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Reflecting on one year of writing

28 June, 2020 - 7 min read

My initial goal in creating this blog was to produce content, useful content, and to hone my writing skills along the way. Over the past year, I've come to better understand what it is to write and how much effort goes into good content. The internet is such a large place and there is so much content available, it's easy to take well-written, thought-provoking articles for granted. I think it's similar to watching exceptional people excel at their craft over and over until that level of skill becomes something you expect. It's not until I started writing again and rereading my posts could I fully appreciate the work that goes into a piece of writing.

Thinking about what to write and how

Reading and writing on the internet feel very different than holding and reading a physical book. In my mind, the position of a web page's scrollbar weighs heavier than the weight of the remaining pages of a physical book. I think I've conditioned myself to a superficial style of reading on the internet, which is driven by news outlets who value page views and clicks over the time a person might spend reading an article. Why write one long article and serve an ad once when you can write two poorly written articles with the same content and serve an ad twice?

So, I've been giving pause to the kind of content I'd like to produce on this blog. I enjoy writing explorations more than I do tutorials, which is what Electron Interprocess Communication turned into, but I do think there's a lot of value in sharing purely technical how-to's. I've benefitted a lot over the years from people sharing information on the internet and I'm coming to understand that this sort of writing is a skill in itself. One topic I have in mind for the tutorial space is "Go for Node.js developers," but to approach it a little differently than traditional tutorials.

Though I wouldn't call myself a Rubyist, I admire Sandy Metz's Practical Object-Oriented Design in Ruby. There's not only timeless information for programmers in this book — it's also well-written. It's not purely technical but it's also not an opinion only piece. The prose doesn't try to be too smart and Metz lets her ideas do the talking for her. In my experience, Computer Scientists are sometimes guilty of over-complicating concepts, and Metz's style of taking abstract concepts and conveying them with code alongside clear English is an underappreciated skill. That book and Sandy's style of writing will serve as a guiding compass for future posts on this blog.

Improving content

Rereading some of my previous posts, I'm pretty happy with them. It's good to get content on the internet and make progress. Though, if I'm being completely honest, some of the narratives lack focus. The ideas and intent are there but hazy in execution. I will almost absolutely revisit Why I lived in Japan for two years. Somewhere in explaining the "how," the "why" was neglected and doesn't come through in the way my mind's eye had imagined it. I believe that writing well comes with writing more, so every typed word is progress; however, there are some things I aim to change about my process going forward.

Outlining

Most of my posts up until this point have been free-form written which means I have been letting each sentence's end lead me to the next logical sentence. For creative writing, I think this works quite well but for writing that needs to clearly convey concepts or opinions; it produces less-than-clear conclusions, in my experience. Outlining is a writing tool that I used frequently during high-school and college that served me well. I would compare it to building a fence around an idea so that my brain can explore it. The next idea is already decided so that the writing doesn't wander off.

Varied post length

While I gravitate toward writing more thorough posts, I'd like the blog to have the room for both short, concise posts and more in-depth explorations of a subject. I've been aiming for 1000+ words per post but brevity presents a different challenge of having to make choices about what is important and what is not.

Writing More

While I'm not ready to commit to a release schedule, I am ready to commit to 2-4 posts per month. The range provides the space to research or to spend more time on one post and the frequency requires writing to be a habit.

Improving and adding to the site

I've begun to think of this less as my site and more as my personal application where I can invest back in myself. It's a place where I can play with pieces of tech that interest me. I can create new parts of this site that benefit both me and its readers.

Emphasis on writing

I wanted to make the site's focus to be writing and one thing I noticed was how legible journalistic sites are. After a bit of digging around, I found lora and merriweather to be much more legible than my previous font, karla. Alongside typography updates, I've also:

  • Removed colors. I believe this makes the site more accessible to colorblind readers. Since I have family that is partially colorblind, this is something that I value in a website that I create.
  • Added summaries to the blog page.

A Positive Feedback System

I mostly enjoy Medium's like system. I don't believe that you should be able to endlessly like something, but I also have no interest in creating a user account system for my blog. So, I created a stateless "like system" written in Go that works by giving each user a random UUID and writing that to a cookie. I think this is a nice middle ground between Medium's approach of endless likes and

As far as I can tell, since I do not collect any user information and associate it with this identifier, this is GDPR compliant. It's opt-out at any time by clearing cookies or just not liking a post. Reach out on Twitter if my understanding of GDPR law is incorrect. There's a future blog post, "Overengineering my blog with Go, Gatsby, and Google Cloud" in progress.

You can try this new feature out on this post!

Future Site Features

Learn in public section

I've added a docs section locally to my site, but I'm still polishing this up. The idea behind this is to create a personal, public knowledge bank that other people can benefit from and see what I'm currently up to.

Photo of the week

This is still in the ideation phase, but I'd like a way to post a new picture to my homepage every week along with some text and have that automated by looking at a dropbox folder.

Automated last revision

I'd really like a way for a pre-commit git hook to write a lastRevision entry into the frontmatter of my markdown files.

Newsletter

I'm currently on the fence about this. I imagine this would be a summary of what I'm currently writing,

Nick Olinger © 2020