I grew up with a lot of books in our home but I rarely recall someone reading them. My mother was perhaps the most avid reader with her interest in romance novels while my dad read the daily newspaper and his magazines. Their library was (and still is) a homage to the books they read, not an anti-library of books to read. As a result reading for fun wasn’t a place I visited much in my youth.
Things started to change around the time I became interested in computers. Our first computer with a modern OS was a Gateway 2000 with Microsoft Windows 95 and in those days came with Microsoft’s Encarta Encyclopedia. Despite having physical encyclopedia’s in the house I gravitated more towards exploring the digital encyclopedia. Reading it was fun because you had (in those days) quick access to vast amounts of information for a wide range of subjects. Essentially it was the pre-cursor to the vast archives of Wikipedia where to this very day I can still spend hours “wasting time” digging through articles & googling tangentially related things like How much money did Home Alone gross and what can I learn about Joe Pesci?
Reading is the Input
Today things are much different. Between micro-news, articles, blogs, podcasts, audiobooks and books I read daily, kind of like a maniac. Much of this feeds into my inspiration for writing. It might be a topic I agree with, some description or analogy that helped me understand something or even something I disagree with and want to see if I could explain / convince someone of better.
I start by capturing the inspiration either on paper (and later transferring them to) or directly in Evernote (something I highly recommend). The more I read, the more I discuss, the more pieces I seem to gather. Just last week I added three notes on topics such as: test cases are not deliverables, why the distinction of black-box and white-box testing approaches are valuable and some thoughts on testers writing production code. Turns out this method of capturing ideas in small pieces and storing them for later is what Jerry Weinberg calls The Fieldstone Method in his book Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method. (Think of walking through a field of stones and collecting ones you think will be useful later when building things.)
Writing is the Output
The workflow goes something like this:
- Find an interesting topic or idea and write it down in Evernote (initially just as a title)
- Add whatever context, or information or inspiration I come up with as bullet points
- Tag it with a topic and priority
- Forget about it until the time my energy for the topic comes back (or if it never goes away keep working on it)
At this point I’ve collected slightly less than two hundred notes (or fieldstones) on a wide range of topics. Most are about software development but it doesn’t matter what topics they are on, as long as I think they might have some value I’ll collect them. Over time I hope to have enough stones to assemble articles like this one and maybe a book or two. For me these two things, reading and writing are linked; one is the input and the other the output.