Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Effective Writing

Friday, December 8th, 2006

Our publishers have given us a deadline of the end of the year to get 60 pages out for DSLs in Ruby. That’s not a lot of time, but honestly probably a really great thing for us. We needed the push.

Putting everything else on hold for the month, I’ve found myself scrambling to find a way to apply all the discipline that I have when programming to writing. It’s hard, and getting started is always the hardest part.

I’ve gone through many days of “working” yet getting nothing done. This is what I’ve learned, it’s working for me, maybe it will work for you :
h3. Work top down

I remember outlining when I was writing papers in school. I never particularly cared for it. I could pretty much keep the structure of my paper in my head and just write from that. Turns out that’s not actually true for a book. And it’s even less true when you are writing a book with 4 authors in 3 different timezones.

Get a loose outline for the whole book, and then as you write each chapter, outline that in detail. Work on one chapter at a time.

Question Driven Writing

XP has TDD to keep you honest. If it’s not making a test pass, you should delete it or write a test for it.

In a similar way, why not start a chapter by writing the questions it should answer. If you find yourself writing text that doesn’t answer one of those questions, delete it, or add the question.

Work in Sprints

I find I simply CAN NOT concentrate if I’m online and checking mail and talking to my roomates and answering IM’s… As damaging as switching context is when I’m coding, it’s several times more damaging when I’m writing.

The problem is that there’s always more to learn, so it’s way easy to get distracted. Oh, Joe’s online, let’s see if he knows about declarative programming. Let’s google for metaprogramming. Let’s download rBehave.

Even working on examples can be a rabbit hole. And with no pair to pull me back to what we should be doing, I’ve wasted weeks on not important stuff.

The solution?

Figure out what needs to get done next. Do some outlining or research or write some examples, whatever. Once you’re confident that you have some material to write about, start a sprint.

I’m using 2 hour increments, but I could probably do 3 or 4.

  1. Unplug the wifi, evdo or lan cable.
  2. Take a minute to think about what you’re about to do (call it a mini standup) tell someone if, say your girlfriend’s available
  3. Set your timer for 2 hours and write.

The rules are you have to be making forward progress. If you come up against any hurdles, want to ask someone a question, park it. Write it down on a card or a “todo.txt” file.

What do you do when you write?