Quality Control

This morning I wrote a post and when I finished, I decided to set it aside, and maybe come back to it another time. The reason: it was a stinker. I’d say that 99 out of 100 times, when I write a post for the blog, it feels right to me and goes up without much second-guessing. But every now and then, I write something and think to myself, you are just trying to get something posted, regardless of how good it is. When I think that, it usually means I should set aside whatever I have written and revisit it later.

This kind of quality control has evolved over the years. If you go back to the early days of this blog (late 2005, but really, 2006 is when things started up in earnest) you’ll find that I wrote about anything that came into my head, no matter how trivial. Since then, I have grown more selective. There are plenty of posts that I have written but have never appeared because afterward, I didn’t like them for some reason. When it happens, it is usually because I was trying too hard to get something written and went about it poorly. That’s what happened this morning.

A lot more post ideas never even get written. I jot down post ideas all the time. Usually, they idea goes into the Field Notes notebook I have in my pocket, and from there it gets transferred to a list of possible idea to write about. But even in that step there are quality control checks in place. One of the best quality controls I have in my toolbox is time.

I’ll jot anything that comes to mind in my Field Notes notebook. Not all ideas from there make it into the ideas list I keep on the computer. Just flipping through the current notebook in my pocket, I see several ideas I jotted down that, thanks to time, won’t make the cut. (“Things I do to avoid maskless people” seems liked an amusing idea when I jotted it down, because there are silly things I do to avoid them, but there just aren’t enough of them to make for a good post.) I have another note about “Sleeping in your own bed” which I jotted down on the long drive back from Florida after being away from home for more than a week. Now, having been back home for a while, it no longer resonates with me.

Even when an idea from the notebook gets transferred to the list of potential ideas, time still works in my favor, protecting me against those ideas that seems great in the moment, but after some time has passed feel stale. Those will eventually get deleted from the list.

Some ideas stay on the list for a long, long time, mainly because there is a lot of research involved, or a lot of time required to put them together in a way that will satisfy me. (One idea, which appears on my list as “Bookstuffing” is an example of this.) Generally, though, if an idea makes it from the notebook to the “curated” list its chances of getting actually written as a post are much higher.

But maybe not right away. Again, time serves as an excellent quality control tool. Sometime an idea that excites me will make it to the list, and I’ll find that I’m not ready to write about it. I like the idea but some of the shimmer has worn off and I need time to find the right pieces to make it resonate with me again. Often this happens one two separate ideas are joined together. Other times, an idea is really just a great title with nothing behind it, and it takes time to find whatever it is that is behind that title.

Once I have written a post, it is rare that I decide not to post it. This is the final quality check I impose: does it feel like a good post? Of course, a feeling a complete judgement on my part, but it is my blog, and I have enough experience at this point to trust my gut. I can go through a number of reactions upon completing a post: Jumping up from my keyboard and pacing in a circle because I am so pleased with what I have written is one extreme. The other extreme happens just as quickly; indeed, it often happens before I finish writing. It’s a feeling I get that I know I just don’t like what I have written.

The most typical reaction is general satisfaction with what I have written. Nice job, check that item off the list and move on.

Today was one of those rare days when an idea made it from my notebook, to my idea list, and finally, into a completed post before I realized it was no good. For those who may be curious about what I’d written about, let me just give you the title: “RTFM Is So 1990s”. Yeah, it was that bad.

Thank goodness for some measure of quality control here.

About Jamie Todd Rubin

Jamie Todd Rubin writes fiction and nonfiction for a variety of publications including Analog, Clarkesworld, The Daily Beast, 99U, Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and several anthologies. He was featured in Lifehacker’s How I Work series. He has been blogging since 2005. By day, he manages software projects and occasionally writes code. He lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and three children. Find him on Twitter at @jamietr.

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