The Art of Start

One of my hobbies is art. As in drawing and painting on paper.

The other day I sat down at my board for a spot of painting. I looked at the blank sheet of paper and thought about what I wanted to paint. For a moment I was stuck for inspiration.
Rather than some street scene or country lane, what popped into my mind was that this was rather like sitting down to write a TNWiki article.

Which didn't get me any closer to starting to paint and I thought was just a distraction.

Just before I pushed that one out my mind to get on with it... I thought maybe there's something in that. Maybe something similar could be used by TNWiki authors. If you want to write an article but don't already have a subject in mind then here are some thoughts.


The Hard Artistic Method

When I sit down to paint, I will often already have some sort of subject in mind.

If I don't already know what I'm going to paint then it can be tricky getting started. I sit there and there's a blank piece of paper. It's white. Blank. My mind goes just as blank. Oh dear... Absolutely nothing is happening. 

What a lot of artistic types do, is take a bit of rough paper and make some marks on it.
Lines squiggles, bit of shading or something. Anything. Take a look at them and see if they inspire something.

Perception is an odd thing and people are prone to seeing patterns in everything.
The face of Jesus on a piece of toast or a face in a 3 pin plug.
It's a survival thing, apparently. Recognizing that patch of dark in the bushes looks a bit like a hungry wolf meant your ancient ancestor survived to pass their genes on. It ate the caveman who had less imagination instead.
This perception thing encourages a mental leap to (say) a Sorento street scene. Anyone else just sees 3 straight lines and a scribble. Your brain sees what it might look like and latches onto a memory from that visit 4 years ago.

You're in business and at least you know what you're going to try and paint on that bit of paper.

The Easier Artistic Method

Mostly I have something in mind and I even have a photo of what I'm going to paint.
This is because as I walk round I see something I think looks "interesting" and I take a picture on my smartphone. Sometimes I'll also sketch it.

The subject can be the forest floor with bluebells, country lane, a sky or a dry stone wall. I have a lot of pictures on my computer. That collection includes street scenes from a number of towns and cities, including Sorento.
If I'm short on inspiration I can browse through all those and pick one out. I even wrote an app picks a few pictures out at random from a set of folders to save me clicking.

TechNet Wiki

The Hard Way to Decide on an Article Subject

The equivalent to sitting down at a blank canvas is opening up your editor with no idea what you're going to write about. If you find yourself in this situation then doing something else is something to consider. If you only have that specific time to write and you're enthusiastic then what can you do?

The closest equivalent to a series of marks would be writing down a series of vague possibilities that pop into your head. There's an obvious problem there since if anything pops into your head then you just had an idea to work with.

You could pick up a book on your area of expertise and open it randomly. See if what's on that page inspires. Obviously, copying content off that page is a bad idea. Plagiarism is likely to see your article removed off the Wiki so rather counter productive.
That's the hard way, how about that easier way?

The Easier Way to Decide on an Article Subject

The classic approach you will probably have seen recommended, is to use an answer you provided on the forums. Of course there's a bit of a problem there if you don't answer so many questions.

Another option is where you have some problem at work and you come up with some interesting way of solving it. This is a great way to come up with an article because it's going to be of practical use. If you hit this issue then there are probably other people out there also want the solution. So long as you didn't get the solution off TNWiki or someone's blog then you're good.
If you wrote a lot of code then there is an additional consideration though. If that is at work then your employer owns that code. You could/should ask for permission. What I tend to do is write my own version at home without direct reference to what I wrote for my client.
Second time round, I sometimes think of a better approach and offer it to them. 

The equivalent to my picture album is to note some possible subject down as you go about your daily business. Ideas tend to pop into my mind. Maybe I've just got a short attention span or something but that's the way my scatterbrain works.
I find that can happen at work but it's most often as I'm doing something else I get a vague idea. Add that to a list on Notepad or on your phone.
The thing here is to keep ideas even if you think they're rubbish later. This is just a list of possible ideas. None of them are bad.

What you do with these is take a look through and see if any provide inspiration - that can be either directly or indirectly. It's important to realise this is inspiration rather than an article list. You're not necessarily going to write about exactly that heading/subject.
On Monday you might write down ListView. Tuesday you think "I'm not writing about ListView". Wednesday you might suddenly realise that simple styling on a UWA listview sounds like an interesting subject ( I've done that one by the way ).

Easy huh?
Now you just have to write the first subject of your list on that blank piece of paper.

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Comments (8)

  1. pituach says:

    great post Andy

    I loved the opening 🙂

    by the way, developing (programming) is art!
    Therefore, MSDN/TechNet is an artists network 🙂

  2. Very nice article. Thank you Andy

  3. For me, my #1 problem is starting. I often know what I have in mind, I just don’t have the time to do it.

    So I just start it and then try to keep visiting it each day until I’m done (enough). So for me starting is the trick. Once I start, I’m more likely to make time or come back to it and finish it up. But it’s still important to give yourself a deadline and basic
    goals for the article.

  4. #2 for me is the topic. Truthfully, I don’t always know what topic to do. So that might take me longer to think of it. But similarly, if I just take the time to look over the existing Wiki content, I think of a good one within a minute or two.

    Great food for thought. Thanks, Andy!

  5. Its a great post. Thanks Andy for sharing.

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