Archive for category Writing

Ten books that impacted my life

Posted by on Friday, 29 August, 2014

IMG_3958 I was tagged on Facebook to list 10 books that have stuck with me in some way. I’ve opted to post here as a longer standing reference to this list so I don’t lose it to the wilds of social media posts. From Michael’s post, he notes they don’t have to be the “right” books, or even good books, just books that have stuck with me and made an impact in my life, with some brief explanations of my selections:

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1. Dubliners- James Joyce. This was THE book that drew me in to the evocative nature of literary writing. It is singularly responsible for setting the stage for choosing English Lit. as my major in college, and is the book I have revisited the most over the decades. Reading Dean Koontz later reminded me how Joyce would build fictional stories around real Dublin streets, basing his work in the real physical world.

2. Mere Christianity- C.S. Lewis. The only book I have ever started that I never finished. The concepts are so lofty, I have had trouble digesting the pages. Started in my Junior year in High school, and still have the book mark set to the page in which I gave up years later (pg. 161 for those of you playing along at home).

3. Little Birds, and Delta of VenusAnais Nin. Two books I obtained and read at the same time. Lover and contemporary to Henry Miller and his wife June, Anais’ writing is erotic and raw. These books blew away any notion of innocence of the past generations. They had a deep impact on my world view by showing the strength and passion of female sexuality from a woman’s perspective I’d not been exposed to prior and set the ground work for some of my more feminist leanings.

4. Where are you going, where have you been?- Joyce Carol Oates. Another piece akin to Dubliner’s for me. Evocative and steeped in imagery, this book again showed me what more contemporary authors could do with literary fiction and strengthened my love for English Lit. as a course of study. This book also reinforced my love for literary fiction set in the real world showing the dark-side of humanity from an unexpected perspective with an ambiguous end.

5. Beowulf- Seamus Heaney. A parallel translation of the Anglo-Saxon epic by the renowned Nobel prize-winning Irish poet. This work stuck with me as an intellectual pursuit and supported my academic love of English. Weaving both poetic beauty as well as technical skills in translation, Seamus took Tolkien’s translation head on, and gave you the original text at the same time. Having read this while in the candidacy process for the Methodist ministry, the parallel styling fit nicely with the biblical text of similar style I was also reading at the time, lending to a deeper love for this text.

6. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark- Alvin Schwartz. My first exposure to real horror, thriller, psychologically traumatic texts. This book stuck with me by virtue of the visceral reactions it was able to evoke through simple written words strung together in the right way. Not just a great book for scary stories, but a prime example of the impact good storytelling can impart and the reactions it can elicit from others.

7. The Compleat Distiller- Michael Nixon. If you can’t figure out why this book is so important to me, you likely haven’t been following me until this post was published. I use information from this reference book on a nearly daily basis. Combined with the Alcohol Distiller’s Manual for gasohol and spirits, by Dona Carolina Distillers, these books act as a first stop reference for any distillation question I may have.

8. Alt Whiskeys: Alternative Whiskey Recipes and Distilling Techniques for the Adventurous Craft Distiller- by Darek Bell. Written by the owner of Corsair Artisan Distilling, this book has recipes for non-traditional whiskies beyond your wildest imagination. Need inspiration for a new product? Peruse this book. As a new distiller in the industry, I hold Corsair in high regards as innovators that have helped pave the way for people like me to come in and continue the innovation.

9. Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road- Neil Peart. This is an autobiography by Rush’s drummer covering the time period immediately after losing his daughter to a tragic car accident and then his wife less than a year later to cancer (or what he refers to as simply a broken heart). To process his grief, Neil got on his motorcycle and just rode. The book documents his journey both spiritually and geographically, and resonates with me at one of the deepest levels. Want to know what the open road feels like from an emotional perspective? Read this book. Both heart-wrenching and hopeful, Ghost Rider entwines the human condition in almost lyrical methods (to be expected from Rush’s lyricist, of course).

10. Elements of Style- Strunk & White. I live and die by this book. Yes, it is a reference book, much like number seven in this list, but a book that has stuck with me nonetheless and remains the most consulted book in my collection. It rests on my desk, always within arms reach and ready to be consulted at a moment’s notice.

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This list is, of course, not all-inclusive. Limiting to only ten books that impacted my life was VERY difficult as reading was a huge part of my youth and young adult years. To encapsulate all the changes in my life over the past 40 years, this list would need to be at least five times as big and would likely include some of the ‘biggies’ as well… authors like Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allen Poe, Yasunari Kawabata, Earnest Hemmingway, John Steinbeck, Walt Whitman, William Faulkner, Henry David Thoreau, John Updike, Ralph Ellison, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and many MANY others… Of course over the past decade my consumption of literary authors has declined dramatically while more journalistic and technical content has risen as a result of my career path.

Since I don’t believe in imposing any challenge or tagging socially to elicit others to play along, I’ll leave this post as it stands and ask that anyone who feels compelled to build their own list do so and post it so we can all see the awesome diversity of writing around our social spaces.

 

 

My takeaways from WriteTheDocs 2014

Posted by on Wednesday, 7 May, 2014

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Apparently everyone at a tech writers conference has impostor syndrome. It seems the deeply technical nature of documentation is partially responsible for writers to feel like impostors when working alongside skilled developers. That, along with deep API documentation and treating docs as code, were the three long running themes throughout WriteTheDocs 2014 held at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Oregon this past Monday and Tuesday. I don’t know of any other conference that can compete for the price paid. I most certainly got a solid benefit from my $100 corporate ticket.

Rather than try to translate/ regurgitate my own session notes in this blog post, I’ll point you to Andrew Spittle’s blog where he live blogged each session’s notes (seriously amazing skill there!) along with the page hosting the videos of each session if you care to check out one of the many amazing sessions presented at WriteTheDocs 2014 (currently only 5 are uploaded, more to come I’m sure!).

Instead, I’d like to highlight two takeaways from some of the key sessions using the above blog post and videos as deeper context where you may need it.

  • Communities are awesome:
    •  Build community not minions. Work with your community on a common journey, not with intent to dictate.
    • Deal with churn early and up front, as this will avoid more painful and damaging churn at the end cycle of the release.
  • New Sheriff in Town:
    • Deputize your vigilantes. They have an intrinsic motivation that can be channeled for good. Give them power to change and provide focus to channel that motivation to improved docs!
    • Insert docs into product roadmap, dev, and life-cycle meetings. Remind all facets of the org that docs need to be treated as part of the product.
  • Ignorance is Strength:
    • Write docs by learning as you go. Use your ignorance to build meaningful docs from a new user perspective.
    • Write anything, even if it is wrong. Having something written can give a framework for improvement/ updates.
  • API Consumers are not who you think they are:
    • Zapier.com has great developer documentation of their APIs which allowed an unexpected audience to develop a use for their service they hadn’t expected.
    • Great developer focused docs which include text and screen shots / examples to explain the same concept in different ways.
  • Wabi-Sabi Writing:
    • Find beauty in the imprecise, the transient, the imperfect. But this is not luddism nor complacency.
    • Less Faulkner, more Hemmingway: less flowery, more simple and clear. Less Coltrane, more Davis: economical restraint.
    • Done is beautiful. (Art is shipped.)
  • Strategies to fight documentation inertia:
    • Talk to newcomers and beginners, ask them to write as they learn. Use “this section missing” stubs instead of blanks as motivators to complete that section by others.
    • Social engineer motivation to edit/update with strategic but obvious errors to fix. Use low hanging fruit to entice editors to make changes.
  • Improving Your Content’s First Impression:
    • Community outreach for feedback- export docs to community and import content from community.
    • Feed Stackoverflow questions in-line with documentation and embed feedback surveys.
  • Better APIs through Empathy:
    • Understand and share your user’s needs by using your own APIs.
    • Use other APIs and read their docs too. This will help you write for your user, not for you.
  • Ditch your CMS with Git and Static Site Generators:
    • Build your docs like you build the product you’re writing about. Use iterations and version tracking, then simply auto-generate your content with build commands.
    • Integrating developer tools provides consistency and familiarity across the development and docs process.
  • Documentation as a Product:
    • Like your product, answer the question: What problem are your docs solving?
    • Documentation can be marketing. A sales differentiator. Good docs can lead to client satisfaction, but you need to measure sentiment.

The net/net of the 2014 second annual WriteTheDocs? Would go again. I had a great time and was able to pull out some solid (as well as esoteric) takeaways from a short, local two-day conference. The benefit of being able to attend locally made this conference a seriously valuable event for me. Icing on the cake? A friend visiting and also going to the conference as well which made the event even better for me (friends don’t let friends conference alone).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Know your audience

Posted by on Wednesday, 19 March, 2014

unlovable_dalepartridgeIt seems like such simple and straightforward advice, doesn’t it? Knowing who you are talking to isn’t much of a stretch, most of us think we know exactly who we are talking to via social media, but do we really?

Your audience may or may not be who you think they are.  For some blogs, the distinction of a particular audience may be clearly defined, for others an audience may bleed over into many differing perspectives and entry points for your content. The sooner, and more clearly you can identify the audience for your blog, the better your posts may become.

By way of example, I want to talk about a particular post which a friend of mine shared a day or so back. This post has some good advice, but the author missed the audience, and by doing so has likely alienated a larger swath of people:

“5 steps for loving the unlovable”

Dale’s post starts out simply enough: the intent is to help us all be better people by loving those who least deserve it. Good, solid advice to help us all improve our culture and become a more understanding and cohesive society. But, I’m having some difficulty in reconciling his second point with the title of the piece. In it Dale states:

  “Don’t Reinforce Their Brokenness – As a broken person myself, it’s rare that I don’t recognize my own brokenness. Talk about their strengths. Broken people need less awareness, and more healing.”

Yet, the title of the article “5 steps for loving the unlovable” clearly reinforces the idea that broken people are concretely unlovable. Dale’s voice here seems to be talking directly to people who don’t consider themselves as ‘broken’, and by virtue of this contradiction between advice and title, seems to assume that broken people won’t be reading his post. In fact, his voice generates an “us” and “them” focus that undermines his larger point.

But how would knowing his audience have improved his post? Let’s start with the assumption that those reading Dale’s post are both types of people as defined in his post: those who are ‘broken”, and everyone else. Not a huge stretch here as most people can identify as broken at one point in their lives, if not presently so. With this single, simple understanding that his audience comprises both types, I would expect a more focused choice of words to show compassion and love, rather than the subtle tone of superiority and conflicting messages present in the article as written.

A change in voice is a simple way to adjust for the audience. Given his recognition of being broken himself, rather than using “them” and “their”, a shift to “us” and “we” immediately changes the tone of the article to be more welcoming and inclusive as well as generating a feeling of deeper compassion and connectedness. With that single change, Dale could both drive home the overarching point of his article, while also combating the polarizing effects of the us versus them mindset which permeates our internet culture today. The recognition of an audience that is also broken would have guided Dale’s word choice to more effectively deliver his message.

Knowing your audience doesn’t mean you have to write directly to every different perspective. Rather, knowing your audience means understanding and acknowledging the differing perspectives and allowing those perspectives to help guide you as you create; leading you to the right word choices will do wonders to improve your following and reduce the potential for alienating a previously unknown audience segment.