Category: Writing

Technical Writing Chat with Ally Sassman | James' Coffee Blog

This is the first interview in Technical Writing Chats, a series where I speak with technical writers about their day-to-day role and how they got started in their career. Today's interview is with Ally Sassman, a Senior Technical Writer at New Relic. I sincerely hope you enjoy!

This is the first post in James' series.

I'm hoping to pick up a couple tips throughout the series to improve the writing that I do on my blog.

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The 100

For years, I would hear people say that it takes 100 days to develop a new habit. I didn’t set out to do that. I wanted to write on a more regular basis and just started writing on November 1st of last year. I was determined to write something every day and post it.

What was the experience?

Sometimes it was actually pretty stressful coming up with something to write about. Some days were just one-liners that I would have just tweeted. Sometimes Many times, it was a picture of my dog; who I think deserves her own blog.

What if I annoy people who were reading my site and they go away? Well, I didn’t have that many readers anyway, and my pieces are typically very short.

The benefit of being semi-anonymous was that I honestly couldn’t tell if people liked it or not. It was kind of freeing and let me think about how I was writing.

I started exploring more into what it means to be the first audience for my writing. That doesn’t mean that I spent a lot of time agonizing over making things perfect, but it did mean that there were a couple of posts that took more time to write.

What’s next?

I plan on stopping the daily post for a couple of days and working through some of my post ideas that I’ve been putting into Drafts. The more ideas you capture, the more ideas you make.

I also want to start highlighting some post from other people on the internet. I love the web when it connects us with cool ideas.

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My writing process is a mess

Mindmap of the title and headings of this article.

I’ve been thinking about the general friction that I experience when it comes to making posts and then putting them onto my blog. It feels that it has become both easier and harder to write something that I like.

What do I mean by writing?

In this instance, I am referring to my posts that are more than my pithy one liners or pictures of my dog.

It’s valid and I am not ashamed of most any of it.

What I’m referring to in this article is anything that takes longer than 10 minutes to write. These pieces of writing are harder for me because of the amount of time and focus that I am able to put into it.

I feel that I only have a couple of minutes before my mind wonders or I am called upon to do something else. Most times it’s my own brain telling me about all the other things I should/could be doing.

Where do my ideas start?

I used to carry a set of index cards; at one point called the hipster PDA. I stopped after losing my Good quality pens on a regular basis and being mocked repeatedly by my loving wife.

Since then, I’ve tried adding information to Apple Reminders or Notes (this was before they got good). It’s decent for simple one liners but complex ideas would come with the unwritten hope that I would remember what I meant by “pumpkin pickles”.

Recently, I’ve started using Drafts to capture links and notes. At first, I thought that I was only going to be using it for a little bit. Some of the podcasters have been raving about it for years and I got caught up in hype around it.

The hype is real. I’ve grown to like it more and more because of the simplicity and stability of the software. The sync has been pretty good; I’m able to start writing in one place and then move from one device to another. I’ve even had a few ideas start off from a voice dictation on my watch, but I’ve only done that less than a dozen times.

I’ve played around with the idea of keeping a rule to clear out the inbox daily. I haven’t stuck to it, but this is mainly because I see the Drafts inbox as something that I have complete control over. Unlike my email inbox which has seen a tremendous increase in things wanting my attention.

Revisions?

Drafts is a wonderful application and I’ll continue exploring it as I’ve become more comfortable with its feature set. One of the hurdles that I’m running into is that I’m looking for a way to do grammar checks.

A lot1 of my writing is done in chunks that are determined by availability of time and energy.

I feel that I need a workflow to help me decide if something that I wrote makes sense before posting it on the World Wide Web.

I’ve tried putting my draft into Ulysses. Unfortunately, a large portion of my writing contains code examples that have the formatting removed when sent to the server.

The hardest posts for me to write are the ones about my Hugo/Micro.blog theme. For those posts, I find myself moving from Ulysses to BBEdit/iTerm to Marsedit.

It makes me not want to put in the time to write.

But, I really enjoy writing.

So, I’ll be pushing myself to read over my drafts … in drafts going forward.


  1. I would say 98% of my writing would greatly benefit from me rereading before posting. ↩︎

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