Wednesday, November 01, 2017

The War on Writer's Block | Yet Another Approach to Tracking Blog Topics

Over the years, I've had various methods for tracking topics I'd like to write about on my blog. Each attempt had value, and ultimately shortcomings.

First, there was good old pen and paper. So gratifying, yet not especially convenient when many topics start online. Then I used browser bookmarks. These are great for web inspired ideas, but were tough to keep in sync. Then I used Google Bookmarks. this kept my ideas in sync, yet it was not effective at tracking non-web inspired ideas. Most recently I tracked ideas in Google Calendar. My plan was to schedule content for publication on a given day. This held promise, but ultimately I ended up ignoring the dates I set for myself and the whole process was just too clunky.

And so now I'm using yet another method for tracking ideas: A Google Spreadsheet. I'm not entirely sure why it took me this long to get here.

The spreadsheet has the following shape:

The sheet is simple: each potential topic gets a short summary and any number of associated resources, which would typically be links to more info. The links may be public content, like a blog entry, or private content like an album of photos. The Priority column allows me to tag certain topics as being higher priority, and then sort the sheet by that column, to have them percolate up to the top.

So far, the approach is working well. In various browsers, I've got a bookmark to this sheet, so adding to it while using a desktop computer is easy enough.

On my mobile device, things are even more automated, thanks to Tasker. To be more specific, thanks to the Tasker Spreadsheet Plugin and AutoShare. These Tasker plugins allowed me to trivially write the following Tasks:

Invoking the first task causes the phone to ask aloud: "What do you want to blog about?" A speech prompt them pops up asking me to recite my idea. The second task is meant to be invoked via AutoShare and means that any app on the phone that has a Share option can have the content routed to my Blog Ideas spreadsheet. This means that a web page or Reddit thread is only one click away from being added to the Blog Ideas spreadsheet.

If this approach works, I may continue to extend it by allowing files to be uploaded and referenced in the spreadsheet, too. That way, I could snap a photo of something and share that photo directly to the Blog Ideas spreadsheet. It's remarkable how effortlessly you can tie in your phone to a Google Spreadsheet by using Tasker and the necessary plugins.

All these approaches really point to one painful truth: coming up with content to write about isn't easy. Even on a blog like mine, where I give myself permission to write about literally anything. The right approach to tracking ideas helps, but ultimately, I stand in awe of writers. As Hemingway never said, There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.


  1. Nice workflow. For you I was thinking Org-Mode and one of the mobile apps that support the format.

    All of my stuff is in plain old Org-Mode and I refile like crazy.

  2. So far, the spreadsheet is working well. But yeah, at some point I'll be looking for something fresh. And I've totally been totally looking for a use-case to apply org-mode to.

    Thanks for the suggestion!