Friday, July 12, 2013

Blogging, The Ultimate Accountability Partner

Over the past several days, I've had some fun suggesting to people that want to write, or to present, that they consider picking up Gerald Weinberg's book "Weinberg on Writing: the Fieldstone Method". If you want to become a better writer, it helps to actually write. A blog, really and truly, is one of the best places to do exactly that, and Jerry's method of Fieldstone gathering can be best exemplified in an active and consistently updated blog.

During the past few weeks with me at home and on limited movement options, I spent some time perusing and reviewing my blog. I found myself looking at things I wrote several years ago, and realizing that I had what I considered interesting ideas for their time, but that my thinking had either moved on since that first writing, or my circumstances and situation had changed. With that reality, what did that mean then for what I'd previously written? Was it still relevant? Was it still worth reading. In some cases, yes, but in others, I realized there should be some clarifications, or at least, some revision. I've taken old posts, and in some cases I've written what I call TESTHEAD REDUX entries. By doing that, I was able to look at something I once wrote, and if not necessarily do it one better, at least give a new spin on a topic I thought I once knew about, but now have newer or more up to date information.

In many ways, a blog is the ultimate quarry yard for fieldstones. The danger is that we might find that we want to tinker with what we wrote before, to economize the language, to clarify ideas, to change the context. There's nothing that will stop us from doing that. Fixing a few typos or clunky sentences so a post flows better is one thing. To revamp or rewrite whole blog posts years later  (without acknowledging the frame of mind that inspired the update) is, in my opinion, dishonest. It also robs us of a great opportunity to internalize the things that we have learned. In other words, don't go back to a three year old blog post and rework it to read more smoothly, or to reflect your frame of mind today. Instead, create a new entry and say "hey, I write this three years ago and said this. How do I feel about that now? I feel this way…" (see TESTHEAD REDUX above). One of the things that helps me in this regard is that I've never put my blog out there to be a site of authority or perfection. My blog is my training ground. It's my dojo, my priest confessor, my psychiatrist, my drill instructor and my partner in crime. As such, it is the collective accumulation of thoughts, ideas and learning. To not examine it regularly is to complain there's no good boards for a project while I walk past an entire drying yard full of board feet (or a quarry yard with a bunch of rocks, let's keep the metaphors consistent, shall we ;) )?

One of the values I see in "Live Blogging" events is not that I think I'm going to deliver some amazing commentary. Instead, I force myself to use a running narrative so I can explain, to who I hope is my "ideal reader", what it is I'm learning (or at least what I think I'm learning). This idea is one I picked up from Stephen King from his "On Writing" book. For me, the ideal reader is a young tester who, for whatever reason, may feel overwhelmed, confused, lost, and perhaps frustrated at the state of their situation. I want to tell them that it's not so bad, that it's an iterative process, full of initial mimicry and practice, later to be expanded by free form and more relaxed effort, because they will internalize what they learn. Very often the only person I am writing for is me, i.e. the here and now me, to remind myself later on that I was "in the desert" at some point, and despairing that I'd ever drink water again. Those posts are important, because I want to go back and be reminded of when I may have lost hope, and be reminded that I prevailed (or at least survived and learned otherwise ;) ).

Moat of the talks I have written in the past few years, I had initially thought, would come from new research and study. In truth, much of my material from my talks, rather than coming from new, fresh places, have come from things I've already written about here in my blog. This recycling is not dishonest, it's actually the whole point of having a blog in the first place. An article I read as a teenager in Guitar Player magazine in the 1980s, from Leslie West, described his efforts at the time as a guitar teacher in New York City. In the article, he made to me what I thought was a pretty profound statement. He said "I can't teach you how to play guitar. I can show you how to play guitar. What I can do is teach you how to teach yourself." What does that have to do with writing, or blogging? In my  case, it's that my experiences inform my thoughts on concepts, and either corroborate ideas, or they contradict them. People don't teach me what works or what doesn't, I apply ideas and see for myself if they work or don't work. If they work, I experiment with them some more to see if I can get additional benefits. If they don't work, I try to understand what tweaks are necessary so that they ultimately do work. What you won't see from me is my regurgitating something I read at face value (at least, I'm certainly going to try to not do that; I am human, so I can't pledge to never do it).

A phrase I like a lot is "Good judgment comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgment" (Rita Mae Brown). A blog is a perfect place to refine judgment by comparing experiences. However, for a blog to really be effective in this capacity, I have to commit to being willing to put my bad judgments out there. It's possible I might learn from my own mistakes. Even if I don't, it's entirely possible someone who is reading my blog might say "OK, I definitely don't want to be "that guy", so they might exercise good judgment by leveraging my experience at bad judgment. to which I say "bravo" and 'you're welcome".

I guess, long story short, is that I want to encourage those of you out there who are blogging now, or consider blogging, to think about what you hope to get out of it. If it's fame, notoriety, respect, or status, that may or may not happen, so think long and hard about whether or not you want to have that be the primary goal, and if that will sustain you over the long haul. Personally, I think using a blog as an accountability partner offers the greatest benefit. It also provides you with a nearly perpetually replenishing quarry in which to dig for more and better ideas. You may learn a lot from other's successes and failures, but I'm willing to bet you will learn the most about examining your own successes and failures. Seems to be the case for me, at least ;).

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