Time Spent Writing
Writing. I like it but it doesn't come easy. It's hard. Kind of like running a marathon is hard. Except with running I've learned to enjoy the struggle. With writing, this is still a grind.
The waterboarding of the ego. The crushing of the soul. The realization that I can't spell.
I'm a sporadic writer - like sunshine in Seattle, writing comes to me only a few times each year. I tend to write when I need to rant about something or I spent too much time deep diving on an issue.
I always feel as if I spent too much time writing. That it shouldn't take as long as it does. I don't know what the normal time to publication for an article should be but I felt I took many times longer than that.
I figured I couldn't be the only person feeling like this so I've decided to share my writing process. Maybe you're like me and this can help put your mind at ease. Maybe you're not in which case you can give me pointers on what you're doing different. In any case, this is a case study of my writing process.
CDK All The Things: A Whirlwind Tour
This was an article I published about the AWS CDK when it was still in preview. I just started using the AWS CDK at the time. I was a recovering YML addict and a cloudformation junkie. The CDK felt like the answer to a prayer I didn't know I had.
My strong feelings for the CDK led me to write this article.
I write in versions. I start with an outline. Then I create a V1 (version 1). Then a V2. And so forth. The CDK piece had three versions though sometimes I can end up with over six versions by the time I'm done.
The outline is just that. A few bullet points on what I want the piece to be about.
- how I started using it
- goal of article
- overview of cdk
- usage experience
V1 comes after the outline. This is my version of the shitty first draft. In V1, I add more details to each of the bullets and the overall structure of the article starts to take form.
V2 is when real sentences come in. I tend to start from scratch here and write sentences and transitions from the bullet points in V1. I will add titles of articles that I want to reference and leave a TODO for the actual link. In this version, my main focus is getting coherent prose down without being interrupted. If I'm stuck on the right wording for a particular sentence, I will leave a TODO there as well.
V3 is the proper pass. At this point, I fill out all the TODOs and go over the piece one more time, checking how it flows.
If I feel like V3 still needs a lot more work, I will do a V4 and possible additional versions until I feel like everything is ready. At that point, I will copy and paste everything into grammarly and do a final pass for grammar and spelling before publishing.
I like to write in dedicated chunks of time. I aim for at least 30min and if I get stuck after that, I will usually stop and work on something else and pick up writing the next day. The below is my log for the CDK piece.
- 2019-06-09T07:12: start
- 2019-06-09T09:21: stop, total: 129min
- 2019-06-10T16:52: start
- 2019-06-10T17:55: stop, total: 63min
- 2019-06-11T10:20: start
- 2019-06-11T12:17: stop, totoal: 117min
- 2019-06-11T19:07: start
- 2019-06-11T20:12: stop, total: 65min
- 2019-06-12T14:50: start
- 2019-06-12T15:36: stop, total: 45min
- 2019-06-13T08:55: start
- 2019-06-13T09:42: stop, total: 50min
All in all, the piece took me 8h over 4 days. You can find all my intermediary work on the piece here. The final output is 3.5k words, or 500 words per hour. To put that in context, I was doing independent AWS consulting at the time and 8 hours equaled a few thousand dollars in missed billable hours.
This is another reason why writing was hard - it is rare that any individual session would be worth the missed earnings. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do it - over the long term, I find that its one of the most effective levers to increase your luck surface area. Once you publish something, it will be out forever, earning SEO points and potentially becoming a spark for a new relationship. Not taking time to write because you have other things going on is the true opportunity cost, as depicted in the comic below.
The piece here did have a happy ending - it was picked up by someone from AWS a few weeks later and ended up with me adding my former employer as a consulting client. If your interested in the process that went behind this current piece, you can find the project for it here.