I read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott recently. It is an inspirational book about writing. It inspired me to start this new blog.
Bird by Bird is about a series of techniques and tips on writings. Lamott shares these learnings by telling her life stories, with a good dose of humor. One of these stories is the title of the book, Bird by Bird. When they were young, Lamott’s brother was once overwhelmed by his writing assignments on birds. Their father shared a simple yet philosophical lesson, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
Lamott gives another analogy on this idea – to see through a one-inch picture frame and describe what’s in it. This idea is not novel. It is divide-and-conquer. But Lamott visualizes the idea in the context of writing that resonates with me. It is almost a cure to the writer’s block (is it curable?). It can be overwhelmed to described a whole scene on paper, like what convinced me to start writing a blog yet again. Bird by Bird convinced me that I don’t need to describe a complete idea in one post, but just to write down one aspect of the idea, tell one anecdote at a time.
By nature, posts written this way would be very short. To express a decent size topics might take a series of posts. But it is fine as long as the habit of writing can be consistent. The main benefit is lowering the barrier of writing and sharing (assuming writing in public is what you want) frequently. This idea is not limited to starting a blog. Academics use this idea to write peer-reviewed articles (by writing by memorandum).
In the context of blogging, I think it is important that though short, the blog posts must make complete sense to the readers. The concept is similar to one code commit. Most software projects are organized by a version control system (VCS). VCS allows engineers to make one small code changes at a time – add one feature, eliminate one bug, or revise one component. Once the code change is completed, an engineer creates one “code commit”, which records the exact changes. A good practice is that the changes in one code commit should be complete and self contained.
It’s hard to give a definition on what complete and self contained mean for blog posts. Speaking from the perspective of a reader, if the blog post tells a story, I expect a beginning, a middle, and an end. If it explains an idea, I expect some supporting arguments, and optionally some concrete examples.
Another benefit of blogging like a code commit is the reassurance that we can always go back and edit the old blog posts any time. The blog posts is never a final product. This realization eliminates the paralyzed feeling of unable to write in public often associate with the perfectionism. The first version of this particular post only contains the first three paragraphs. I still decided to put it on my website and edit it later if I had more to say.
Though “YouTuber” has beaten “blogger” according to Google search trend, “editability” is one unfair advantage of blogging over videos. It is why blogging will remain to be the favorable way of sharing ideas to many.
Last revised: July 31, v2