What I Talk About When I Talk About Blogging

This post has nearly been a year in the making. When I hit the 100 post mark, which was roughly a year into writing this blog, I wanted to share some of my thoughts about blogging and what it meant to me and how someone can start up a blog and still be actively posting a year later. But I decided not to, as I felt a year and 100 posts was not nearly enough time to post anything with any real authority. But 1 year and 100 posts later I still wanted to share my thoughts on blogging. If for nothing else, it’ll be interesting to read this post in 2/3/4 years time and see just how much of what I wrote I still agree with. This post is not definitive; rather, it’s like viewing a junk shop; I’m sure there’ll be something for someone to take home from this collection of thoughts.

Don’t think you’re going to make a living out of this: there are some people who start a blog, and it serves a launch point for a fantastic career either writing their blog or in the career path their blog is focused on. You will most likely be none of these. There’s nothing wrong with striving to achieve that, but there’s no shame in failing to achieve it either. Write for the enjoyment of it.

Know your subject: you may or may not know this about me, but I really enjoy running. In fact, the title of this post is paraphrased from a book about running. I also enjoy writing, and the fact that I write a blog this fact should come as little surprise to you. And several times I have thought about writing a blog on running. There’s just one problem: I can’t think of any articles. I mean it could be a diary of my runs, but this is self indulgent and of little interest to anyone but myself. I very much doubt anyone would be looking forward to another enticing installment of “ran today; cold and wet, and dicky ankle was playing up.”  In fact, I think I tweeted that once. So if you’re not following me on Twitter, you now know what you’re missing out on! In fact the only article I can think about is the importance of running socks (seriously if you’ve ever been for a run and got sore feet/blisters and weren’t wearing running socks, go buy a pair of running socks. They really do save your feet). And I think that this is the difference between a blog that continues two months after it was started and those that are abandoned two posts in: pick a subject that interests you by all means. It can be as broad or as narrow as you please. But if in ten minutes of thinking about blogging on a particular subject you cannot think of at least 10 posts, 7 of which you could write up on right away, then that subject is probably not for you. Those first few months are crucial, and if you want the blog to continue after 3 months, you need to have plenty of articles in the back of your mind. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t think of too many articles now, as you may even find that during the course of writing on a subject that you branch out into something else, and have several themes loosely coupled together.

Always Look for The Next Article: I started this blog in 2012 with the aim of sharing some PowerShell scripts I had written that used the AMO Analysis Services library. I had about 16 scripts. But over the course of the first month of this blog, whenever I learned something I thought “I could make a blog post out of that”. Writing can be demanding, and no sooner have I completed one article do I find myself thinking of the next article. It’s relentless sometimes, and maybe it’s more to do with me more than anything else, but I always have to have at least 12 posts in the pipeline, otherwise I feel my output may slow. Most long running bloggers post less and less frequently as the articles dry up, or other things take priorities, or that they are more discerning about what the write about. But having several topics in mind keeps the momentum up and stops me from panicking about writers block.

Keep It Simple, Stupid Back in 2010, before I started writing here, I started a website which I was going to post a detailed diary of building a computer. It was my first machine build, and I wanted to document it for my benefit as much as anyone elses… kinda like the reason this blog started. There was just one problem;  I was massively too ambitious with the website.  I was going to write all the code from scratch. Now for an experienced web developer they could probably produce a decent website over a weekend, but for an inexperienced hack like me, it took a long time, to the point that I never posted anything because I was always tweaking with the design. This time round I focused on the content. Let me be clear on this, so clear that I’ll write it in bold capitals: CONTENT IS KING. I’m not saying design is not important: I have muddled with the design of this site, and people who have visited this blog before will know that there’s been name changes and recently a few colour changes, but this is very much secondary to the content output. The design will settle, but just get posting. Always be posting. Especially in the early days, as long as it is original content. Which brings me onto…

Don’t plagiarize or take ‘on loan’ Now the idea that all content is original is a noble one, and one that all bloggers must aspire to. What becomes fuzzy is the notion of what is “original”. I don’t doubt that anyone who has used the AMO Library using PowerShell have come up with scripts that are staggeringly similar to mine, and never once read a post on my blog. Also, is writing a script which uses the AMO library in the way it was exactly intended truly original, or is this some abstract form of plagiarism? How much of a script do I write if the Intellisense in the PowerShellISE is auto-completing my work for me? Am I stealing from Jeffrey Snover?!

I am reminded of the man who was asked what plagiarism was. He said: “It is plagiarism when you take something out of a book and use it as your own. If you take it out of several books then it is research.”

Ralph Foss (probably)

Obviously not, the idea of plagiarism is that you are directly copying verbatim from other peoples work and presenting it as your own. Sometimes, when I am writing a post I will copy verbatim from Books Online and reference as part of the dialogue. Referencing is proof of fact checking, providing the sources are reputable, so the reader can be confident that some research has gone into it. This is one of the truly useful things I learned as university!

But there is a risk with verbatim references: At best verbatim referencing is useful because the quote describes whatever it is I am writing about better than I can interpret, and at worst it shows that I am a little lazy at times, or even worse that I do not understand the subject I am covering. The post I am most proud of on my blog is the CCI and Partitioning post: I worked out entirely on my own that this was the best way to load data into partitioned tables if you cannot hit the magic bulk insert number of rows at any one time. But I did not discover the magic number myself: that was on another blog, from one of the people who developed the CCI engine. But even then, the compression methods used in CCI were algorithms from 1977 and 1979, and the new hash index joins were based on Blooms algorithm. Are they guilty of plagiarism? Again the answer is no. The key here again is that it is obvious to anyone that the authors have a clear understanding of the subject, and are able to apply it to real world situations successfully. This is how one defines the cognitive levels of effective learning. So when you do post something, make sure that you are understanding the subject, cause there’s always someone, somewhere, With a big nose, who knows, And who trips you up and laughs when you fall.

 Beware The Trap of The Series Articles
One of the first ideas I had for this blog was to write about deploying to databases using SSDT and DACPACs. I decided that the subject was too big to be dealt with in one article, so I decided to serialise the process. It was a good idea, but I made a poor choice in writing the first post and publishing it without writing more of the series first. And every time I sat down to write a blog I felt that I had to continue the series. And because I hadn’t properly planned the series I wasn’t sure how many posts it would take. And then I started to lose interest. So in the end it eventually got abandoned because of poor planning. When I had the idea to write the WiX Wednesday series, I knew I had 4 or 5 subjects I wanted to talk about. So I wrote most of them weeks before the intended publish date, then I wrote the introduction and published it knowing that I had the content to back it up. Not only did it take the pressure off writing articles, I had time to finish off the series whilst the other articles were being published, and I could write other posts without feeling obliged to complete the WiX Wednesday series.
Don’t Be Obsessed by Statsistics

There’s a difference between statistics being important, and being obsessed about them; I am pleased that over the months this blogs page hits have increased. And the fact that page hits is the sole statistic that WordPress provide on their hosted service emphasizes that WordPress know how important page hit statistics are to bloggers. But it’s no metric for quality. If page hits and popularity were important, I wouldn’t be writing this blog! Instead of SQL/PowerShell etc, I’d choose a subject from the realm of pop culture and get hundreds of thousands of hits writing about something I don’t care about. But that is not why I blog. Why I blog is that I like to put back into a community that I get so much help out of. It’s important to keep this in mind, the “why I blog” , because like money, page hits are never enough, and if you obsess about it it will consume you and you will give up. It is off-putting to have posts that don’t get the page hits you feel it deserves, but really, for me, it’s much better that I help one guy and is impressed enough to share the content than it is to have 500 people read a post and think it sucks. Also, if the page hits have been growing strong for a few months, then when they tail off you could end up running the risk of obsessing over what has changed?

Ultimately, starting this blog was one of the best things I’ve done, and if you even have half an idea about what you want to blog about, I urge you to start it right now: It takes 5 minutes to create a blog. If you do need a little more encouragement, then read this blog post which I both like and dislike: like because it’s so good, and dislike it because it is so much better than what I have written above. As for why I blog, I said it best myself when I wrote my first post:

My boss tells me that one of the skills he looks for in a developer is the ability to search the Internet for the answers, and when you look at Books Online and all the blogs, articles etc provided by Microsoft, he could well be on to something there. I frequently turn to the internet to find out how other people have solved a problem, and though it may not always be sensible to C&P off the internet, if it can lead you to solve the problem then it can only be a good thing. My hopes for this humble little blog is maybe to provide a solution to a problem you are having.

Happy Blogging!

Author: Richie Lee

Full time computer guy, part time runner. Full time Dad, part time blogger. Knows a thing or two about Pokémon. Knows too much about SQL Agent. Writer of fractured sentences. Maker of the best damn macaroni cheese you've ever tasted.

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