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Today marks exactly one year since my first post on The Proactive Programmer, so it seemed a good time to pause and reflect on what I have learnt during my first year of blogging. Relatively speaking I am really still a beginner at this, nevertheless I feel I have learnt plenty over the past year, and have chosen four lessons in particular which I thought were worth sharing.
Lesson 1 – It is Worthwhile
When I started my blog, I wasn’t sure if it would be worth it. I didn’t know what exactly I would write about, if I would have time to write, or if I would be able to stick to it. Looking back now, it was one of the best decisions I have made. The main benefit I have gained from doing this has been that it has motivated me to think about and learn more about my trade.
I genuinely love programming, but I enjoy a lot of other things too. I like watching TV, I like looking at Facebook. Activities like these don’t really add up to much though, and you have nothing to show for them. Thinking and learning about your trade however is clearly a worthwhile endeavour. You increase your employability, you proactively develop your skills, and you say no to the idea that work can be nothing more than an inconvenience. Now if you are going to start a blog about your area of work, you need to have at least a little passion for what you do. If you don’t like your job then you would be better off blogging about something you do care about, which would also be worthwhile. Whatever your chosen subject, by thinking and writing about it, you will naturally deepen your understanding of it which will in turn increase your appreciation of it.
Last week I stumbled upon a song which articulates my point brilliantly – Time Trades by Jeffrey Lewis, it is well worth a listen.
Lesson 2 – Make it a Habit
For years now, there has been a strong emphasis in the world of self-help and productivity literature of setting goals. Set a goal, make it SMART, and work towards achieving it. Recently however there has been a mini-movement away from this philosophy and towards the idea of focussing less on goals and more on habits. I was first attracted to this idea after reading James Clear’s blog, and have since read a summary of The Power of Habit on Blinkist.
Although goals can be helpful in focussing on what we want to achieve in life, they are difficult things to work with in practice. Once you have defined your goal, what then? You can continually remind yourself of it, and try to make and follow a plan, but by focussing purely on the end result you can deprive yourself of enjoying the journey you take to get there.
I find that identifying and developing habits which would guide me in a desirable direction is a much more effective strategy. We are creatures of habit, and if you want to achieve your goals, you will need to modify your habits anyway. A key habit of mine (possibly a keystone habit), has been that every weekend I will set aside a couple of hours at least to write a blog post. This has become part of my routine. I don’t have to explicitly remind myself to do it, it is automatic and non-negotiable. Of course, sometimes life gets in the way and you miss a week, or you decide to take a break, but these are exceptional circumstances.
If you decide to start a blog, how often you write is up to you. Some people blog every day, some people do it once a month. I got the idea of writing weekly, and indeed starting a blog at all, from John Sonmez at Simple Programmer. Once a week is just right for me, and I would strongly advise bloggers to write no less frequently than this. If I had only been writing once a month I would only have 12 posts, as it is I have almost 50.
Lesson 3 – Share Your Posts
Shortly after starting my blog I began to share some of my posts on CodeProject. With a wordpress blog this is easy to achieve, you just set up a technical blog feed and any post you tag with the keyword ‘CodeProject’ is automatically uploaded. As a result the traffic to my site more than tripled, as CodeProject readers would follow links in my article back to my site.
Not only were my posts now being read by more people, but I was also getting a lot more feedback, as the CodeProject community is great at leaving ratings for articles. My most popular post so far has been A Beginner’s Guide to Garbage Collection, which also won a CodeProject award.
If you choose to write about something other than programming, there is probably a site similar to CodeProject where you can submit your blog posts and attract a wider audience to your writing.
Lesson 4 – Write For Yourself
This is a piece of advice which I have come across many times with regards to blogging, and its value has been reinforced by my experiences of the last 12 months. It may sound selfish, but by writing for yourself you find that you naturally write in a way which is helpful to others. As mentioned above, my most popular post so far was an overview of garbage collection, yet this post is probably the one which more than any other I wrote for myself. Garbage collection was something which I vaguely understood, but wanted to know more about and therefore set out to describe how it works in the simplest possible terms to help me understand it. The result, it would seem, was an article which helped others to understand it too. The best way to find what others want to read about is to think what you yourself would want to read about, and this applies not only to content but to style and even depth.
Blogging about something which interests you and which you want to learn more about is a very worthwhile pastime, and one which I would encourage anyone to pursue, especially if you enjoy writing. We all have ideas and pursuits which we get excited about, but then abandon, perhaps prematurely Continued. If you want to start a blog, then take the first step, create a simple website using wordpress, and set aside some time every week to write something. Don’t become preoccupied with the quality of what you write. Sometimes it will be good, and other times not so good, just write something every week and over time you will improve.
Finally, don’t worry too much about reaching a wider audience. It is nice to have feedback, and of course you want more people to read what your write, but assuming you are not trying to make money from your blog, it doesn’t really matter how many people read what you write. Write for yourself and the rest will follow.