May 26, 2014 · ~12 minutes
Today, no cool Sass stuff or neat CSS trick. I’d like to address a slightly more personnal topic people keep asking me about: how I came up to write for big online magazine (SitePoint, Tuts+, Codrops…). It’s true I have been very active lately and some people want to know how I can keep up with such a large amount of write ups. Well, if you happen to be one of those people, let me tell you my story (yes, you might find it boring!).
First of all, let me introduce with a little bit of background: as far as I can remember, I always liked writing. Back in high-school, I spent most French lessons writing prose or short stories. A few years later (late 2010), I launched a blog (in French) about World of Warcraft that got quite popular by the time. This was mostly due to the fact I published about 1000 words a day, and this during almost a year.
Long story short, you’d say I’m a writer. Ironically, I have never enjoyed reading. You would think someone who likes to write also likes to read but that is not my case. I don’t like reading. Especially books. I find it boring. Enough back story, let’s move on.
How did it all started
In this section, I’ll tell you how I went from doing CSS drawings on CodePen, to writing for SitePoint, CSS-Tricks and The Sass Way in about a year and a half. If you really just want to know how I write my articles, feel free to skip to the next section.
During the summer vacations from 2012, I got contacted by Pedro Botelho one of the two folks behind Codrops (the other one being the awesome Manoela Ilic, whom I interviewed later on this very blog) to know if I’d be interested in writing for Codrops. I was mostly unknown (not that I am specially popular today) at that time and I spent most of my free time doing silly CSS demos on CodePen.
Obviously I said yes and got to write quite a couple of posts for Codrops between September 2012 and July 2013, including some pretty popular ones like Troubleshooting CSS. After a dozen articles over a year, I realized Codrops was looking for design-related posts while I felt more technic-focused. As a matter of facts, my last posts at Codrops were quite technical (dealing with CSS counters,
clip(), click events…).
At that time (mid 2013), Chris Coyier from CSS-Tricks was looking for authors to help him complete the Almanac, an alternative to MDN Docs on CSS selectors and properties. Being a big fan of Chris’ work for years now, I have been helping him as much as I could, especially with a few interesting entries like CSS Grid System, A Complete Guide to Flexbox and a few other cool properties as well.
I still keep helping Chris updating the Almanac whenever I can. I recently added a couple entries, and we will soon update the Flexbox guide if Chris is still willing me to do so. I’m learning a lot and it’s a real pleasure to contribute to this famous site that is CSS-Tricks.
David Walsh and Chris being good buddies, David asked me if I’d be interested in writing a little article about Sass for his blog as a guest author (July 2013). A couple of days later, he released Looking into the Future of Sass where I explained what’s coming up in Sass 3.3 which was on the tracks back then. Even today, this article is still getting linked to as an alternative to Sass’ official changelog. Needless to say you should check the changelog rather than external articles. ;)
The Sass Way
A few months after my first article for David Walsh (October 2013), I think John W. Long from The Sass Way asked me whether I’d like publishing a write up at The Sass Way. The Sass Way being one of the most central places for Sass related stuff, I jumped on the occasion and released a completely silly post about Math sequences in Sass. While this was very interesting from a strictly technical point of view, it had absolutely no point whatsoever — making the article completely useless.
Thankfully, John gave me some extra opportunities to release more interesting articles on The Sass Way, including a cool one about how to programmatically go from one color to another which is — in my opinion — quite neat, especially if you’re interested in how colors work.
In late January 2014, I got contacted by Louis Lazaris (who was just named at a new position at SitePoint) if I wanted to fill their CSS Section with a couple of Sass articles. Louis told me SitePoint at that time was willing to provide some content about CSS preprocessors, so he thought about me (thanks Louis!).
The day after, I sent him a first article, ready to roll. And in the week-end that followed, I sent him 2 or 3 new write ups about Sass. At a point where my articles were not even passing by the Approved topics and Work in progress on Trello but directly popping into Ready for edit. For about 3 months now, SitePoint has been releasing an article from me every week and I have to say I am very glad to be part of this.
I’m busting my ass to provide interesting and fresh Sass content (when it’s not too technical, in which case I keep it for my own blog). And it’s a really great adventure so I hope months from now, I’ll still be giving them food for thoughts.
Finally, a few weeks ago (March 2014) Ian Yates from Webdesign Tuts+ got in touch with me to know if I could write a little something about Sass. A round of applause for Tuts+ because for once, someone contacted to ask me to write about something very specific, and not a about Sass or about CSS. In this case, Ian asked me to talk about error handling in Sass.
This led to the fastest turn around in history because the same day I was able to hand over the finished article to Ian, which could be released on Webdesign Tuts+ the day after. So in about 24 hours, we went from not knowing each other, to having released an article on the site. That being said, it was fast because he knew right away what he wanted from me (and because I had some free time that day).
I really enjoyed how things went the first time so I hope Webdesign Tuts+ and I will keep working together in the future.
Last but not least, shortly after starting writing for Codrops, in November 2012, I launched my own blog to write about experiments and stuff. I’ve been writing almost once a week since then, and plan on keep doing so for as long as I can.
About actually writing
So far, I have talked about all the places I’ve been writing for, but not really how I write. As you may have noticed, this is usually getting fast: in most cases a couple of days after establishing contact, the first article is out. Apart from the fact I have some free time during the evening where I can write, there are a couple of other reasons.
I know my topic
Things are easier when you know what you’re talking about. Have you ever tried to explain to someone something you barely know? It hurts. You stutter. You make sentences that don’t always make sense. You take time to think before answering… It takes time and effort. When you know your topic, it’s getting simple. You don’t have to think carefully before you speak. It comes naturally.
I one-shot articles
I never ever start an article without finishing it. Even this one you are currently reading. I wrote it in a single shot. If I leave an unfinished article, it will remain unfinished and won’t ever be released. I still have a draft from March 2013 which was meant to be an article about table design for Codrops.
I just can’t get back to an article I started. This might look incapacitating but I see it as a strength. Writing an article from the beginning to the end in a single session helps me keeping track of my thoughts and having a structured meaningful result.
I’ve seen friends working days on an article before delivering / releasing it. God, that would kill me. From start to end, every time. One shot.
I’m a fast typer
This might seem silly, but I am a very fast typer and this is not trivial when writing a lot. I usually sit on a comfortable 80 to 100 words per minute while being able to hit up to 120 words per minute with appropriate music in the ears.
There has always been a computer at home.
I grew up without a TV but as far as I can remember, there has always been a computer at home. When I was 3, my brother put me on Street Fighter, and I was smashing the keyboard with my little fingers without understanding much what I was doing. Before I was even 10, I started playing online. Which means typing to talk with people.
A few years later in secondary school, we had typing lessons to help us use a keyboard; it was already earned. I remember finding a website where you had to type the alphabet as fast as you can. Then, there was a scoreboard displaying best scores. After a couple of days of practice, I managed to type the entire latin alphabet in about 2-3 seconds. As silly as this exercise may be, it helped a lot rushing a couple of keys in a short amount of time.
Anyway, being a fast typer is part how I am able to release as many articles. Writing a post doesn’t take forever because I can type almost as fast as I speak.
Well, it involves Markdown, for sure. If you ask me about the greatest improvement regarding writing for the web, I’d say it’s Markdown. Being able to have structured content that doesn’t hurt reading is essential. Add a syntax highlighter and you got the holy grail of web writing. I’m not sure I’d be writing that much if it wasn’t for Markdown.
Markdown is the best way to write for the web.
Anyway, I usually open a Github Gist or Sublime Text and start writing in Markdown mode. As I’ve explained in the previous section, once I’ve started I don’t stop until the end. It usually takes no more than a couple of minutes or dozens of minutes depending on the article’s length. If everything is not perfect at first, it’s no big deal. What’s important is I have a backbone.
Once I’m done, I proof read the whole thing as if I were discovering it for the first time. I fix typos and try to level up my English so it’s not too much pain for the reader (a.k.a you) to read. It’s very unusual I have to re-write a whole section but it happens. In this case, I just fill the blanks or update as needed.
When the content seems fine, I have another read to see if I can add extras which would make the article more appealing: quotes, images, demos (usually as a Pen or a SassMeister Gist). If there is room for those, I add them.
And finally, I hand it to the site aiming at publishing it (e.g. SitePoint) or schedule it for my own blog.
There we are folks; you know everything! There is no magic. I just love what I do thus I enjoy writing about it. That’s why I’ve been able to write about 50 articles since the beginning of the year.
When I got some free time and a cool little idea in the back of my head, I open GitHub Gist, switch to Markdown and start typing. A couple of minutes later, the article is done, and I only have to proof read.
Of course it is time consuming. Yet, I try to find some time to write, because I really enjoy it. That’s all. If you want to write, you just have to love what you do.