Outline your writing to ease the creative process

For most of my career I've been a software developer, but now I'm mostly a communicator. As a manager, I give the right level of detail to many different audiences, and I deliver that in words they can understand. As a Developer Advocate, I explain complex technical concepts in useful, memorable, and occasionally entertaining ways. However the best software developers are lazy and I'm still always looking for ways to get things done with less effort on my part! For writing, the best process I know feels like unnecessary overhead, but it's always worth it in the end so today I'm sharing my secrets: create an outline before you start. Continue reading

Are you Creating, Curating or Consuming?

I've been thinking lately about my own interactions online, especially around content. There are three main ways that I work with content: creating, curating and consuming. Each has their own place but I'll start by outlining each one.

Creating content is all about putting your own creations out for others to share. I've had this blog longer than I care to discuss and certainly since before microblogging was really a thing. It's much lower investment to throw out a quick tweet about something and in lots of cases it's a more appropriate medium Continue reading

Gollum the Git-Enabled Wiki

In trying to get company documentation off google docs and people's laptops and into a more useful format, I have been researching developer-friendly tools for business documentation. Requirements went something like:
- must handle words and documents
- should be available locally, bonus points for revision history
- must publish to the web, and ideally be editable there
- should accept content in markdown
- must have access control (which wiped out my original plan of using a static site generator)

While I worked on this, we were using the wiki feature in GitLab ... which pretty much hit the nail on the head. Further investigation showed that the wiki feature in GitLab (and indeed in GitHub) is a ruby gem called Gollum. Continue reading

Announcing the Git Workbook

I'm very pleasedtitle_page to announce the immediate availability of my new book Git Workbook, costing $20 from LeanPub. This is a book that you "do" rather than "read"; it's a series of chapters (30 ish so far) each covering one specific git skill.

Each chapter includes an explanation of the skill in question, followed by a hands-on exercise so that you can work through the skill yourself, and ends with a tickbox so you can keep track of how far through you are. It has quizzes, diagrams, mildly amusing stories, and as many other examples as I could think of that could help anyone to take in this technical topic and understand how to apply the techniques covered. Continue reading

Generating HTML from Markdown with Pandoc

I'm writing more and more things that are not code these days, and my content-managing toolchains are becoming more developed all the time. I've written in REstructured Text, Asciidoc, and LaTeX, and today I'm working on an article which eventually wants to be HTML but I'm creating in Markdown because it's much easier.

My swiss army knife of document formats is a program called pandoc. It's absolutely fabulous, powerful, and not too complicated if you don't need to do anything too complicated. It will guess input and output formats from file extensions, or you can be more specific if you need to. Today's command looks like this:

pandoc article.md -o article.html

You won't be surprised to hear that this command takes a file called article.md which contains my markdown, and outputs a file called article.html containing the HTML. I also use this to convert between all the various text markups, HTML, but also PDF and office document formats - it's a very comprehensive tool!

How To Write 800 Blog Posts

This is the 800th published post on lornajane.net. It's my personal blog and I started it in early 2006, when I moved to a new city with no job. I think I got the blogging bug just because I had nobody else to talk to at the time! Over the years the blog has recorded recipes, craft projects, the story of buying and refurbishing the house (a decision that a previous employer described as "brave") - and of course the vast swathes of technical snippets that are the regular content you see here.
Continue reading

A Book Burndown Chart

You might have noticed that things have been a bit quiet around here lately ... that's because I'm writing a book and doing a lot of editing at the moment. I love doing both of these as part of my work, but it turns out that when you're already writing/editing 3k words a day, it's hard to find more words to blog with (well, and I usually blog whatever code I'm writing which isn't a whole lot right now). I did however want to share with you the news that I'm working on a book (about PHP, for the lovely Sitepoint).

I'm completely new to book-writing and it felt like a mountain to climb. I have five chapters of around 8 thousand words each to write for the book (I have co-authors, who are also lovely), and the general advice I got was to just take it all one step at a time. This sounds a lot like the way I teach project management and time management to developers, so I used those same skills and created a burndown chart (I blogged about creating these before):

As you can see, there have been some great days, and some quieter days. The flat lines are mostly weekends or days where I was out of the office with other clients. Although I feel slightly overwhelmed (and this doesn't show the edits that come back after I submit each chapter), the graph is at least going in the right direction!