In 2017 I wrote 47 blog posts about my work week
The words aren’t special, but the journey was
In 2017 I wrote more than I’d ever done before, thanks to the practice of #weeknotes. Other people do #weeknotes too. You can find them if you search for ‘weeknotes’ on the internet. I was inspired by @jukesie and Simon to start this, and after a few weeks I’d decided to ‘go big’. I committed to writing #weeknotes for a year, and to try to make them hang together as a wider story.
I knew in advance that I wanted to take a break at the end. I’d thought that I’d revisit after a few weeks and write a sort of epilogue, to tie it all together and regurgitate some of my very best hilarious jokes.
I was surprised by what actually happened. First, I felt a void in my life that made me really uncomfortable when I went back to work in January. Second, when I read through what I’d written it wasn’t anywhere near as enjoyable or good as I thought it would be. I was deeply disappointed with what I’d made.
That disappointment is a familiar feeling. I find, when I’m really involved in making a thing, it’s hard to view it objectively once it’s finished. My #weeknotes saga has some highlights and some actual adventures, but it’s not a great story. I’d have needed to resign unexpectedly before Christmas or get offered a fantastic new job  in order to end 2017 on a high.
Having thought about it some more, I am a fool. The thing to reflect on from my experience last year was the journey, not the words. And having done that, there are some things that I’ve found valuable.
Throughout the year I hadn’t truly worked out why I was spending around three hours a week doing this. Sam asked me a few times and whatever I said didn’t feel quite right. Now, I have a better idea:
- Being as open as I can be in my work is important to me
- Having an space to work through ideas and problems was really valuable
- The writing could be cathartic, helping me to not carry negativity into the following week
- The routine and habit was helpful, and the regular achievement and achieving the overall commitment was satisfying
- It was a creative outlet. The perfect, French-chef-finger-kissing animated GIFs don’t curate themselves, you know
- When life is lonely and uncertain, it is a genuine help to get some small validation from people on the internet
I came to realise that the last point is the answer to “why make it public?”
Twitter in general is a cesspit, but my Twitter is actually rather nice, supportive, interesting, and full of brilliant people. Which leads me to…
Setting aside those 80,000 words that I can’t stand to read, what did I get out of all that writing?
As part of this journey, I didn’t get just the odd ‘like’ for my blog posts — a community came together and offered each other emotional and practical support. This was the most significant and rewarding thing that happened over the course of the year. Reading about others’ work is interesting and enlightening, providing perspective and helping identify shared challenges. The network I am part of grew organically, and some of us even managed to meet up in the real life once.
When we met, I was struck by how I *kind of* knew everybody in the room, even though I’d never met most of them before. Nobody was writing a dull, play-by-play procedural in their #weeknotes — everybody brought something authentic about themselves to their posts. So I had a good sense of what people were like, in addition to what they did for a living.
Thanks to Matt, there’s a platform for people to publish #weeknotes to. It even has a tasty URL, which is the mark of a man with a strong aesthetic sense. More and more people are giving it a go.
If you’re reading this and my ‘Why?’ points above appeal to you then I encourage you to try it out.
There were a host of secondary things that happened as well:
- I wish that Medium stats offered a bit more insight on readership. Regardless, after six weeks or so I set myself a target level of at least 40 ‘reads’ for each #weeknotes episode, and only 5 of my 47 posts didn’t reach that. I know 40 isn’t big reading-things-on-the-internet numbers, but if I picture 40 people and imagine that they all read a thing that I wrote it’s not insignificant to me. It’s almost certainly more than the last internal work document I wrote.
- Anecdotally, I am pretty sure that around half of my regular readership were people that I work with in the UK Parliament. Several people told me that they knew more about what I was doing than anybody else because of my regular blogging.
- Again anecdotally, on more than one occasion people in the wider ‘public service digital’ space told me they knew more about what was going on in my department from my regular blogging than from any other channel.
- A couple of people told me that I had inspired them to write, which was particularly special.
- My best friend, who can really write, told me that my writing was very good. This was also special, particularly because my friends in general have no idea or interest in what I do for a living.
- I often say to people that it’s important to test where the boundaries are in work. It is a good barometer of workplace culture. If your organisation says one of its values is ‘be open’, then be open. It’s a fuzzy line that’s difficult to navigate, and I did get to a place where I thought I was self-censoring — something I know other #weeknotes-ers have experienced that caused them to stop publishing. At times, I found it peverse to be pretty open about my state of mind, but not about everything that was happening in the office. Still, I nudged that boundary and I never got called out for being ‘too open’, and that reinforces my affinity for where I work.
- I did have it pointed out to me that people might understand what I’d written in a different way to how it was intended, and the general responsibility of avoiding representing others views when they have no right of reply. That was helpful feedback.
- Through the section of my #weeknotes where I worked through a problem I realised there was a longer blog post that’s about tapas or something to write, so I did that.
- I learned how to make a podcast and I made a podcast. It wasn’t very good, content-wise, because I was mostly reading out my #weeknotes from the week before. Still, I’ve got a pretty good voice if you want to relax.
- Through making a podcast, I wrote and recorded 8 original theme tunes which is a totally normal thing to do. This gave me a reason to get various bits of musical equipment I haven’t used in years out of boxes and drawers and it was extremely rewarding.
- Through making 8 original theme tunes for my #weeknotes podcast I realised I could revisit my idea to make theme tunes for work in general, so I did that, twice (so far).
- Through making theme tunes for work in general I realised there was an extended metaphor for building digital services to be written about, so I did that. I really like that blog post.
So, lots of good stuff happened that’s considerably better than the words themselves.
All that regular thinking and writing helped me to explore and better understand my identity and values for work. I sound like a pseud, but I ended up in a place where I can feel the edges of a personal philosophy of sorts. Something to develop over the next half of my career (yes, I did turn 40 last year).
The next journey?
The void that I described at the beginning receded after a few weeks. At the time of writing this I haven’t decided whether I’ll return to #weeknotes again. If I do, I’ll make them considerably shorter. I really like some of the formats others are using, in particular the ‘20 questions’ thing I first noticed from Richard.
I do know that I need to have one or more long-term, speculative personal projects on the go — that’s where the unexpected good stuff comes from. They are engines for small magic.
I also know that I need to keep writing.
 That’s how it works in the movies, right? Somebody comes and says
“hey I’ve been reading your #weeknotes and you are so great. Have a million pounds you can start on Monday as Director of Data and Search for the United Nations if you like”