I’ve been rather neglectful of the site in the last month or so. I’ve been doing a lot of writing at work and it’s been consuming a lot of my time. I felt like doing a bit of a silly blog entry tonight. I was talking with a colleague this afternoon, let’s call her Anne, who asked me to write up a paragraph or two on how I got started writing. Of course, I could not just leave it at that, would have been too easy… So for your reading pleasure, here’s a mock interview I wrote tonight that she can use as input.
Anne: So tell me, how did you get interested in writing?
Steffan: I have been in IT for the last 15 or so years and I’ve gained a lot of experience and knowledge through the years. During my career, I’ve had opportunities for writing in the context of my job. As a technical lead, I’ve often proofread things such as design documents, installation guides written by members of my teams that could possibly be consumed by customers. I also developed some software on the side and had to write the help files for my users. I have had yearnings in the last four or five years to write about some of my experiences professionally but I never found the right motivation to push me do it.
Anne: What was the first thing you got published and what finally motivated you to do it?
Steffan: Back in 2007, I was a technical lead on my team and as part of my development goals, I put that I was going to write something and get published. One day, in my Inbox, I saw an internal e-mail that Dr. Dobbs Journal (DDJ) was looking for articles on experiences with globally distributed development. I thought to myself: “Hey, that’s the story of the last year of my work life. I can surely come up with something about that. What’s the worst that can happen? They’ll refuse my submission.” So I sent a submission to the folks at DDJ to let them know I was interested and what I was going to write about. Then, I started writing about the different challenges I faced dealing with distributed teams. The magazine got back to me and told me that they had already selected an article on the topic but that my article would complete the one they had selected as a feature.
Anne: How challenging did you find writing that first article?
Steffan: It was surprisingly easy actually. At the time, I had a three hour daily commute back and forth, so I used my time on the commuter train to write the article using my laptop. It probably took me around two to three weeks to write those 2500 words. In the end, the magazine used only 800 words of it as the sidebar, but I posted it in it’s entirety here on my web site.
Anne: What is the latest thing that you have written?
Steffan: Last year, I helped facilitate the two-day disciplined agile workshops that were happening in the SWG. I became very interested in the agile planning subject matter. Earlier this year, I started coaching my team in doing this and needed some write up some educational material for the team wiki. So instead of writing for a limited audience that may or may not read it, I felt it would make a good basis for an article that I could try to get published. This way, I got double bang for the buck and it gave me an excuse to write again.
So that’s exactly what I did! I submitted the idea for the article to developerWorks and started writing! It must have taken me about 4-6 weeks writing it tidbits at a time, it turned out to be about a 12 page article in my last draft.
Anne: What do you find the hardest when you write?
Steffan: Definitely fighting “blank page syndrome”. The scariest thing for me is just to start writing. The way I try to get around that is to sit down and start writing the main points that I want to cover. I don’t worry about ordering or if stuff makes sense at this stage. I just do a general brain dump of my main points that I want to talk about. Once this initial step t is done, it starts getting easier because I’m working with something. It’s not a blank page anymore.
The next step is to start expanding on some of my points by adding more meat around them. At this point, the article content is really taking shape and it’s just a matter of moving stuff around to make everything coherent, and writing up the introduction and conclusion. The funny part is that I could probably start by writing a conclusion and working my way back from there, but the conclusion kind of has a life of its own depending on what I write about.
Anne: When do you know you’re finished with it?
Steffan: When I’ve had enough of reading whatever I’m writing. My limited experience doing this has shown me that it can basically go on for however long that I want it to go. I tend to reach a point where decide it’s done and I stop. If only to get a draft in the hands of an editor or a colleague to get some feedback on what I’ve written.
I also tend to write the same that I talk and god knows I can talk about stuff I’m passionate about for a long time… So I have to stop myself…
Anne: Do you have any advice for people that want to start writing?
Steffan: I would say write about stuff you are passionate about. If you do, the information will flow out of you much more easily. It’s also easier to get motivated to do it. The other thing I’d suggest is to start a blog somewhere and write! It doesn’t really matter what you are writing about, just having it online and available to everyone forces you to write in a different way on the odd chance that someone somewhere will read it. The final piece of advice I’d give is enjoy the experience and use the opportunity to grow.
Anne: Have you ever thought of writing a book?
Steffan: Funny you should ask that. You know, we work in a big company with lots of stuff going on. There’s a group that currently has a project going to collaboratively write a book. I heard about their efforts earlier this year and joined them. It was kind of funny because some of the things I had already written about were in part the subject matter of the book. So I’ve been able to conveniently quote myself in some places.
When the drafts of the early chapters started coming out, I started reading through them and doing some edits to help out. Next thing I know, I became one of the and then got upgraded to being one of the co-authors of the book. It’s been a great experience up to now and I’ve learned a lot. I’m looking forward to seeing the differences between writing a 10 page article versus a 200+ page book.
Anne: Wow, that sound like fun! Thanks for your time Steffan!
Steffan: You’re welcome Anne, this was fun too!