For almost every single day this month (I missed one due to a running injury), I’ve written a blog entry into one of my two blogs. This is probably more than I’d written in the six-months-to-a-year leading up to November 1, 2010. The main reason I committed to doing this is that I wanted to become a better writer. I previously wrote about how writing is like human persistence, allowing us to transfer ideas from the rather volatile medium of our short-term memory to something more permanent.

Today’s post will be a reflection on the writing that I’ve done this month, which will hopefully help me to continue full throttle through the rest of November.

Record ideas when you get them. I mentioned this in my previous post but this month it really came in handy. By keeping even a very brief list of things I’d like to write about, I was able to spend less time sitting at my keyboard thinking “what should I write” and more time actually writing it. Even just a bit of brainstorming while waiting for buses recorded into a text file on my MacBook managed to yield a couple of ideas to expand on which turned into full posts.

Write it, rewrite it, and then write it all again. I found that I would write one draft and then scan over it, trying to find ways to rewrite it to be more fluid. It really has to happen in that order because without the first draft, I don’t have the full picture of what I’m trying to express. Once I have that, I can work on ways to express the same thing but better. Even if I scrapped the entirety of what I was working on, the thoughts I had while writing it would still stay with me for attempt #2 (or 3, or 4).

Telling a story is important. Even in cases where it seems like there isn’t a story to tell, you can probably find a related one to tell. When I wrote my recent article on RSpec matchers, I added something to my usual approach to technical writing: I tied the subject to something that I’d experienced and told the story of how I was introduced to it. For my reviews, the synopsis section has been excellent practice for conveying a lot of story in very few words. I think all of these exercises have greatly improved my writing. They give it a certain colour that my previous writing just didn’t have.

Ideas beget ideas. It’s interesting how I would always complain that I didn’t know what to write about but when I committed myself to writing something every day, I started to come up with more things to write about. If you’ve ever wanted to blog but think “I don’t know what to write about,” it might help if you just start writing. When explored, ideas often lead to other ideas; you just need to get the ball rolling.

I don’t think any of this is particularly new. November is very likely filled with blog posts giving all sorts of advice about writing. But perhaps the best lessons are still those that we learn for ourselves. Some things are best learned by doing, especially crafts that require practice to make perfect (or close enough, anyway). What has your writing taught you about yourself and about the art of writing?