Category Archives: editing

Meta-post: Revising my post on emptying one’s cup

I’d been thinking about my blog post on “Getting started with Emacs? Empty your cup. There was something that didn’t quite feel right about the original draft.
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2015-01-16 Tempering advice to Emacs beginners -- index card #emacs #beginner #teaching

2015-01-16 Tempering advice to Emacs beginners – index card #emacs #beginner #teaching

Since I’m also getting used to asking for help, I asked folks on Twitter to help me figure this out. @wobher suggested splitting it up into two approaches: diving in at the deep end, and wading in gradually. In an e-mail, Mike Hall suggested simplifying the post, sketching out what the post was trying to do and how that might be spread over several chunks.

Reflecting on the post some more, I realized that not only was Mike right that the post trying to do too much, but I also felt weird about the tone of the post. It didn’t feel… sympathetic enough. I’d written it in response to someone’s frustrated e-mail. But if I imagined myself in the same situation – annoyed with Emacs, tempted to switch back to a tool that I was more used to – I didn’t feel like that post would help me either learn Emacs or feel better. In fact, it would probably feel worse. “You need to empty your cup” almost feels like “You’re learning this the wrong way,” and attacks put people on the defensive.

Part of this challenge, I think, is that I’m more used to encouraging people who respond like I do. When I’m faced with something I have a hard time figuring out, I tend to blame myself, and so I look for ways to get better. When I meet people who struggle with learning Emacs and who might be tempted to translate that into an “I’m just not good enough to learn this,” I share what works for me: breaking it down into small chunks and learning those, building both skill and confidence at the same time. My cup is not full at the beginning, but I sometimes worry about it being too small.

2015-01-18 Digging into my thoughts about emptying one's cup -- #emacs #writing

2015-01-18 Digging into my thoughts about emptying one’s cup – #emacs #writing

I haven’t quite figured out how to deal with people’s frustration. I think there are times when Emacs is just not a good fit for someone, and that if they understand that, they might still be open to revisiting Emacs instead of writing it off entirely.

2015-01-12 When is Emacs a good fit -- index card #emacs #beginner

2015-01-12 When is Emacs a good fit – index card #emacs #beginner

But I know a little bit of that frustration with one’s slowness, so maybe that’s how I can connect. After all, I have the same flaws.

So I revised the post, cutting out the distracting parts and adding a little identification. The current draft feels a little better now: less like a distracted hamster trying to cram ideas into its pouches, less like a white-bearded sensei handing down wisdom from a remote mountain. I have a slightly better grasp on the weird feeling when a post is trying to do too much, and that other weird feeling when a post creates too much distance.

If you have more suggestions for improving that post (or any of these other posts), please share them. Your perspective can point out something in my blind spot or help me clarify what I really mean. There’s so much I have yet to learn about writing and sharing, and I hope you’ll help me with your feedback!

(By the way, can anyone recommend a service for sharing drafts and revisions publicly so that people can see previous revisions and word-level differences with arbitrary commits? Sometimes I use Github’s diff or git diff --color-words, but the matching isn’t always correct. I can’t figure out how to get Draftin.com to do this nicely. Maybe I’ll just have to get used to writing one sentence per line, like I’ve seen some Org Mode users do. Or maybe it’s time to use the one-Org-file-for-post pattern that other people do, so that’s easier to preview and diff…)

My next delegation experiment: coaching and editing

Reinvesting for the winI’ve been thinking about how I can reinvest profits back into this blog. My default is to save, save, save. There’s time to learn through trial and effort However, investing in help and tools has paid off before, and maybe I can get even better at making those decisions. Besides, if I’m going to scale back consulting and focus on other ways to create value, then it makes sense to invest in creating more advantages.

So I’m planning to find an assistant for this blog – someone who can work part-time on an as-needed basis, probably through Odesk.com. This is definitely not about hiring someone to “spin” keyword-stuffed content for me in order to boost SEO, nor do I need someone to keep me accountable when it comes to writing. I want more than that.

I want someone who can help me deliberately improve my blogging skills. I’ve been working on doing this on my own, and that’s going well. I’m getting the hang of outlining. The next thing I want to get better at is synthesizing information (making lists, describing alternatives, etc.) in a smooth, coherent, and non-plagiaristic way, bringing everything together with recommendations or a conclusion. After that, I want to learn how to:

  1. Write better headlines
  2. End strong: conclusion, call to action, question
  3. Start strong: improve first paragraph, regularly set excerpts
  4. Pick better post topics (research, feedback, etc.)
  5. Send e-mail newsletters, perhaps gathering ideas and feedback for upcoming blog posts
  6. Update, organize, and package information resources regularly

I also want to learn how to take advantage of feedback and coaching. Although I have many mentors, I don’t have a lot of coaching experiences. The last time I had a coach was for school programming competitions. Our coaches taught us algorithms and strategies. They selected problem sets for exercises so that we could see the concepts in action, and they also simulated contests so that we could learn how to work as a team. I learned a lot more than I did on my own.

PLANNING THE WORK

Let's try it once without the parachuteThe ideal coach is someone who’s good at what I want to learn and good at teaching it. That way, they can model excellence—while explaining what they do and why they’re doing it. They can help me identify gaps in my understanding and give me feedback as I improve. They know when to push me beyond what I think I’m comfortable with.

This is what my ideal scenario for a blogging coach would look like:

  1. We pick a skill to focus on, such as synthesizing information.
  2. They recommend some of their favourite role models.
  3. We come up with exercises or challenges (for example, I’m currently working on making sure I have at least one list a week, and that most new posts have images).
  4. I outline the post, and they help me improve the logical organization.
  5. I draft the post, and they help me improve it further.

Even if I can’t find someone who is clearly more awesome at the skill I want to learn, a different perspective can also be useful. Someone can help me check whether something makes sense, perhaps suggesting alternatives. Eventually, I want to learn how to put my editing hat on.

In addition to the coach role, there’s also value in the assistant role. It would be interesting to see what help with research and editing would be like. People use different keywords, so we might be able to find different resources. Maybe they can help me sift through and prioritize lots of results. The main question is that of relative advantage. I read pretty quickly and I get some value from reading the sources myself, so either they need to do that better than I do, or I need to shift the time I spend reading into something of even higher value.

An ideal scenario for writing assistance could be: I send them an outline and some notes. They send back summaries of the best resources with citations and links. I add personal stories. (This step comes after the research because I may want to apply the advice we find, and besides, that stops me from just looking for confirmatory evidence.) We draft, edit, proofread, and publish.

Besides, it would be nice to have someone turn transcripts into blog-ready content. (Or maybe I need to look around for another transcriber who gets blogging…)

I’m curious about the tools and processes that more experienced writers use, but those can be difficult to transfer. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find someone who does a lot of reflective practice.

In addition to getting better and working more effectively, I also want to prepare for situations when I might be more frazzled. It’ll happen. That’s just part of life. I could do what other people do and not blog, but it’s more fun to take notes and learn from the conversation. It makes sense to build that capability now, before I need it. When I’m stressed or sleep-deprived, someone else can check that I’m making sense and that I’m still following a good balance between “useful” and “personal”.

JUSTIFYING THE VALUE

I always try to talk myself out of expenses to make sure that I’ve considered my options. What are some alternatives to paying a coach/assistant?

I can learn on my own based on people’s voluntary feedback. Yay comments! I’m doing all right, and I plan to learn for a long, long time. There are plenty of great tips out there. I’m nowhere near the limit of what I can learn for free or from experience. Books and role models can give me passive, general guidance.

I can find or start a blogging mastermind group. Peer-learning may be slower, but I’ll benefit from different perspectives, stronger relationships, and shared goals. A facilitated mastermind group with a coach can be more cost-effective, and I can learn from the advice that other people get. I have good informal relationships with a number of other bloggers, although they aren’t connected with each other yet.

The alternatives are pretty good, so what advantages can working with a coach/assistant offer to make it worthwhile? Paying someone to help me learn can mean getting targeted, skilled, and consistent feedback. In addition, I can learn more about delegation and coaching, which will be useful for growing my other capabilities.

So it’s worth at least an experiment. What could that experiment look like? It probably looks like 2-3 hours of work once a week for at least a month, focusing on applying the skills to one post a week. That way, we can go deep instead of wide. We’ll use Google Docs or Draft to share work in progress, maybe with e-mail notifications so that we don’t have to check it all the time. E-mail and Google Hangouts can help us clarify or discuss things as needed.

The main risk is that I might forget to assign work, so I should prepare for that by structuring the first month up front and committing to a regular schedule.

At the end of the experiment, I’d like to be more comfortable synthesizing key points from my research and stitching them together in a smooth, coherent, non-plagiaristic way that adds value. Assuming that’s the skill we decide to focus on; we could focus on headlines, intros, or conclusions instead. I’m okay with working with different coaches for different things. It makes sense to play to people’s strengths, after all.

I’d like to be in the position of wanting to continue the experiment, and being able to justify continuing. I did a similar delegation experiment in 2009 (nearly six years ago!), hiring a number of different editors to give me feedback. At the time, I didn’t think it was worth repeating that experiment. (I’ve grown as a writer, but in different ways – outlining and illustrating have really helped!)

What will be different this time around? I think we’ll be less focused on wordsmithing and more focused on developing specific skills. I’d feel better about continuing if I get deep feedback instead of superficial feedback combined with reflective explanations of what’s going on. For example, reorganizing a post and explaining why that could make more sense is much better than making tiny word changes. (Unless they’re truly awesome tiny word changes!)

I may need to try a few experiments before I learn how to properly set up the instructions and the process, and I may need to work with different people to take advantage of different strengths. I should also experiment with signing up for a for-fee facilitated mastermind group, although maybe I should check if I have the commitment to get through online courses first. (I’ve been very bad at this in the past.) Lots of different things to try.

In terms of justification, it would be great if I can continue to treat it as a business expense. To keep the Canada Revenue Agency happy, I need to be able to demonstrate that it’s directly related to a business with an expectation of income. If I can point to how it will help me sell information products or courses (maybe on a pay-what-you-want basis so that I also feel good about making information widely available), then that will probably be enough for the CRA. If not, I just have to make room for it in my after-tax budget. It’s a trade-off between investing in increasing capabilities versus increasing my safety margin for being properly retired, but I think it will be worth it.

What’s in it for the assistant/coach? In addition to paying the agreed-on fees, I’m happy to share before/after comparisons and link to people in posts. Naturally, there’ll be plenty of process reflections and updates along the way. Teaching someone else how to improve their skills is a great way to improve your own, so that’s always nice.

Next steps: I’ve got one promising candidate, so now that I’ve fleshed out what I have in mind, I might reach out to her and start the interview process. And hey, if you happen to be a writer-type who’s interested, you can check out the job post – working with someone who reads my blog already would be even better. I’m open to hiring more than one person on an as-needed basis (experiments!), so go ahead!

Do you work with a coach or an editor? Can you share any tips for making the most of the relationship?

Image credit: Piggy bank (Oliver Hoffman, Shutterstock); Comic (CartoonResource, Shutterstock)

Editing feedback on The Shy Connector

Here’s the detailed feedback from one of my editors on The Shy Connector. Lots of stuff to work with here! I look forward to improving the presentation. =)

I really think the presentation is pretty awesome. Others obviously do, too, from reading the comments.  :-) I think if you left it as it is, it’d be just fine. However, I’ll write down my observations, from line-by-line editing to overall suggestions. You can then accept or implement whatever you like and ignore the rest. :-) Having not gone through and read every archived blog etc on your sites, I hope I don’t miss the mark by pointing anything out that’s already been covered in another post. And I figure that while most of the observations might seem obvious, the more you give people so the less they have to think upfront, the happier they are. And it should be presented as if going to someone who’s never read or seen anything you’ve done before. So…
My editing suggestions are more along the lines of making a transition smoother or just simplifying so the reader’s brain doesn’t have a chance to stumble. No glaring errors. :-)
Editing thoughts:
On slide #3: Add “They say:” or “I’ve heard:” before “2000 Twitter…”
Slide #4: Change “I’m an introvert.” to “But I AM an introvert.”

  1. 8: Change “You’re okay.” to “You’re okay as you are.”
  2. 14 & 16: add , before too: “and help you, too.”
  3. 17: Change “liked” to “like” and delete “great” in “(checkout people’s great comments!)”

For the overall suggestions:
Would it be too much to add some info on WHY I need to be a shy connector? Why do I need to be able to talk to strangers? How does that help me? Who would benefit by that? Why bother? In other words, what’s the value of connecting?
You have a “How?” slide. Would some of the above points be answered with a “Why?” slide and subsequent answering slides? (Define the value of connecting and why you want to help them overcome their fears.)
What about a section on “What if I’m so shy that the ideas you suggested simply terrify me?” or “What if I try and fail miserably?” or “How can I measure if it’s working?” That sort of line of thought…
Specific points:
Slide #7: You say it took you “a while to figure that out.” I assume you meant it took awhile to figure out that you’re shy. Did you think other things were wrong with you before that revelation? Did you blame others? Have any successes despite the shyness? How DID you figure it out?  Anything you can add here that would bring others in deeper (cuz they have that in common with you)?
“Maybe I can help you or somone you know.” Can that be expanded? Some thoughts a reader might have: Do I need help? Is there something wrong with me? What can you do for me?
Slide #10: Excellent!

  1. 11: I like having all the points together but it is fairly crowded. Any way to reorganize so the text fits more easily with the appropriate images? I read it a couple times before I saw the lines linking the images to the text. Afraid of messages getting lost in the crowdedness.
  2. 12: Same thing here. From the layout, with the line dividing the slide into top and bottom, my eye wants to read the whole first block on top, then the second block on top,then go to the bottom. The text, however, seems to make more sense if I read the top left 1st sentence only, then the whole second block on top, then the bottom of the first block, then jump down to the bottom sections.

That is, it makes the most sense to me this way: What can you bring to a conversation? You can ask good questions that draw people out and make them think. You can recommend books and websites that help people learn. You might not be the life of the party but… you can remember (should it be “find out”?) what people need. As you learn more and as you meet more people… you’ll be able to put the pieces together.
However, the layout, I think, makes it read this way: What can you bring to a conversation? You might not be the life of the party but… You can ask good questions that draw people out and make them think. You can recommend books and websites that help people learn. You can remember what people need. As you learn more and as you meet more people… you’ll be able to put the pieces together.
It doesn’t make any LESS sense this way, I guess… just food for thought.

  1. 13: Can you link somehow the first point and the sub point of that: “Write it down”? Again, eye wants to read top top, bottom, bottom. I like the green text inserted for highlights but I think that’s why my eye automatically moves to the right instead of down for the subpoint (it sees 4 blocks each with green and assumes left to right, top to  bottom).

What about inserting the “people, ideas, tools, books….” in parentheses into “The more you add [insert here], the more connections you can make”??  Only one block of text so easier on the eye and brain to put it in logical order: “The more you add (people, ideas, tools, books, links, blogs, interests, groups, patterns, notes …), the more connections you can make.”

  1. 14: Excellent
  2. 15: Excellent

Only thing here is should it read “the happier you’ll be!” or “the more connected you’ll be!”??

  1. 16: I like the idea of the summary slide. But then the presentation “message” just ends abruptly. What about taking the last point on this slide, “share your tips and read more” with the star and links, and moving it to its own slide after thie summary?

Well, that’s it for now. I’ll keep it in the back of my head and send anything else I think of along to you. Let me know if you want me to do more or less or whatever.