How I write

Drawing Hands, Maurits Cornelis Escher, 1948 - probably a suitable image for rather a self-referential blog article
 
During a conversation with an associate last week, she commented that a lot of effort must go into creating new content for this site and posed the question of where I find the time. Part of the answer is writing in the evenings and at weekends (tick both boxes for this piece), or grabbing moments when I am travelling on business. However, another piece of the jigsaw puzzle is quite different and relates to how I write.

The same person was kind enough to say that she found my writing to be coherent and well-structured. In her mind, this implied an equally structured approach to composition. Sadly nothing could be further from the truth. In general I have an idea (sparked by a conversation on-line, something that happened in the work day, or reading an article) and create a WordPress.com draft as soon as I have time and access to the Internet. Often this is no more than a working title, maybe a line describing my idea and, if this is what inspired me to write, a link to the relevant web-page for future reference.

Sometimes I come back to these ideas as soon as I have time to write more fully. However, on occasion the gestation period is longer, either because other topics have consumed my attention, or because my thoughts have not matured enough to put fingertip to keyboard. At present for example, I have 17 drafts sitting in WordPress, the earliest of which dates back to December 2008 (maybe it will see the light of day at some point).

When I do get round to starting to write, the process is normally very fluid. Most frequently I will substantially finish a piece at a single sitting. The way that I write tends to be first via a stream of consciousness, which results in a large block of text. Next I restructure (I would be lost without cut and paste) and finally I trim (yes I do sometimes reduce the length of my articles), or expand as seems to make sense at the time.

If on re-reading I feel that I have not been clear enough in making my points, I might re-write a section, or add some clarifying comments. Sometimes I will change the order in which paragraphs appear in order to improve the flow. I may even feel that an initial draft is conflating two fairly distinct ideas and thus split the piece into separate articles; but this is very much an exception. If I ignore correcting typos, punctuation and grammar, then I would estimate that over 80% of any given article will be identical to how I first wrote it.

An idiosyncrasy is that I tend to write in the HTML pane of WordPress and often hand-craft things like tables (one reason I moved to WordPress from Blogger was that the latter didn’t – at least at the time – support HTML tables). I guess this is a hang-over from programming days (not that long ago as, alongside my other responsibilities, I was still programming professionally as recently as 2008). This means that I have greater control over how an article appears, but also leads to me using the “preview” feature quite extensively.

I also tend to spend quite a bit of time either finding suitable illustrations or creating them (I use a combination of Visio and Paint Shop Pro, both tools I have used in a work context for years). Sometimes the ideas for images come as I am in the midst of writing (and a brief search, or a quick bit of design work can give my unconscious time to think about the next bit of text), but equally often I get rather swept along by the prose, push on to completing this and then come back to add images as part of the editing process. Either way, nowadays I seem to spend almost as much time thinking about mouse-over text for images as I do coming up with images themselves.

Going back to the conversation that I mention at the beginning. We ended up talking more about how I write. I said that it was normally a relatively rapid process for me. The best analogy that I could come up with was the difference between speaking in your native tongue and translating into a language that you are not 100% fluent in. For me writing about topics in business intelligence, cultural transformation and technology feels very much a natural thing; like speaking English. It’s not something laboured and the words generally flow quickly easily.

Maybe I am just lucky in this respect. Or perhaps the secret of prolific blogging is to write about things that you both know something about and for which you have an ongoing passion.
 
An early blog prototype
 

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