Writing every month


Me, dressed up as a piece of corn, crossing the finish line of the 2023 York Turkey Trot

Last year, Strava decided to make their end of year recap thing pay-to-play. This led me to writing my own script to pull the same kinds of reports together. and write about my accomplishments1.

It just so happened that I posted that on January 31st, planting the seed of an idea: what if I could write a little something every month? I'd long wanted to write more regularly; maybe this is what I needed. February rolled around and I wrote a second post3; the game was afoot.

As we close out 2023, I've managed to meet my goal: twelve twinkling new jewels in the tiara of my public persona. The experience has been both easier and harder than I had expected. I wrote some things that I had wanted to write for a long time, e.g. my infatuation/experience with the Dirty Dozen and how we planned a kickass wedding for $10k. I’m especially happy to have finally published my blueprint of the Activities Building; I have a feeling it’ll be a godsend for someone in the years to come. I also wrote some stuff that I thought was kind of eh or incomplete just to meet my self-imposed deadline.

There’s a thing we do at work called a post mortem which involves reviewing three things after something goes badly: what went well, what went poorly, and where we got lucky. It's a valuable process for continual improvement, and I thought it would be a fitting framing device for my post today.

What went well

I’ve met my goal of writing once a month. Woohoo!

The act of publishing has been easy. I’ve continued to use my Gatsby-based site; I’ve written some simple scripts and can now publish a new article effortlessly. Firebase makes hosting dirt simple.

Hosting has remained free. Despite a HN hug-o-death I had no charges and the site has remained super fast and snappy.

What went poorly

Finding topics was hard. This surprised me a bit; I thought I always had something I was interested in writing about bopping around my head. This was partially true, but often the ideas were only half-baked. There were months where I would start a few different posts only to throw all of them out in the eleventh hour.

Getting things done on time was hard. Despite having a whole month, I regularly procrastinated. This meant I’d be stressing about an imaginary deadline, sometimes when I should have had my attention elsewhere.

I always wrote in big pushes, with a draft coming all at once and then editing shortly after; it was rare that I wrote over the course of the month or did multiple editing passes.

Writing well was hard. This is kind of the same as “Getting things done on time was hard”. Not making time meant I wasn’t alway writing high-quality stuff. For example, my post about "getting paid to learn" does tell a story I think is important, but doesn’t feel like my best work. There's no real examples or data, and I don't even offer specific advice on how to start thinking like I describe in the post. It's a shame because I think it's such a useful way to approach career growth, but I don't feel I captured it well.

Google Analytics died. I left the web analytics world five years ago (!!!!!!) and it’s apparently been decided that UA was Bad and Must Die. This sort of botches my metrics (admittedly they were already neglected).

I can’t write on a mobile device easily. My workflow is to run a script to create a dir and index.md for a post, then open vim. This isn’t possible if I’m on a phone, and I’ve actually found myself writing like that a lot - case in point, this post was written while waiting in the car.

My focus is kind of all over the map. I've always chafed when I feel I'm being put in a box4, and I feel no differently about what I'm writing about. However, it's probably going to be hard to "build an audience", if that's even what I'm doing here5. This is may be a non-issue, but it feels like a miss given my reflection on being too unfocused last month.

Where I got lucky

Hacker News loves bureaucracy. A few weeks after posting my quest to title my Kei truck, I realized it was exactly the kind of content that Hacker News craves and posted it. This resulted in an insane amount of discussion, traffic, text messages, emails, and stops-in-the-hall at work. It was a real pleasure that so many people enjoyed the article. I’ve even received emails from folks trying to navigate the titling process who found my article, as I had hoped! This was a huge gust of wind that helped keep writing fun.

Having good friends. Anytime I posted my monthly scribe, there were always a few regulars giving me some support on LinkedIn. It felt good to collect those little thumbs. Thank you, all of you! I see and appreciate you.

What's next?

Well, for starters, I hope to keep contributing stuff here. I'm not sure if I'll keep this exact schedule, as I felt it hurt the quality sometimes, but we'll see!

I'd like to implement some quality-of-life improvements on the articles; in particular the footnotes experience is annoying, and I'd like to experiment with a table of contents. I think I could improve my mobile workflow a bit without having to do anything too crazy. It also wouldn't be the worst idea to add a bit more about myself.

For those of you who’ve been tagging along, I sincerely thank you from the bottom of my heart. It’s a thrill to know anyone at all reads this, and it brought me a lot of happiness this year. I hope you’ll come by again soon! And, hey, if you're feeling a little inspired, why not write ~400 words about it?

  1. Sadly, it seems Strava has hit the "leave no stone unsqueezed" part of their ~relentless drive~ path to monetization, so API access is probably going away after next year. ↩︎

  2. I don't know. ↩︎

  3. About my love affair with Apps Script↩︎

  4. Libby says I'm "not a joiner", which is a nice way of saying "intractable-bordering-on-contrarian individualist". ↩︎

  5. Which, of course, prompts the question "what exactly are you doing this for, anyhow?"2 ↩︎