Nicely Said

Nicely Said is the new book on writing by Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee. It’s fantastic and you should go get it.

Writing about writing is not an easy task, but Nicole and Kate have managed to craft a book that is practical, funny, and full of empathy, the kind that stands as a living example of its own advice:

Good content is clear, useful, and friendly.

I appreciated the consistency of the book—I never felt like I was reading two radically different authors crammed together. It felt like a cohesive work that exemplified how you can have a consistent voice and tone for an organization or collaboration.

Nicely Said moves quickly from the general (research, planning, process) to the specific (developing your voice and tone, writing for user interfaces/flows, style guides). As a developer writing isn’t my primary job, but it’s one that I’m doing more and more frequently. So I appreciate how Nicely Said is both broad enough to be inspiring, but also specific enough that I can use some of the suggestions right away. Through it all, Nicole and Kate balance practical tips and examples with humor and kindness.

Kindness may seem like a strange word to pluck out of a book that deals with the power of words, but there’s a sense of generosity that pervades the book. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but it feels a lot like a friend telling you how they approach their craft, instead of a dry manual. It’s only now that I write this that I get the double meaning of the title—that writing clearly and effectively doesn’t preclude being pleasant and welcoming.

Thank You, Editorially

Last week Editorially shut down. I kept using it until the bittersweet end, working on an article for A List Apart. A day before the shutdown I flipped that document’s status to “Final”, exported my data, and debated whether to delete my account or not. I left it alone, with the small hope that everything could be resuscitated in the future.

I started using Editorially just before it came out of beta. I made a comment on Twitter about writing with Markdown, and shortly after that I got a message from Mandy Brown wondering if I wanted to try out her team’s new project. At first I wasn’t sure where it fit into my writing process—I had been writing using nvALT and Byword, and both of those are pretty good tools. I appreciated Editorially’s versioning features, but I don’t think I really started to use Editorially regularly until it gained support for reviewers, editors, and discussions.

Rob Brackett, who helped build Editorially, wrote a bit about how they implemented features as a team, and how that often meant taking the slower road to a better product:

Sometimes I worried that we were too slow. But I knew, very surely, that the product was dramatically better for the time and effort we took to work together.

As a user I felt the results of that care and obsessive attention to detail. It’s probably the wrong word to use for an app you couldn’t physically touch, but Editorially’s haptics were excellent. Perhaps features took longer to arrive, but what was there felt right, like someone had truly agonized over the details. I enjoyed logging in and seeing small changes, the kind that smoothed out friction that would probably have gone unnoticed unless you used the app day-in and day-out. Editorially felt extravagant, like a meticulously hand-crafted gift made even more valuable for being so unexpected. After all, who sets out to build a Markdown-centric collaborative writing tool in the first place?

I should pause here and say that I’ve always loved writing, but somewhere along the way it got harder and harder to do. I suffer from absolutely terrible writer’s block. One of the things Editorially did was make it easier to share my writing with friends and get feedback. I found myself writing more pieces, and finishing more of those. Just the knowledge that someone was looking over my writing was a powerful motivator. Whenever I described Editorially to other folks, the word in my head was liquid, simply because that’s what it felt like to write there—the words flowing with minimal resistance.

Marc Drummond wrote a heartfelt farewell to Editorially after they announced they were shutting down, and he said this:

So that’s what I loved about Editorially. Quite simply, Editorially helped me to write again. The interface gave me confidence, helped me along, and then just let me write.

That was my experience, too. I’m writing again, and Editorially played a big role in making that happen. It breaks my heart that love and care and thoughtfulness resulted in a great product, but somehow that wasn’t enough. All I can say is thank you to Mandy and her team, for crafting something that had such an unexpected, lasting impact in my life.

Prototyping Your Workflow Links

Update (2014-06-10): Jon Yablonski has put together a fantastic resource at Web Design Field Manual.

In my recent article for A List Apart, “Prototyping Your Workflow”, I wrote:

There’s a seductive danger present whenever you see someone else outline their way of working, however. It’s easy to take their process as a rigid, universal truth. The trouble is, you and your team aren’t like everyone else—you have different strengths and weaknesses. Borrowing someone else’s process wholesale ignores the fact that it probably took them lots of fumbling to get to that point, and it’s going to take plenty of experimentation on your team’s part to figure out what works for you.

That wasn’t written to dismiss what people are sharing. Quite the opposite—you absolutely should be paying attention to how people are approaching their process, because it’s near-impossible to come up with something that works well all by yourself. So in that spirit, here’s a number of links to pieces that I keep returning to when I think about process. Some are philosophical, some are technical, but they’ve all helped me in some way:

Each of those people above didn’t have to take the time to write and share about how they’re approaching their process, but they did, and I’m so very grateful for their generosity. If you’re writing about this stuff, or have your own favorite links/touchstones, please share them with our community—the more we talk openly about these things, the more we’ll be able to help our clients and ourselves.