It’s not what you can’t write, it’s what you need to share

This entry is part 7 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

We like scaring ourselves out of complex opportunities. Take sharing, for example. Sharing too much online can backfire badly, so many people don’t. College graduates worry about drunken parties and griping about jobs. CEOs worry about disclosure and giving away competitive advantages.

We like scaring other people, too. It’s because we worry that they’re not smart enough to avoid mistakes, or that they can’t deal with growing pains. News articles warn people about the workplace consequences of personal blog posts. TV shows rant about Facebook and Twitter.

The infinite memories of search engines and Internet archives scare most people into silence.

People fear loss more than they get excited about gains.  This can screw up your decision-making.

Whenever I talk about sharing, people often bring up that fear. It’s a valid concern, but it’s the wrong focus.

The real challenge isn’t dancing around what you can’t write. The real challenge is figuring out what you need to share.

What can you share that can save other people time?

What can you ask that will open up new perspectives for other people?

What can you express that will let other people recognize themselves in it?

You don’t have to come up with something universally and timelessly insightful. Just share one thing that one person may not know. Just share one thing that you didn’t know a year ago.

Sometimes it’s the littlest thing that solves someone else’s problems or sparks someone else’s epiphany. Sometimes that someone is you, six months down the line.

It’s not about what you can’t write. It’s about what you can. As you explore that, you’ll discover your passion—what you need to share.

When you’re focused on the negative spaces – all the embarrassing things that you don’t want others to know – it’s hard to see the good stuff. When you’re focused on the good stuff, you’ll be too busy sharing to worry about the bad stuff.

It’s very hard to share the wrong thing when you’re focused on making people’s lives better. And if you happen to do so, well, that’s part of the learning experience. Sometimes it’s the other person’s ruffled ego. Sometimes it’s you, unconsciously blaming others, or stepping over a line you hadn’t realized. The conflict helps you understand more.

When someone challenges what you’ve shared, you can think about it more. Sometimes you’ll change your mind. Sometimes your thoughts will become even clearer.

Changing your mind is good, too. You’re human. Change is a sign of growth.

So don’t worry so much about being embarrassed. Focus instead on finding out what you can share with others. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. You’ll see the benefits at work and in life.

Focus on the good stuff, and share as much as you can.

Thanks to Devon Jordan for the nudge to write about this!

Share while you learn

This entry is part 8 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

2014-01-24: Added text from images

Don’t wait to feel like an expert before you share what you’ve learned. The world needs more beginners.

Sharing what you're learning

Sharing what you’re learning

So there’s value in whatever you can share, even if you’re just starting out.

But you probably weren’t waiting for that reassurance. Maybe there’s something else holding you back. The more I think about this, the more I recognize (in myself and others) the fear, sometimes, of being less experienced and less knowledgeable than other people think you are.

I find myself adopting these coping mechanisms when the impostor syndrome intersects with my professional life:

Dealing with impostor syndrome

Dealing with impostor syndrome

With others, I minimize the chance of impostor syndrome by giving them as much information as they need to make their own decisions. As for me, I think the best strategy for me is to throw myself into being a beginner, to embrace that figuring-out, to be delighted by the gaps and the mistakes, and to share the journey – especially the detours.

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Test what you know by sharing

This entry is part 9 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

In grade school, I discovered the power of testing what I knew, even at the risk of embarrassment. I was that kid who always had her hand raised in class—and I’d raise the other one when my hand got tired. Think Hermione without the restraint. (And often without the encyclopedic knowledge, but who’s counting?)

Later, after I caught on to the fact that the teacher wasn’t going to call me every time (even when mine was the only hand raised), I still kept doing it. I figured I might as well. After all, if other students didn’t want to take advantage of this part of the education that their tuition had already paid for, that was their loss. I wanted to see if I understood something well enough to explain it. (As a teacher, I winced slightly at recognizing my younger self in the eager hand-wavers who probably intimidated their classmates like all heck – but I sympathized, although I still prodded the quieter ones.)

There are no more teachers and no more exams, but I still share as much as I can. There’s a saying that goes, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” Me, I’d rather know when I’m being a fool. How can you find bugs in your code unless you look for them? How can you find flaws in your understanding unless you test what you think you know?

Duncan Mortimer saw the following similarities between sharing and test-driven development:

  • Both provide you with tight feedback loops — the first person you’re sharing with when you write something up is yourself. I guess that’s a bit like getting a test to pass in TDD.
  • Both help you to avoid ‘regressions’ — if you’ve got a permanent record of what you’ve done, what’s worked, what hasn’t, then perhaps it’s easier to get a sense for when an action you’re considering will cause problems.
  • Both offer a form of ‘documentation’. Sharing, for your life: for your actions; for your situation. It shows what you were thinking at the time.

I like that. It’s why I blog. I get to find out whether I understand something enough to explain it, and if that explanation makes sense, and if I can answer the questions that other people might ask. I get a record that I can refer to and reminders of my fallability. Sharing helps me learn.

One of the tips that Timothy Kenny shares in Accelerated Learning for Entrepreneurs (e-book, $16.77) is assigning yourself a final project when you want to learn something well. Map the ideas, blog what you learn, create a checklist, write a report or a book, teach a class… create some kind of tangible proof  that you’ve learned something. With that final project in mind, you’ll find—as Duncan also points out—that you study more deeply and more effectively.

Duncan wraps up with this thought:

Perhaps deliberately sharing your life and reflecting on that experience ultimately helps you to live a life that’s worth sharing?

image… and I think there’s something to that. I’m learning a lot about life, and one of my ongoing projects is to have an amazing blog by the time I’m 60 or 90. That nudges me to learn things and do things that are worth sharing. It challenges me to share what I’m learning while I’m learning it, because later on the fuzziness of memory and the curse of expertise will make the details disappear.

How about you? What can you share, and how can sharing help you learn and live?

Personal blog? Don’t worry about your strategy

This entry is part 10 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

Personal branding seems like such a big deal these days. If you’re a beginning blogger, you’re supposed to pick a topic and focus on it, carefully considering how you want to present yourself. Come up with a catchy tagline. Imitate your favourite blogging stars. Polish, polish, polish.

Over lunch, one of my friends told me she envied how easily I write and asked me if she should plan her blogging strategy or just post whatever she could.

Here’s what I think: Don’t worry, just write. Don’t focus on a niche. Don’t hang on to drafts forever. Don’t write like a magazine. You might want to think twice about posting things you might regret, but there’s plenty of other material to share.

Writing is a skill. You won’t know how to do it right away. In fact, if you do it right, you’ll never stop learning.

Don’t write for other people. Write because you want to understand.

When you start, you’ll be boring. You’ll wander around, looking for the point you want to make. It’s okay. You’re still figuring out what you want to say and how you want to say it. Write. Write. Write. The more you write about something, the better you’ll understand it.

Don’t write something a million people could write. It’s better to be unfocused than to be generic. I generally don’t take guest posts from other people because far too many guest posts are soulless entries written more for search engines than for people. Be yourself. Write until you know more about who you are, then write some more.

It’s okay to tell one story twenty times in order to learn how it’s told. Experiment.

The real challenge isn’t coming up with one thing to share. Once you open your eyes to the world and discover writing, the challenge is choosing among the many, many stories to tell. You don’t have to tell the best story. Just make a choice and get out there.

Writing about lots of different kinds of things

This entry is part 11 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

The first change off the bat is to just start writing more varied material and see what sticks, an approach that I used when I first started blogging back in 2005 but discarded when the broad patterns became more clear, and found myself niched into “personal development”. If I can find a way to write on broad topics but remain topically interesting to a broad audience, that would rock.

David Seah, A restatement of purpose

(See, even people who’ve been blogging since 2004 are working on figuring this out. =) )

How do you balance varied interests and focused niches?

Some people write tightly-focused blogs. They might have many blogs, one blog per niche, each almost a silo of content. This is good for advertising, but it’s harder to keep track of everything and make sure all the blogs are active.

This is my personal blog. I write about lots of different topics. I use categories to help people sift through the entries for what they want to learn more about, and I make it easy for people to view or subscribe to a few categories I tend to write about a lot. Blog aggregators like Planet Drupal and Planet Emacsen pick up categorized entries from my blog, so I don’t have to worry about being off-topic.

The diversity of topics might result in fewer subscribers than, say, a consistent focus on productivity (or code, or whatever) might, but it has also led to all sorts of wonderfully serendipitous conversations from the intersections of interests. I like this. I like being a real person with many facets, not just a focused and filtered personal brand.

So, what’s my workflow like? I write as much as I can in my personal notes – anything I want, even things I probably won’t post for decades. I might write about a topic several times, as there’s always more to understand. I publish one post a day – an experiment in limits that has been working well for me. When I want to organize a category more clearly, like all of my tips on connecting, I make linking posts, knowledge maps, presentations, or documents. (Maybe an e-book someday!)

That’s how I’m currently working. If you write, how do you balance variety and focus? And as a reader, what would make it easier for you to browse this blog and find things you want?

Dealing with feeling scattered as a writer

This entry is part 12 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

Maybe there are writers who sit down at their keyboards and type out their thoughts in one straight sitting. Maybe there are people who can focus on one project and see it to the end. I’m not one of those people (yet?) – I move from interest to interest, and somehow it works out anyway. It turns out lots of people are like this, too.

I was talking to a writer who felt scattered because she wrote about lots of different topics in bits and pieces. Here are some tips on planning, organization, writing, and improvement. Hope they help!

Click on the image for a larger version.

2013-12-13 Dealing with feeling scattered as a writer

I’d love to learn from your tips too! Please share them in the comments. =)