Here is the recording of the Write the Docs Portland 2021 talk.
Please see the previous post for accompanying content and a link to the slides.
Here is the recording of the Write the Docs Portland 2021 talk.
Please see the previous post for accompanying content and a link to the slides.
This blog post accompanies my Write the Docs 2021 talk entitled “Almost None to Some: Driving DISQO’s Doc Culture as a Solo Documentarian”. Here, you will find the mottos and writing prompts included in the final slides for each of the five topics we went over.
Thank you so much for attending, listening, and participating. I’ll add a link to the YouTube video once I have given the talk and WTD has published the content on their platforms.
Here are the slides.
If you have questions or want to connect, see my LinkedIn.
I work towards perfect documentation.
Find Comfort in Incompleteness Motto
I work towards good enough documentation.
What does “good enough” mean to me, and how can I differentiate “good enough” from “perfect”?
I force people to see how important documentation is.
I empower others to take responsibility for documentation.
How can I promote documentation visibility and empowerment at my company? In which ways have I already done this?
I assume new engineers and other roles will gravitate to documentation on their own.
Empower Others Motto
I guide new employees through documentation.
What does documentation onboarding look like to me? What would I want to walk someone through?
I try to get everyone on board with documentation.
Establish Key Partnership Motto
I invite those interested and curious about documentation to be my allies.
How do I currently keep myself open to partnerships within my organization? How can I promote a continued attitude of openness?
I’m a background player.
Find Your Place Motto
I have a strong identity within my organization.
How do I perceive my own identity within my organization, and how do I want my identity within my organization to look?
In the first decade of my adulthood, I have often come back to the idea that I was lacking a body of work. I have realized that the body of work comes over time. That may seem like an obvious statement. But it is not so obvious. I listen to podcasts and read books by people who have been working on their body of work for decades. The disparity in my thinking rested in that I did not see the correspondence between accumulation and expertise. There are a couple of points to further look into here, accumulation and the building of a body of work.
First, let’s look at accumulation. Now, depending on what we find to be our calling or great interests, we can look at accumulation in more than one way. Accumulation can also occur without a direct gain of knowledge (let’s talk about this in another blog post). Let’s take writing as our first example. I have been working on building a body of work for my writing since I was about seven years old. Most of that time was spent unknowingly doing such. But let’s say my body of work started about 4 years ago, when I started this public blog. In the past few years, I have been accumulating blog articles.
These blog articles demonstrate a few things, including: I am interested in writing outside of being paid to do so, and I have the diligence to continue studying beyond structured schooling. Now, this is my public accumulation. It is for the sake of releasing information into the world that I think is interesting because it offers thought alternatives. Of course, I also have a decent body of private accumulation of writings. These live in about 10 journals that I’ve filled up. I used to get rid of all of my private writing. But since becoming more comfortable with my process of self-exploration, I have kept all of my private writing.
In addition to accumulating public blog articles and private journal writings, I also have a professional body of work. Now, this is owned by companies, so I don’t show this work in a portfolio. It is often enough in the professional world to simply give companies and other professionals a good understanding of what body of work I have written for pay. Aside from professional work, I have also created a body of work comprised of two novels, one of which is now published and available on Amazon.
This may seem like a lot of work. And it has been. I write every single day. But I would not have it without accumulation. I remember starting my blog and believing that it was too late for me. I wasn’t a traditionally published author, so what place did I have carving out my own little plot on the internet? Who was I to put my name on a website URL and publish my personal thoughts? I did it anyways. And shortly after I started my blog, I gained the courage, through discipline and letting go, to begin writing my first book.
I used to feel that I had to qualify what I spent my time on. I asked myself the value in all that I was doing. But I felt that contributing to this blog and writing books was what I was being called to do deep inside. Writing is my complete release and my raging freedom. I don’t have to publish everything I write, and I definitely keep most of my writing private. But what I do put up is my public accumulation, my contribution to my body of work. The ego was not the part of me that wanted to attach a body of work to my name. The ego was the voice making me question my place in the world, when I have a good idea of it.
So the first part of building a body of work is simply accumulating. It’s not releasing daily content. It’s not putting monetary pressure on the things you love to do most. It’s diligence over the duration of time. There is no need to be an expert now. There is no need for perfection. At the end of the day, when I am finished my professional work, I am still a writer. I will continue to write and create private and public works. There is no incentive beyond the feeling I get that I am fulfilling what my soul most wants to do, which is get words onto a page.
Building a body of work is the more calculated form of accumulation. A body of work shows a personality behind the work. An accumulation can be bits thrown to a wall. For a writer, it can include a drawer full of poems written on napkins, old grocery lists, photo-collages meant to be book covers. Accumulation is disorderly, contains mediums that are extraneous to the main themes of the work, unedited. It’s private, primal, un-curated, insecure, weathered, worn, hyperbolic.
The calculated body of work takes many forms for a writer. For me, it’s these blog articles because they show the themes that I like to work with in my writing. This blog is my outlet for alternative thoughts that I can’t otherwise speak into existence. It is here whenever I absolutely feel the urge that I need to get a thought out. The calculation rests in that I sensor my thoughts in this medium. This is not done to distort the message or manipulate the reader. It is meant to create a more understandable narrative. If I were to use a completely uninhibited stream of consciousness, the articles would become crowded with distracted thoughts that only I am able to make connections to. We all form strong mental associations to words and images, but it’s not useful for me to speak about the formations that I make as they are highly personal and amoebic.
The body of work gives other people a lot into the workings of the creator’s mind. With writing, you can learn far more about me from the words on this page than what I am saying directly. The more material I create and publish, the more you can make your own ideas about how I think and live my life. This idea of who I am lives uniquely in your brain as your perception. Although I can mostly control what goes into my body of work, I cannot fully control how my work is interpreted. The body of work does that for me. A consensus of my writing is made outside of me, based on what I have released.
The value of a body of work is immense. Consistency and perseverance are required. There is romance is the daily toil. One must accumulate, and simultaneously build a body of work. One must work in private, and also show something – not everything – to the world.
I recently watched some material about purpose statements in the context of business and technical writing. Since I’ve been freelancing again lately, I am always looking for ways to streamline my writing and spend less time free-writing (which can cost you some words that you’ll end up deleting from your draft later). After testing out the method of using a purpose statement, I went from taking out approximately four sentences per 1,000 words to taking out no full sentences (just a few words here and there when I get a little carried away).
Not only does it save me time and words, but the purpose statement also instills a sense of respect for the reader. It speaks more directly and concisely to the information that I’m trying to get across (once I’ve established what that information is).
Let’s say I’m going to write an article about time management at work. I’m going to start by formulating my purpose statement, which involves determining the following:
So, the type of document I am writing is a 750-1,000 word information article that will be published on a business website blog. The business sells a software that tracks your online activity and shows you how much time you spend on each website every day.
The document that I am writing helps readers determine if they need help with time management at work. The audience needs to know what behaviors on their part they should be aware of that display a lack of organization, or a general anxiety around their productivity. The audience is business professionals who are interested in self-improvement and performance.
And finally, the audience, having determined that they can benefit from learning more about time management, purchases the software that this company is selling. Yep, this is a sales pitch. Did you figure that out when I mentioned what the company sells?
Condensed, then, is the following:
During the first time around, I focused a bit less on the sales aspect of the article, and that let me have a bit more brain space to come up with some “behaviors” that I can list that will convince readers to purchase the software. For example, I can come up with a short list of sections I will include in the article (again, these are resonating behaviors that the reader may engage in that will make them want to purchase the software to modify their time management skills at work): You Find Yourself Scrambling at the End of the Work Day; You Miss Small Details Often Because You’re Overwhelmed; You Find it Hard to Concentrate on Simple Tasks.
If I was focused on the pitch to begin with, the article would have been too heavy handed as a sales letter. With blog articles from businesses, you will want to offer some value to the reader. The pitch is there, but it’s not taking away from the article or distracting the reader. Basically, the article can stand on its own if you take out any of the sales-pitchy sentences.
I’m not a big outliner (okay, I’m not at all an outliner), so trying out this purpose statement method was a bit different for me. But overall, if I am writing a more rigid form like an article that has a clear intention, it’s useful. It’s not such a strict outline that it boxes me in, but it helps me knock out some of the main points I’m going to make so I’m not sitting in front of the screen too long. The purpose statement simply clarifies and brings focus to the writing.
As I wrote my first two horror novels in 2016 and 2017, I was creating a playlist of music to go alongside them. The music was instrumental (aside from a few peeking words, since I added some songs from movie soundtracks). The music carried some of the movement of writing and put me into the world of my novels rather quickly. My brain recognized the repetition of the playlist and adjusted accordingly to the task. I do the same for running. I have a playlist that gets me there every time. Whenever I delete it and create it again, it shares a lot of the same songs.
When I say that this playlist is the soundtrack of my novels, I speak to the mood I was fabricating and letting flow onto the page. Words slipped out of my fingers at an alarming rate as the tempo of the music quickened. Every time, I would reach a feverish state in which I was under the utter influence of the beauty that these composers and musicians created. My art is a shared one. I used this music as a collaboration tool.
For writing, I prefer contemporary composers like Danny Elfman, who have a clearer instrumental narrative. I steer away from exaggerations generated by wind instruments as they can sometimes be harsh. Since novels are a marathon feat, I aim for smoother compositions that play more gently with the ups and downs. And those ups and downs are very necessary. I didn’t add music that remained level. I wanted the hills and valleys, for they whipped my sentences into more exciting forms. At a meeker segment, I described the landscape and when the music stirred more vigorously, I intensified and played with the less controlled human elements of the story.
The playlist is ordered intentionally. I wanted to train my brain to get into a particular state of consciousness that would allow me to break out of the mundane world for the two hours I spent at my desk each night to complete the novels. When I look back at my process, I see that it was heavily reliant on consistency. I got home from work and waited for it to get dark and cool out. Then I went out for a four mile run to the state capital (I lived in Sacramento at the time). After that, I immediately sat at my desk and did not get up until I had written 2,000 words. But back to music.
Music is a remembrance tool. It has associative quality. It moves about your brain and forms connections in memory and movement. That’s why there’s such an emotional resonance around it. And I’ve just used music for an alternative, that of forging consistency in my writing practice by moving my neural connections in sync with the playlist narrative to put myself into the state of writing.
Maybe you want to try playing a particularly captivating song and letting the words move freely from your fingertips?
Writing fallacies distort the purpose and reality of the wordsmith. Writers have a duty to represent their craft properly. This applies to all professions really. The job one holds should be represented properly and not inflated for the sake of appearances. We see this often when individuals tend towards spending an inordinate amount of time on a task or when they want to ensure their consistent employment. Alternatively, we see individuals undervaluing their own work, and in turn propelling this idea of lesser value of a craft onto clients. Below are some writing fallacies that may illuminate some of the common myths we see existing in the writing realm:
Writer’s block is not an incapability to write. It’s a psychological hurdle to reign in. It’s not the thing itself, the writing, it’s the mind. Being preventative and proactive about the mind’s hurdle means getting into the exercise of writing every single day. There are tools that make this more organized, like Morning Pages, specifically designed for those writers to reclaim their creative potential. No state of personhood necessitates the complete and utter loss of creativity. The general rule is that the more creativity you use, the more you have. Sometimes “overcoming writer’s block” just means asking yourself why you think you cannot do something. It means replacing it with “why don’t I do something?”
Having certain formal qualifications doesn’t necessarily make a better writer. For some, writing is an intuitive process refined over years of trials. I’m always weary of advice from writers or others providing character and plot formulations. Contrary to it’s intended purpose, the advice actually functions to stop me in my tracks and quickly become overwhelmed with the “tasks” attributed to writing. I was only able to write novels once I had accepted that I would have the best idea of what I wanted to say and how I wanted to do it. I forwent ideas about my qualifications. Paying too close attention to my achievements and my perception of their worth has consistently led to undervaluing my abilities.
The writer has a duty to portray his or her position in its realities, not in a myth of the eccentric or romantic notions often attached to it. On the other end, he or she also has a responsibility to value his own craft, regardless of his or her formal qualifications.
At this time, I am wrapping up my second book of a series of three. That’s seven months from when I started the first book. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, I’ve started writing books too many times to count, and each time I would stop, never getting past thirty pages. Those were mostly memoir. In fact, this series began as a memoir and quickly turned into fiction when I found fiction more riveting than real life. After all, I have already lived my past, why not explore something beyond it. How did I do it?
Advice has always had a knack for clouding my judgment. I take it to heart too much, especially, and contradictorily, when the advice is not relevant to my situation. I somehow convince myself that it is relevant. Writing is different for everyone, it’s a very individual process, so it was important for me to toss aside writing advice. When I ignore writing advice, I’m able to have a much clearer image of myself as a writer.
For me to be able to write extensively, I had to have it in my mind to both entertain and comfort myself. In order to do this, I had to go away from what I knew about the contemporary novel, which leaves me feeling sterile and often isolated. The standard contemporary novel was not the novel I wanted to write. I wanted to write something as alien as I feel, and as entertaining as would correspond with the story, which I was giving free reign to toil itself out onto the pages. When I relinquished the control I thought I could forcefully exert on each portion of the story, I wrote better.
I believe there’s a magical way to do everything, but the attribution of magic comes down the road when one has forgotten the immanent stresses and pressures of the current moment. To write is just to write. The only goal for my novels was to finish something, to set something down where it ought to be. I knew the writing had to go onto the page because when I’m writing is the only time I feel whole. To have neglected to get the story out would have been to continue to closet it deeply within myself.
There is nothing heroic in neglecting to acknowledge an art engrained within you. I say this because I believed it myself for many years. Meditated expression and freed expression give way to more unearthing than could be possibly hoped for. To start on a path of expression is to open up the floodgates of creativity. A word leads to another, which leads to sentences, histories both fiction and altered, incredulous discoveries of humanity in its full array of limitations, and the absolutely riveting conformity standards poised from an alternative allegorical place.
Throughout my life, I’ve heard much of the same rhetoric about writing: it’s hard, it takes time, and on and on. I haven’t heard much of the love and process that fabricates a work of writing. To intersperse the typical rhetoric with some perhaps outlying ideas, I suggest the following:
Writing gets easier as you do more of it. I’ve noticed that the more time I spend writing, and the more involved I get with it, the more I want to do it, and the easier it gets. Writing is not innately difficult. Nothing is innately difficult; we just perceive things as difficult by virtue of convincing ourselves of it, or being told so many times that we begin to believe it.
Mood is measured in your writing. I won’t write if I’m in a bad mood as I don’t want it to taint my writing. Instead, I will spend some time getting into a better mood by reading or by baking something. I believe that humans are capable of detecting moods through artwork, so if I don’t want my writing to be overwhelmingly dark, I make sure that I’m not bringing that into it.
You can’t force good work. I view writing as a cooperation between the human, his tools, and his mind, so to attempt to coerce the mind during writing will not turn out very well. Writing is an activity of respect for your inner creativity and inner playfulness, and none of the real good writing can emerge under strained conditions. Rather, I let words and ideas flow where they may, and they always intertwine and make sense in the end.
Ideas come and go, and come. I’ve written about creative trust, and here I’ll readdress one of those principles. If I have a great idea while in the car, at a restaurant, or at another place in public, I challenge myself not to write down the idea. Here’s why: I know that if it’s a good idea, it will stick. If it’s a bad idea, it will dissolve and I won’t bother with it.
When I write, I try to do it with ease and with a good mood in tow. It’s important that when someone reads my work, they do not feel as if I squeezed or coerced the words and sentences out of me. I want my writing to be seamless and flowing, which means paying attention to the ease of process.