A look back at what I have learned from writing, starting in high school, with a focus on the last seven years working on the SKMurphy blog.
7 Years & 1226 Blog Posts: Lessons Learned So Far
“If you’re going to be a writer, the first essential is just to write. Do not wait for an idea. Start writing something and the ideas will come. You have to turn the faucet on before the water starts to flow.”
This is my 1,226th post since my “Welcome Entrepreneurs” on Oct 1, 2006. I started SKMurphy in March 2003 when I took a leave of absence from Cisco, fully committing when I incorporated in August and decided not to return to Cisco. This is not my ten year anniversary lessons learned from consulting and entrepreneurship post–and at my current rate of progress on finishing that one it may be titled “Eleven Years of Customer Development Consulting” unless I can finish sooner and come up with something more clever.
This is a “professional blog” not a lifestream or journal., although it is more personal from time to time.
I try to write as I speak
“Authenticity is the new bullshit.”
I try to write as I speak and think–only better because I can revise. I still have over 700 drafts of partially complete posts, a testament to my commitment to quality, my perfectionism, and my inability to finish something beyond the initial rush of enthusiasm and distraction of newer and more alluring projects.
For the most part I write a blog in response to:
- a question from a client, or a prospective client
- a question in an on-line forum (and will often post my first draft as an answer there),
- a new insight into a past experience,
- a remark or conversation from a Bootstrapper Breakfast,
- another article or blog post (and will often post a comment there that serves as a first draft)
- a talk or event I attended.
I try to write from the perspective of a skeptical entrepreneur who has an engineering or scientific background and is looking to make sense of a situation that may recur, is trying to discern trends and forces at work they need to factor in to plans for the business, or is looking for a useful reference or practical how-to for skills that they need to hone (e.g. interviewing customers, selling, negotiating,…).
Writing Well is a Challenge
“This stuff is hard. That’s why it’s interesting.”
When I came home after my first year of college I told my father that I wanted to become a writer. I had written stories in high school, won a partial scholarship from Washington University for an essay “The Search for Reality and Identity in the Writings of Phillip K. Dick” (which I declined because I wanted to get out of St. Louis for college), worked as a reporter for my high school and college newspapers, and had a wall littered with rejections for short stories I had submitted to magazines ranging from Boys Life to Harpers.
He told me,”It’s time you stopped having these illusions about yourself: devote yourself full time to writing this summer and see what you learn.” Mixed encouragement but for six weeks I woke up every morning, went down to the basement (much cooler in the St. Louis summer down there) and wrote using an electric typewriter. I still have some of the drafts I produced from my efforts. I got a job as a cook’s helper and another as a furniture mover and kept busy moving heavy, hot, or sharp objects without getting hurt for the rest of the summer. In hindsight I think I am better at analyzing and making sense of real events and situations than writing fiction and I didn’t have enough of a stock of experiences I could draw on to sustain my effort.
But in a very real sense I continue to work as a writer. I make my living writing for our clients, often either by giving them the first “bad version” that unlocks their ability to revise (or scrap and restart) or helping them to craft e-mails or presentations. Writing about a topic allows me to be more fluent improvising remarks in negotiations or in response to questions. I think if you approach it with that in mind then the revising allows you to clarify your thoughts in a way that can be harder in a conversation.
Deadlines and Collaborators Help
“A man of genius may sometimes suffer a miserable sterility; but at other times he will feel himself the magician of thought. Luminous ideas will dart from the intellectual firmament, just as if the stars were falling around him; sometimes he must think by mental moonlight, but sometimes his ideas reflect the solar splendor.”
John Foster Journal
It has not gotten any easier, in the sense that some posts come quickly in a rush and most take a while to percolate. Deadlines help in this regard, as do collaborators. When I write a few hundred words in fifteen or twenty minutes I feel like a genius. Often the last hour before a deadline (or the first hour after a deadline–preliminary deadlines help in this regard) releases a flow of insight. Other times I need to write using the “morning pages” technique just to unlock a post. Drafting it as a e-mail to a particular client can help.
I jot down phrases, sentences, and passages I find well written and insightful and use them as points of departure or closing quotes for posts.
One of the significant differences between my blog posts and a conversation is that I will often sketch one or more diagrams to model a situation or elaborate on a point or concept. I have not found an easy way to do this with my blog posts…yet.
It’s helpful sometimes to give a blog post as a talk first, and then transcribe and refine. The act of speaking forces a level of coherence and organization that is sometimes difficult to achieve facing a blank screen.
I am inspired by authors like George Higgins, William Feather, Raymond Chandler, Peter Drucker, Gary Klein, James Lileks, Gerald Weinberg, Glenn Reynolds, Clayton Christensen, and Seth Godin, to name a few. I enjoy the sensation of reading an author who is trying to make sense of a situation by looking at data and historical precedent, informed by their experience and expertise, and who maintain their intellectual integrity by acknowledging facts that contradict their suggestions or conclusions.
“We do not write because we want to; we write because we have to.”
If you have a topic or question related to entrepreneurship you would like to see me address, or better to collaborate on, please contact me directly.
Update Nov-25-2013 Steve Wasiura commented “One doesn’t realize how difficult it is to write a blog post, especially a good one, until you try it, and find yourself staring into the glaring pixels of a blank white form. It can be even more depressing when you look at your visitor statistics and realize no one is reading your painfully crafted blog posts, especially in the early days. I’ll refer back to this when I need motivation to continue.”
I think the trick is to make blogging a follow on from other activities: e-mails that you are writing, forum responses, notes from a conversation. This way a post flows from time and thinking already invested in problems you know that you are wrestling with or that energize you.
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