Write While True Podcast

Write While True is a writing program for programmers. The episodes are meant to be short exercises that will get you writing more (so, a training program).

Episode 43: Accountability Groups

There’s a hole in this process, and we need to fill that right now. This only works if you’re doing the lead activities consistently, and if they really do build up to the end goal. It’s true that working on the book is intrinsically fun and interesting. And if that’s all that happened, I’d probably be okay with it, but I really do want a book in the end.

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Episode 42: Keeping Score

My weekly goal is to spend at least one hour a day on five different days working on the book. It’s a goal that resets every week. That way, a bad week doesn’t derail me. Every Monday, I have a chance to try to win that week. But I have to remember to do it. Keeping this lead measure top of mind is what the third discipline is about. And that’s what I want to talk about next.

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Episode 41: The Lead Measure

My wildly important goal is to publish a fifty page book on a topic in my industry by the end of 2024. I defined it using the SMART goal format (S. M. A. R. T.), which means it’s specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. This is a good way to define goals, but the issue with SMART goals is that even though you can easily tell if you have reached them, they don’t drive day-to-day activities. That’s where the 2nd of the four disciplines comes in.

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Episode 40: Let’s Write a Pamphlet

For season four, which I’m starting right now, my plan is to take you through my process as I try to write a short, focused book. I expect it to be about 50 pages. I call this kind of book a pamphlet.

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Episode 39: Dark and Light

The white pastel can draw white on top of the charcoal, so now I can make white marks, which can also be smudged and mixed. It’s giving me a range of values I couldn’t get before. Throwing white highlights onto a dark drawing is a way of directing attention and makes it more interesting.

Black and white, on a drawing, are the extreme values. If I try to apply this idea to writing, it should also be a juxtaposition of opposite extremes.

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Episode 38: Content-free Sentences

I’m reading a book by Stanley Fish called How to Write a Sentence. I found this book by Googling that exact question because I wanted to find anything that might be a fit for what I’m podcasting about this season.

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Episode 37: The Passive Voice Was Used

Today I want to talk about one of the rules that’s in Strunk and White. It’s actually in almost every book about writing, which is to use the active voice and to prefer it over the passive voice.

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Episode 36: Stack of Paragraphs

The advice applies to any kind of writing. It resonated with me because I feel like I might be having that problem in my written work. That sometimes my writing feels like a stack of paragraphs. I am feeling the lack of propulsion that John and Aline described.

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Episode 35: Zombie Nouns

I recently came across the phrase zombie nouns, which was coined by Helen Sword. She’s an author and currently runs a private consultancy to help writers. Back in 2012, she was teaching at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and she wrote an article for the New York Times called Zombie Nouns.

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Episode 34: Word of the Day

What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to learn how to recall fit words when we need them in our writing. To get better at that, we need to be exposed to more interesting words and to practice using them. Imagine situations where they would be perfect. Making it memorable and ridiculous might help you remember the word when you need it.

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Episode 33: Collect Sentences

The idea of collecting quotes is not something new. I think that’s the way most people think of note taking in general. There’s even a style of journal some people keep called a Commonplace book, which builds on this idea. In a Commonplace book, you are mostly collecting the thoughts of others. You might also put in your own reaction to those—your thoughts on those thoughts—but the focus is on the collecting.

I want to recommend a spin on this idea.

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Episode 32: Paragraph Checklist

I think one sentence from David Lambuth really sums up what I want to say about paragraphs. Here it is.

There is no absolute rule for paragraphing. Your own feeling must be your guide.

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Episode 31: The Order of Words

I’m going to use these three books again for today’s topic, which is the order of words in a sentence.

I love that these books tackle mundane topics, things that seem innate, but aren’t. I mean, we can order words into something grammatical without much thought. Even though a ten-sentence word has ten factorial possible orderings, we can easily find the handful that are legal English.

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Episode 30: Finding Nouns and Verbs

Every book on writing tells you to avoid adverbs (and even adjectives). I find that hard to do in first drafts, but I do try to remove them in edits. You can tell that I haven’t done enough editing if you see that I “really like” something or that a new programming language is “pretty good”.

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Episode 29: Loose Sentences

Last week, I spoke about something very fundamental—how to write complex sentences, and I’m going to continue along in that theme for what I’m now calling season three, drawing lessons from some of what I consider the greatest books about writing, and picking out ideas related to using words, sentences, and paragraphs. These are things that I’ve found that I need to work on, and I hope that that can help you too.

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Episode 28: Complex Sentences

I like to sketch, mostly with pencil and charcoal on paper. One of the first things I needed to learn was how my drawing tools and the paper interacted. What kind of mark did each level of pencil hardness make, and how was that different from charcoal? What kind of paper worked best?

I did various exercises that helped me understand my own tools.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this and trying to figure out what is the equivalent for this in writing. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

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Episode 27: Writing is Ordinary

This is the fourth and final episode in a series I’m doing about the book Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

In this, the final episode of the series, I’m going to tell you what they think you need to be in order to be an artist.

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Episode 26: Making Makes a Maker

I decided to do a four-part series on the lessons I learned from Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

This week, in part three, I want to talk about a quote about what art means to the maker.

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Episode 25: Stopping vs. Quitting

I reread the book Art and Fear by Bayles and Orland and they had so many ideas for how to get people to make art, that it worked for me to start my blog going again, and then ultimately restarting this podcast.

For part two of this four part series on Art and Fear, I’m going to share the what they said that inspired me to not quit.

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Episode 24: Thousands of Variations

One of the things that got me back to podcasting after a two year break was rereading Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

This time, while I was reading it, I kept a lot of notes and found four themes that resonated with me and helped me get going again.

The first theme is very practical. It’s what they think is the secret to being prolific. For the past two months I have been applying it a lot.

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Episode 23: Take a Break

We just passed the second anniversary of the break that I didn’t come back from right away.

I know exactly what was going on. I had a lot of travel to visit family and for work and it was just hard to find the time to plan and record podcasts.

Well, since it’s exactly two years later. It’s summer again, and I want to take another break. But this time I have a plan to take a break, but still publish on schedule and hopefully, not lose my momentum.

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Episode 22: Harvesting Journals

When I was done with a journal, I’d put it on the shelf with others. I do a good job of making sure to transfer anything important to a real tracking system at the end of the day, so there wasn’t much in the journal that I thought would be useful.

At some point, though, I picked up an old journal, it was probably a few years old at that point, and just flipped through it. As expected, it was mostly boring. Just a mundane list of what was going on that day. Meetings, task lists, chores.

But every once in a while …

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Episode 21: Dedicated Journals

I’ve been using a paper journal for years. Even when I worked on big teams, I still kept a separate journal with my personal daily tasks and schedule. For years, I just used a single journal for everything. I’d just go through it and then start another one when I hit the last page. Any kind of paper capture that I needed to do was in that one journal.

A couple of years ago I started splitting out separate journals based on the purpose.

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Episode 20: Extemporaneous Writing

When I was 13, my mom got me an electric typewriter for Christmas. She was a secretary, and she taught me how to touch type, and she wanted me to have something to practice on. But unfortunately, when I opened it up, it didn’t work.

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Episode 19: Prompt Your Morning Pages

I start each morning by writing three pages of long hand writing in an automatic stream of consciousness style. I never show them to anyone and they aren’t meant to be published. The point is to train my brain to generate text on demand.

If you read the entire thing, I would have a couple of sentences in a row here and there that make some sense, but overall, it’s not well-structured in any way. My pages tend to stray from topic to topic because I’m not considering the entire text.

This is the breakthrough I had today.

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Episode 18: Taking My Own Advice

I thought it would be a good idea to re-listen to all of my podcasts from season one. Each of them is only about 10 minutes and there are only 15 episodes, so it doesn’t take too long.

This had two effects.

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Episode 17: Make Art with Friends

I thought about things that were going well, where I had a lot of output, like my programming projects. One thing I realized that helps a lot is that I am proud of that work. Doing it is a self-esteem builder, and I have a lot of confidence that I can meet my own standards.

I’ve been programming for a long time, so this isn’t much of a surprise. All during that time I challenged myself by doing bigger projects and learning new things.

While learning new things and working on bigger and bigger projects helped me improve, it wasn’t the most important factor.

What helped me the most was the people I worked with.

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Episode 16: Try and a Teacher Will Appear

I did season one of this podcast a couple of years ago.

I did 15 episodes. They were about some of the basics of building up a writing habit, and then I stopped. In this season, I am going to explore how to restart projects in the context of restarting this one.

I want to talk about one of the lessons I’ve learned.

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Episode 15: Combining Identities

I made this podcast, but I wanted to self-host, so I learned how to do that with s3 and wrote my own way to get analytics. So, Podcasting leads to programming. And then I wrote up a blog about that program (so it led back to writing) and now I am telling you about it on this podcast. Round and round it goes.

And the more times I go around the circle the easier it becomes to write or podcast or program about one of the other things I’m doing. The content for this podcast is mostly taken from a blog post I made in February. Back then I just said that I should come up with some way to combine programming and writing more. This podcast was the result of that thinking.

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Episode 14: Spaced Repetition

Last week I encouraged you to collect general knowledge. Viking trade routes, anime, Rothko paintings, architecture, typography, bluegrass standards — where ever your interests lead you.

For these kinds of things, it may be hard to write a note though. You could certainly write down something, but it’s unlikely that you’ll develop a few paragraphs of a coherent thought about lots of random things.

James Webb Young said to use index cards for that. That would certainly work, but I recommend using spaced-repetition card software instead.

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Episode 13: New Ideas

New ideas are combinations of old ones.

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Episode 12: Keep a Topic List

In the past, when I set goals to write more frequently, I was always stopped by not having ideas ready for what to write about. Or when I got one, I didn’t have a systematic way of collecting them. I would sit down to write, but getting started on a new piece was too difficult.

My ONE thing is make it so that when I sit down to write I have a checklist to work from.

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Episode 11: Quantity and Quality

I know that a lot of my episodes are variations on the theme of quantity. In episode one, I asked you to write morning pages every day. In episode 4, I asked you to make a schedule where you write multiple days a week. I’ve talked about the importance of producing many first drafts. In episode 8, I said you should lower your bar and just last week I shared my personal “why”, which is all about playing the infinite game because it’s fun. The title of this podcast is a play on the idea of the infinite game.

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Episode 10: Finding My Why

The exercise this week is to think about your “why”? I don’t think it’s wrong to write for money or fame, but if you’re an amateur like me, I’d find something easier to attain.

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Episode 9: Deprivation

I don’t use a lot of social media, but if I don’t plan my time intentionally, I’ll find myself watching a lot of YouTube. 

It’s not that I think that my life should be 100% dedicated to making new things or in solitary contemplation. But, there are times when I notice that level of output isn’t where I want it to be, and so I take a good look at how I am spending my time.

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Episode 8: Lower the Bar

This episode is about lowering the bar, and I’m tempted to just say go do it and sign off. That would be the ultimate lowering the bar for this podcast.

I won’t do that, but I am going to keep the bar on this episode pretty low.

And, you’re probably thinking — Lou, I thought the bar for Write While True episodes was pretty low already.

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Episode 7: Find Your Voice

Lately, I’m thinking a lot about what this podcast sounds like. I’m new to podcasting and I’m very aware that I have a lot to do to sound more natural, but that’s not exactly what I’m talking about.

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Episode 6: Editing First Drafts

I was first exposed to this idea at The Business of Software conference in 2017. Joanna Wiebe gave a talk about copywriting for SaaS businesses. She’s an advertising copy writer, and the talk is mostly about that. It’s worth watching the whole thing, but near the end, she said something that astonished me.

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Episode 5: Audience and Message

Like many people I write to think. And, it helps. I set out with only inklings of an idea and by the time I am done, I usually have a coherent and complete thought. The writing contains it, but it doesn’t communicate it.

There’s a difference between writing to think and writing to communicate and I finally understand that.

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Episode 4: Make a Schedule

The times that I’ve made the least progress on writing was when I was trying to do it on the side or as a hobby. This isn’t because of the relative amount of time I devoted to it. It was because I treated it as something I would try to fit in, and it never did. I could always find something else to do.

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Episode 3: First Drafts

I’ve stared at a lot of blank pages. Technically, they were actually blank textareas, but you get the point.

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Episode 2: Small Bits of Writing

I found out that I didn’t know how to read or write. This episode will show you how making a change to how I read made it much easier to write.

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Episode 1: Training to Unblock Yourself

I started my blog 17 years ago, but wrote about 9 posts a year. Then, I started doing something that helped me write something I could publish every day.

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