Last week I received an e-mail from a colleague, he wrote:
Hi Paul, just wanted to drop an appreciative note about your blog. I just discovered it the other day, and see there’s a lot of good stuff in there!
He wrote more, but it was nice to know that it’s appreciated and people are engaged.
So, now I’m reflecting as a blog article, on our e-mail conversation about blogging. How meta.
I set myself a goal of one article every 1-2 weeks. What I’ve found is that if I maintain that, then writing the next article is easier. The hard part is thinking of ideas for articles so what I’ve started to do is keep a list, add to it whenever I think of something. I check the list when it’s time to "produce something new" but nothing is immediately pertinent.
My initial goal was once a month, but I didn’t always maintain it so well, and I felt I was concerned about writing something really good rather than something simpler. So now I’m deliberately telling myself it doesn’t have to be perfect and it doesn’t have to be grand, it can be a "hey, I started using this new tool and I like it". And honestly, even though I’ve relaxed my attitude, the quality is about the same ;-) (the stricter attitude wasn’t making the quality better).
I found one of my colleagues' blogs, Benjamin Bouvier, and noticed one of his recent articles was a kind-of review of some of his recent work. This kind of thing is a good thing to write career wise, it can come in handy.
During my PhD we were forced to write reports every six months reviewing what we’d done and why we should still receive our scholarships. Everyone seemed to resent and postpone this as long as possible, including me; since it distracted us from our work. However once the report was done, I would realise "Hey, I’ve actually achieved a lot when you write it all down". So yeah, blogging helps me to remember my achievements, whether I write them down that week, or 6 months on.
I haven’t yet written such a review article but might do so.
When I started (this attempt) at blogging (I still have an old blog online somewhere) one intention was that I could write Interesting Stuff on it about what I’m working on. Specifically to write articles about mini scientific investigations. I did do this, probably most notably in my articles about memory fragmentation ( Memory Fragmentation in The Boehm-Demers-Weiser Garbage Collector and More about Memory Fragmentation in BDW GC.
This is an idea format to write up something that is unlikely to get published as a journal or conference article. For example, something that on its own isn’t significant enough to be published. I found that writing these was very rewarding and will keep an eye out for more opportunities like this.
Finally the feedback is perhaps the benefit I expected the least. It can take time to write an article, some of the best (like the GC articles above) can easily take a few weeks, but they’re work you’d be doing anyway. Others, such as A crash course in x86 addressing modes take about a day, while this article will take about an hour.
Sometimes they pay back by learning about a new topic. I noticed the weirdness with the some of the x86 addressing while preparing my x86: an Evolution of Kludges presentation, but had to learn in more deeply to write the above article and its follow up (coming next week).
But other times, like last week’s about Avoiding large immediate values the benefit can be in the feedback you receive, usually from a friend or colleague with some very helpful suggestions that could be very promising.
This is also true for tech speaking, with either suggestions and feedback or being forced to learn a topic deeply enough to talk about it.
So far, taking time to maintain a blog has very rewarding.