Journaling To Be A Better Writer (And Programmer)

journal to be a better writer

Private journaling is vital to my process of writing publicly (blogging). I write a lot of stuff that I never publish. And that is the point –  it is a personal practice that makes everything public-facing better. That idea is inspired by Kevin Kelly who has said, “I write primarily to find out what I’ve been thinking, and I don’t know until I write it”. The common wisdom is that you should think first, and then write – but to me it is obvious that the reverse is true. Spilling lots of ideas down onto a page is how I get started.

Note taking, making lists, and other kinds of journaling are powerful tools for being prolific. Learning how to make and take good notes requires practice. Simple bullet point lists are an easy way to start. Morning journal pages serve as a long-form translation of the lists I scribble mixed with a stream-of-consciousness narration. I try to write something every single day – no zero days. That’s how I get the noise out of my head. It crystalizes the nebulas storm that rages within my “monkey mind” – a concept I borrow from Tim Ferriss.

The magic always happens when I go back to old scrap and put the editor hat on. I have multiple physical notebooks, and use Evernote on my digital devices. I jot down thoughts, copy ideas while I read, write down new word definitions, and try to fill an entire page with free-flow journaling each day. Organizing all of these sources has become a series of techniques I use to keep finding inspiration.

Digesting the messy ball of words is aided by adding lots of visual cues. I use different colored pens, add drawings and doodles. I lay index cards out on an empty space and take a photo. Volume is the important variable in this quality algorithm. Getting as much down on paper as you can is always the best first step to getting value out of the writing process.

A coder’s diary

Taking notes about the coding challenges you’ve solved and the technical knowledge you’ve learned cements it. Even if you never read your notes again, the act of taking pen to paper will deepen the grooves in your mental records. You should consider keeping a blog for this reason. Having an archive of your experiences expounded, with the ability to search keywords, is invaluable. I include code examples, screenshots, relevant links and quotes, and a story to add context.

That compliments my main point:  writing prose will ultimately make you a better programmer. Coding is a discipline nearer to writing then it ever will be to mathematics. That seems counterintuitive to the uninitiated.

This blog acts as my technical log that I can back reference when I encounter a familiar problem. As time passes, and new projects take hold of your attention, it’s easy to forget how you did something, even a few months ago. If you also have a similar blog about tech send me a link – I’d love to read through it!