Gilad Naor

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My New Blogging Workflow

I previously wrote about the new setup for this blog. Today I’d like to talk about the workflow I’ve implemented to help make it easier for me to write more.

The Enemy

We have met the enemy and he is us. – Walt Kelly (1913-1973)

Friction.

I’m interested in creating a habit of writing for this blog (more on why in a future post). The main point is that I want to write on a regular basis.

Once a habit is formed it is not hard to maintain it – momentum takes care of it. The real challenge is forming a new habit.

The first rule of habit formation is to reduce the friction of starting the activity – in this case, writing. Once you start the activity obstacles have a way of resolving themselves. And once an activity happens on a regular basis, then momentum kicks in.

I also plan to employ accountability in my writing habit formation. More simply, I intend to criticize myself whenever I don’t follow through on my goal. This is why I’m making this pledge public. Heck, I even advertised my goal Facebook!

I also have friends that I can count on to criticize me, when I waver in my resolve.

The Workflow Goals

The main goal for creating a blogging workflow is to reduce friction, thus making it easier to form a habit.

A second goal, related to what I hope to achieve in this reincarnation of the blog, is to improve my writing. This involves two aspects.

The first is that I am not a native English speaker, and I would therefore like to improve my proficiency. This includes expanding my vocabulary and my control of English grammar.

Second, I want to improve my writing in general, which is mostly language independent. There are guidelines, however, for compelling composition.

To summarize, there are two goals for my blogging workflow:

  • Reduce the friction to start writing
  • Provide a good opportunity to improve my writing

Reducing Friction

I would like to start by clarifying that the overall reduction of friction is not a goal. The goal is to reduce the friction required to start writing. So making it simple to publish a post is not a goal. In fact it’s something I want to actually make more difficult, as I’ll explain below. Making it easy to start writing - that’s the goal.

In 1997, after returning to Apple, Steve Jobs gave a talk 1 about some of the technical advantages of being the CEO of a tech company. He recounted how since before 1990, he had the ability to work on his data from various machines. This is something that today every one of us can enjoy.

The basic system I use is Dropbox. With this, I can start writing on any of my devices, and later continue where I left off on any of my other devices. This reduces the friction associated with needing access to a specific machine in order to start writing.

Secondly, since I chose to use a blogging platform that is based on plain-text files, I have a rich variety of applications to use. After checking out recommendations on the internet, most notably The Sweet Setup, I chose Byword as my default writing application.

Byword provides a simple and distraction free interface that enables me to focus on writing. It is available for the iPhone, iPad, and Macs, and can use Dropbox as the underlying document system.

It may seem weird to some to write on an iPhone or even an iPad, but in my limited experience, both are viable and get the job done. Another benefit of these so called “content consumption” devices is that they only have one application taking up the screen at a time. This reduces the chances of switching in the middle to other, less productive, activities. The Mac version isn’t as strict, but the full-screen mode and the design of the interface make it easier to avoid the temptation to multi-task.

The downside is that it is harder to pull information from other sources, such as cross linking. This is something that I do when I sit down in the evening in front of my laptop.

This is also the time when I prepare the images for the post in Lightroom using some presets I’ve set up and software such as ImageOptim to optimize the image. Preparing responsive images so that load times on mobile devices is reduced even while high-PPI devices are served high quality images is on the todo list.

Improving the Quality

The second goal for my workflow is to improve my writing abilities, and that is why I added a minimal quality requirement from the content that I write.

I base my workflow on common practices used in published material, such as academic or newspaper articles.

An article goes through various stages before I hit the “Publish” button:

  1. I start by freeform outlining and writing down general key arguments that I want to make.
  2. Next, I write down the article in NaNoWriMo style. This means that I write, write, and write with little to no regard of quality.
  3. Once the article is fully written, I leave it and move on to other activities, such as writing the next article, working on the design of the site or just going out for a run. I let it soak for at least a day.
  4. After getting some distance between myself and the article, I wear my editor hat, and go on to proofread the article for spelling, grammar and stylistic mistakes.
  5. Once the article is written the best that I can make it, I get a second opinion, and incorporate the advice I receive. 2

As I stated previously, my goal is to improve my writing, and focusing on the quality of the articles is the means to this end. One of the keys for improvement is receiving feedback. This is something that I learned in a recent photography course - the most beneficial part of it was the reviews of the pictures that I took.

There are two - forms of feedback that I have in place in the above process. The first is to allow myself to give internal feedback by ensuring distance between the “writer-me” and the “editor-me.” The second is seeking external feedback. This is very important for several reasons:

  1. I can get advice from someone much more qualified than myself.
  2. Another point of view provides opportunities for gaining new insights on how to present a topic.
  3. It allows me to grade the internal feedback I provided. This will show me whether or not I’m improving.

I’m investigating several ways of getting peer review for my articles, including paying for professionals. I see it as an investment in my personal improvement. I don’t plan on doing this for ever, and it will depend on how much improvement I see in myself.

A final form of indirect feedback which doesn’t directly fit in the above workflow is to improve my theoretical foundation. For now, this means reading and consulting The Elements of Style. Suggestions for future sources are more than welcome. However, I truly believe that in the end, the only way to improve is by doing (and getting direct feedback)!.

Publish!

Because feedback is so important to me, I do not work on optimizing the publishing of my articles. I can do this only on my computer, which prevents the urge for me to publish quick and rough drafts from one of my mobile devices. This will increase the likelihood of finishing the review process.

I do have a Python script in place to recompile the content, compress the non-binary content and push it to the cloud.

I hope I won’t be tempted to run it prematurely.

  1. It is also interesting to see some of the major shifts in how Apple perceives cloud computing today versus what Steve Jobs outlined in his talk. 

  2. The proofreading for this article was done by Kristin via Elance. Any mistakes in this article are most likely due to me making changes afterwards.