Shut Up And Write

Barrier to Entry

21st January 2021 — 7 minutes

This has been a long time coming. I’ve got plenty of half written-up ideas and thoughts that never quite got finished for one reason or another. For me, at least, it can take a long time to get from the seed of an idea to having it thought through enough to be worth putting out there. If you’re reading this, though, something’s changed…

I’ve identified a few things that have held me back until now and I hope writing about them here will help you be able to do the same.

Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt

What if I spend all this time crafting some words and no-one ever reads it? Or worse, what if people do read it and they don’t like it? What if they think it’s boring? Or stupid? Or pointless?

I need to get over myself. Not everyone’s going to find it interesting. Some people will find it boring or think it’s stupid. Some of those people might even be people I know, and that’s okay, hi folks! 👋

I’ll kick off with Ira’s less famous quote:

“It’s hard to make something that’s interesting. It’s really, really hard. It’s like a law of nature, a law of aerodynamics, that anything that’s written or anything that’s created wants to be mediocre. The natural state of all writing is mediocrity… So what it takes to make anything more than mediocre is such an act of will…” — Ira Glass

Ira Glass on Storytelling 1 – YouTube

So, this, my first post, will probably not be very interesting. Sorry about that. I doubt the first things Dickens wrote were any good either1 but you’ve gotta start somewhere. Which brings me, in a truly uninspiring act, to include the “usual” Ira Glass quote verbatim:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me.

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.

Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.

It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” — Ira Glass

Ira Glass on Storytelling 3 – YouTube

So, assuming Ira’s right, I should expect the first few things I put out there to be below my own taste and that’s just the way it is. You have to just keep pushing on through if you ever want to make it to the other side of the gap. It’s okay to worry that your work won’t be very good at the beginning, it probably won’t be.

The important thing is to get started and keep going.

Tech

Me being a software engineer, getting this thing off the ground was always going to be partly about the content and partly about the tech. Content is king but I wanted to make the site my own, I didn’t want to publish on any of the big platforms like Wordpress, Ghost, or Medium.

Having decided to go my own way it was hard to avoid the temptation to make just one more tweak to the layout, try out some new HTML element, fiddle with the config, or look into the flavour-of-the-week static site generator. None of that ever seemed to get me any closer to getting a website online though, it was never “finished”. I’ve enjoyed both aspects of the build but it’s the main thing is getting something (anything!) online, the tweaks can come after that.

A part of the problem was that I was using my IDE to write the content and tweak and test the site. That was a mistake. I’ve learned my lesson and now I draft and edit the content in a distraction free editor and will fire my IDE back up once something’s finished and ready to be published.

This thing was originally going be a Jekyll project hosted on GitHub pages. I had trouble back in 2018 getting “github pages https custom domain” working so that put an end to the project for a little while. Next in line was a combination of AWS S3 hosting and Cloudflare DNS but that had its flaws too. It was so long ago now that I don’t even remember exactly what I didn’t like about it. The last couple of goes at it have been Hugo and Gatsby, each had their pros and cons but ultimately I ran out of steam before anything was online.

Right now I have no idea how it’ll end up online and I don’t really care. I just get to write stuff safe in the knowledge that future me will worry about the other half of the job.

I figured I wasn’t the only one going through this process but I didn’t realise it was common enough for someone to have put together a comic about it:

logo

I fit into at least three of these categories – Blogging vs. Blog setups

How reassuring! Speaking as a software engineer who’s interested in writing things down (as opposed to the other way around), my advice to others in the same boat is simple: just write!

Don’t let the tools get in the way. Just write it down and publish it if you want to.

Focus

I have a lot of half-baked drafts, ideas, and plans that I keep nudging along but none of them quite seem to

It doesn’t help that they’re spread out across notes on (deep breath..) my phone, two Trello accounts, Any.do, email drafts, paper notes!, Todoist, Joplin, Slack messages to myself, text messages to myself, Bear, Evernote, etc. I spent a long time procrastinating my way through consolidating everything into one platform, which is in itself a job that never seems to get finished. I did eventually settle on Evernote. And then changed my mind. Twice.

One difficulty for me has been deciding which half-baked idea to finish and then forcing myself to stick with it. I haven’t got this one cracked yet, it’s all too easy to flit from one to the other, pushing each one forward, but never getting anything across the line. And if Kanban’s taught me anything, it’s that this isn’t how to get things done. All I could get across the line was this pseudo-meta “how I got started” guide. Here’s to the next post having a more concrete topic.

Inspiration

This post was brought to you by TTTThis, aazaa, Tiffany, and Chris. All of whom inspired me to keep pushing to get my little corner of the web up and running.

Practice makes perfect and until then you can tell people you’re still learning.

🐘


  1. Not that I’m in any way trying to draw comparisons to my future self ↩︎