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Just start writing and the rest will follow (rachelbythebay.com)
146 points by janvdberg 4 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 31 comments

This reminds me of a quote by Ira Glass that's been the most inspiring advice I've read as a writer:

>“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

(the audio is also nice because, well, it's Ira) https://vimeo.com/24715531

I think about what he says on taste quite a bit. Similarly, artists will create a piece of art, for example, and look back as it as being rubbish. If I'm someone who sees that piece of art and I really like it, perhaps that just means that my taste is at a similar place to that artists at the point that they made the piece.

Some artists will often think their previous works are subpar, the same goes for writing and so on, but it's worth considering that those admiring it have tastes both more and less developed than your own so you can't possibly say "no one would think this is good". I'm not sure if that made as much as sense as it does in my head.

I guess the programming analogy is wanting to delete old blog posts about basic starter issues. They seem obvious in hindsight but, presuming they're timeless issues, someone else may find it useful.

This advice should be stapled on the bedroom wall for anyone who sets out on any creative pursuit. Zen Pencils did a really nice comic on this.


Funny you should mention this - I feel the same way!


I love this quote too. Especially because it really is true in Glass's case. Sometimes when I listen to TAL episodes from the first couple years (1995-96) I'm amazed at how far he's come, not just in storytelling ability but really basic things like how to speak on the radio. And even those episodes took place after he had been doing radio professionally for about 15 years!

I actually think TAL is at the worst that it’s ever been. Although it’s certainly been better than it was in ‘96!

I could have used this advice a long time ago. For a while, I wanted to blog about the random programming issues that I run into, but it always seemed like writing quality blog posts would take too much effort.

I eventually created a dedicated page on my personal website. It's technically public, but I don't link to it from anywhere else on the website. It's just a way for me to practice writing and reflection without the pressure of thinking about an audience (besides myself).

This is the page, for anyone who might be interested: https://www.dannyguo.com/friction/

Funny running into your here Danny! :)

I run into a lot of people with the same situation as you and I always tell them to just write about whatever gets them putting words down and out there. Programming problems, pearls, learnings, video games, food, whatever floats your boat.

Ultimately almost no one will read it save for one person who runs into the exact same issue or loves the same exact dish at the restaurant you love. Fear of being judged shouldn't stop you.

Haha hey Mark! Yeah, there's a lot of inertia to getting started, but it feels really good to produce writing rather than just consume it all the time.

I had written that email :). Pleasantly surprised to see it again. Rachel's advice was fantastic. Even though, I haven't been terribly good at following it. Mostly because two worries have gotten better of me: 1) my writing is shit. 2) no one would care. It won't be discussed on HN or Reddit.

In the recent times, I have come across many discussions to realize that I have written about that very topic. The post I considered worthless is immediately relevant. And that's how your writing arsenal works. It takes time, but you realize that what you wrote was important.

To sum it up: Don't seek rewards, just write. You'll get better at it, too (almost unknowingly)

Seth Godin has a great podcast called akimbo. In this last episodes he gives exactly the same advice: just write. He references Isaac Asimov, who managed to publish 400 books back when self-publishing was not available.

Writing become better by writing. So when you start writing, your writing is shit, but no one cares anyway. When you keep writing, you get better and there is more text out there so it increases the chances that someone will care. When you wrote enough, your writing is significantly better, increasing even more the chances someone will care.

It is a virtuous cycle that starts with writing shitty things :)

To end with a shameless plug, I am writing a newsletter about writing. Maybe it is useful for you: https://writingfordevelopers.substack.com/

Your reply was interesting to read.

Put some words on the page. Good or bad. You can fix it up later.

In the past year I wrote a kids sci-fi novel. Well, I finished the draft, and I’ve been editing it the past few months.

It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for years, but only finally got the ‘kick’ when I quit my job last Feb and had 3 months of paid garden leave (awesome, right) before I could start the new job.

Perfect time to write my novel.

I wound up only finishing half of it by the time I started the new job. With its long hours, I was worried I might not get to finish my story. But I have a daily commute, and made it my business to do some writing each way. About 30-40 minutes on the train, it was my dedicated time. My time to escape from everything else and immerse myself into my story.

It worked out great, somehow knowing this was my only window to do it gave me the motivation to keep it up.

And I finished it!! Sometimes, on a good day, when I had an idea how the scene would play out, I could get 2000 words. Rare but it happened. The early days I could just about do 500 words, but later on 500-1000 was my usual.

Some days I just couldn’t get past a couple sentences. Bad days happen. Accept it.

But “Just write” is great advice.

If you’re stuck on a scene, skip it and go to the next one. But keep putting down words.

If you don’t know how to open your book, start a couple chapters in, somewhere you know what will happen.

Most of the time I had no idea how a chapter would work out, what would happen beyond some vague notions. But eventually things fall into place. Characters act of their own volition, out of my control.

Editing, now, that’s a whole different beast. I feel my productivity has dropped dramatically and I’ve been stuck in perma-edit mode.

Hope it to make a few final tweaks and send it out to some beta readers.

Anyway, a long stream-of-conscious post agreeing with putting down words. (Cutting them out is harder)

Replying to myself to make one suggestion : Twitter can be a useful tool too.

I only started with Twitter a couple months ago. And soon found there are regular writing prompts. Eg - #1LineWed and #SciFiFri.

These usually have a theme, eg today’s #TuesLine was “Open”. So either I try to find a relevant line from my Work In Progress, or make one up. But what’s great is the 280 char limit, it forces you to think carefully about sentence structure and word choice.

I spent about 15 mins on the train this morning rearranging the line from my book (only for the Twitter message, not rearranging in my actual story) because it didn’t quite fit. And I still don’t like what I wound up with.

But it’s great practice for crafting sentences. And seeing how other amateur and experienced authors alike do these same challenges.

This resonates with me because I recently decided to start writing about what I've learned in my software engineering career as a way to give back to the programming community.

I've wanted to start writing for a while but I never knew what to write about from a technical perspective. Then I realized there's a ton of soft skills I've learned over the years that have helped me advance my software engineering career that I could write about and not have to worry about publishing code that contains bugs or that will get critiqued to no end.

I just started writing and figured that maybe someone would find it useful. I started a newsletter and have been promoting it here and there and it's been growing every week. Take a look and subscribe if you'd like!


I do this too. I just write.

It's much easier to clean up and adjust (tens of) thousands of words consisting of raw consciousness, than it is to write just 500 words of pure perfection.

It's not all nonsense, of course, but it's a stream of information just being beamed at the screen (via my fingers.) Even this very comment was written like this: just smash out how I feel and then go back and refine it, but not too much, because it's just a comment.

I find bullet points help too.

Instead of writing in paragraphs or even simple sentences, I find bullet points remove all the barriers of getting information on to the page/screen, because formatting isn't even a concern. Once you have enough points, expand them with sub-points and keep going.

Eventually turn those bullet points into prose and fly my pretty, fly :-)

Very cool.

It's good to see someone else using bullet points.

I start with bullet points of whatever is coming to mind at the time. I don't worry about punctuation but I do pay attention to what my mind is trying to do to get me to stop writing (you're too tired to write! this won't make sense! you'll be editing this forever! ...etc).

Just keep writing. Keep writing until your thoughts are out.

Exactly right.

Just keep going and forget the rules. Dumb your mind on the page and clean it up later.

Side note: the advice of "just write" doesn't work if the question is "How do I write a particular thing or a particular assignment?". In that case, it is worth digging into what the questions you have are about the particular thing and breaking those things down.

And that digging-into-questions can be effectively done by writing. :)

This is very true, and can be translated to "just do the work".

I made a sketch on bitcoin a few months ago and thought it would go nowhere, and a few Instagram pages picked up on it and posted it. I got some 10-20k views. I had no expectation for it, but I made the video because I thought it would be cool.

Just write!

I wonder what she saw at Google that she didn’t like.

Here's 1 thing => "Google's "free food" is not free" => https://rachelbythebay.com/w/2012/01/21/notfree/

and a follow up => "Followup to free food that isn't free" => https://rachelbythebay.com/w/2012/01/23/gfood/

I do remember something else she posted about Google that blew up on HN, don't remember and can't seem to locate it on her blog.

Some other posts that might be about Google:




http://rachelbythebay.com/w/2013/03/14/som/ (perhaps also about another companies, but seems Google inspired)

There are probably others -- those are just the ones I remember that seem "Googley" to me.

6 years ago the food was already disappearing for 6 years. Is there any food left at Google now?

I remember this HN comment by her: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3101677

This was the peak of the great Google Plus push. It didn't work out and it had a lot of collateral damage to the org and to a bunch of products on the edges (Reader gone, Google Talk shattered into 20 different messaging apps)

This might work best for people who are already predisposed to writing...

You just wrote something just now! Keep it up.

Agreed. I tried blogging and after a while I hated it. On the other hand I know people who like writing. To each his own. Being a decent and motivated writer is definitely a valuable skill.

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