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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Just start writing and the rest will follow

In getting back to my writing here, I've been reviewing the feedback which comes in from the form which is linked at the bottom of every post. That then got me looking through my mailbox to ensure that I've responded to everything that needed a response.

One of those comments and subsequent replies from 2015 caught my attention during a re-read, and I figured it was worth sharing as a standalone post. It's about how to get started writing, and what to do about your own internal worries about whether an audience exists.

Here's the original feedback I got in mid-July of that year:


Your blog is amazing. What I really liked about that you were able to put in writing whatever interesting thought came in your mind, disregarding its length or how much people will like it.

This is something I have struggled with, as I always wish to write something significant and end up going nowhere with any dozens of thoughts I have. Do you have any tips how you avoid questions like, "Is it of value?", "Will anyone appreciate it?", "Is it something worth writing about?".

Here's my reply. Keep in mind it's from a time when I was thoroughly entangled in a job that would take everything I gave it (and then some), and my public writing frequency reflected it.


You asked how to avoid questions about "is it of value", "will anyone appreciate it", and "is it something worth writing about". I guess I managed to escape some of that by virtue of how I got started.

My long-form writing began inside Google somewhere around 2010-11, as the company changed in various bad ways, and I decided to speak out against it. There was an internal system called Buzz (which did later launch under the same name) which was a flop on the outside world but which worked great inside a corporate environment. I'd write a "buzz" about this or that, basically whatever had me riled up at the moment, or something I did which I wanted to share with some people.

Some people noticed this and shared it with others, who shared it again, and so on, until finally there were a few dozen people following me just in case I posted something new and interesting. When I finally decided to leave, a few reached out to me and asked me to keep writing. That's how the whole rachelbythebay.com/w/ thing started, and it sort of grew from there.

My first dozen or so posts on /w/ are pretty awkward. I'm not sure of my audience yet, how often I wanted to do it, what exactly I wanted to talk about, how long it should go, how detailed it should be, and just how often I should poke Google in the shorts with my pitchfork. There are a few silly posts which really don't fit in with the rest (like the "Swing Out Sister" one), but I consider that part of the learning process and keep it around to show people what evolution looks like. Sometimes there are pointless dead ends.

What I tell people in general is: write. Just pick a venue and write. Don't worry about who's going to see it, because, honestly, at first, nobody's going to see it. If you have a proud parent or other relative, OK, they might follow everything from day one, but hardly anyone else will. Still, keep writing. Write the stuff you'd want to read. See if it suits you, and if you enjoy doing it. If you do, great! Keep going.

Eventually, you should find if you like doing it or not, and if you do, you will find yourself with a "war chest" of written pieces. Then, you can strategically link to them where appropriate (reddit, Facebook, HN, that sort of thing), and save yourself from having to re-explain yourself when you've already covered a topic in depth.

I find that the feedback (like yours!) would really propel me to write more and more. I don't have nearly the same time now as I did before (as you can tell from my diminished posting frequency), but still try to respond to people when I can.

Incidentally, if you're looking for that cringe-worthy musical post, it's the one from May 25, 2011, and it actually turned out to be the first post in an unbroken daily posting chain that ran until July 28, 2013. My first day of work was July 29, 2013. Surprise, surprise.

As Paul Harvey used to say, now you know the rest of the story.