My digital garden

introspection, pinned, website Updated

"Blogging is easy," they say. Just choose from one of the existing platforms, start writing content, and publish. Not so simple though…

I've been putting off launching a major update to my site for nearly 2 years. I wanted to include a blog, but this turned out to be a blocker for me. No matter what I did I couldn't bring myself to publish it. Why was the blog a problem and how have I overcome it? Let me explain.

The problem I faced wasn't a lack of ideas, or a lack of existing content for that matter. It was more a reluctance to share my content with the world until it was perfectly polished and gleaming, like some coveted trophy displayed in a glass case. For even the simplest blog post, I would find countless excuses not to publish. "It's not clear enough", "it's too simple, people already know this", "X has written a better post about this". This lead to scores of iterations, tweaking the wording, clarifying concepts, and desperately searching for some new insight not already published by others. If I did manage to 'complete' a post, I worried that I wouldn't manage to keep up a regular posting schedule, and that long periods without updates would detract from the site.

It wore at me until I decided my content wasn't valuable enough to the public to justify the effort. Without the blog I didn't see a need for a design update to the site and so it sat for nearly 2 years, a single page linking off to my digital presence on various social media platforms.

Then along came the Christmas break of 2020, over 9 months into an on-again, off-again national lockdown caused by a global pandemic. I had more time than usual on my hands and decided to have another go at the website update. I quickly came up with a design I was happy with, put together a list of posts I wanted to write, and was looking forward to the challenge of playing with some new tools (shout out to Eleventy and Tailwind CSS).

Of course once I had the technical side of things taken care of I was once again faced with the prospect of writing content to publish for public consumption. I decided that this time I wouldn't be beaten, I would find a way to make this work and finally hit the publish button. So I set about sketching a plan. I'd have a blog section on the site but this wouldn't be the only place for my content. I'd also have a dedicated area for any useful links, tools, and resources I came across, somewhere to keep track of notes, tips and tricks, an area for… 🤯 Stop! Just thinking about now having multiple streams of content to update was nearly enough to send me into a panic. If I couldn't publish a simple blog before, how would I manage all of this too‽ Time for an entirely different approach.

I left it for a few days as I tried to come up with an answer to this frustrating problem. During one particularly productive session scrolling through my Twitter feed I found a thread discussing the performative nature of blogging and social media. A lot of the comments resonated with me and I recognised the problems I had faced in my previous attempts at blogging. After a short while reading about others facing the same thing I realised my biggest problem was one of audience. I was focusing too much on the performative aspects of the blog, trying to produce content I deemed worthy of some imaginary audience of experts who would judge me harshly if my content didn't provide sufficient additional value over existing sources.

What I really wanted was a place to gather my notes, thoughts, and ideas for my own reference, letting them grow over time. If they were of value to others that was a bonus, but not the main goal. Since I was the primary audience, I could dispense with the rigid separation and categorisation of content, and use a system of tags and cross-links to help me find things again in future.

Instead of a traditional blog what I needed was a 'digital garden', somewhere to sow the early seeds of ideas, cultivate those I found useful, and maybe one day harvest some additional value. I could include useful notes, links to tools and resources, and anything else I might want. Early drafts could sit alongside more polished posts since I was writing for myself. Even an early draft is more useful than a blank page after all.

No longer limited by what I perceived to be the rules of a 'good blog' I found myself free to write again. My initial list of posts quickly grew as I embraced this new approach, writing and publishing drafts or outlines to be fleshed out at a later date, or simply to serve as a reminder of some interesting or useful snippet or approach I'd found.

I wish I had saved that illuminating Twitter thread, but it did lead me to plenty of other great resources on the topic:

Also not directly related to digital gardens but touching on many of the same points I struggled with originally:

Happy gardening! 🌱