. Even if it's only one person, that is one more than if I'd locked it away.

I started tweeting when I put up a new post about the time I started writing regularly and I still find it very difficult. I actually find sharing my writing terrifying and starting to post it on Twitter was a big deal for me. These days I use that added pressure to ensure I proof read and think about what I'm saying, how I'm saying it, how others might read it out of the context of my head, and so on. All useful self-critical tools, as mentioned above.

So, why the monthly cadence? Back when I was working in the University of Bath Digital team, I organised a fortnightly Show & Tell event at which five speakers would talk for around five minutes each about something vaguely related to work. It was an excellent way of sharing knowledge both inside and outside the team (it was an open invite) and building a community for those interested in the web. There is a whole post on why this was great and the good it did, but for this post I want to focus on the frequency.

The most common excuse I got from potential speakers was "but I don't have anything to talk about". Of course they always did have something - the details of their current project, some inside information about their particular job (easy in our case as we had a wide range of disciplines and who really knows what a designer / content person / developer does day to day) or something they had been researching recently were the simple options - but to realise this was worth a 5 minute talk meant thinking about the detail of that thing and why it was being done and then realising why that might be interesting to someone else.

A monthly schedule triggers the same process for me. The mental commitment gives me encouragement to write something, and then I need to think of something to post about. It makes me think about what I have been doing, or develop my thinking about something that has been rattling around in the back of my mind. More importantly it makes me consider whether any of this is vaguely interesting or useful to others, and if so how to structure a story around it.

Take this post, for instance.