Juha-Matti Santala
Community Builder. Dreamer. Adventurer.

Tools don't matter - until they do

Blaugust is a month-long event that takes place in August each year that focused on blogging and other serialized content. The goal is to stoke the fires of creativity and allow bloggers and other content creators to mingle in a shared community while pushing each other to post more regularly.

Tools don't matter in the beginning

My #1 tip for any aspiring blogger, who thinks about starting a blog is to forget about the tools: your editor, how to build your site, where to publish it. Focus on your writing and getting that started. You can always move your old posts to a new system - either automatically or if that's not available, manually. Doing it manually is painful but believe me, it's better than spending months wondering which tech to use and not writing a single post because of that.

It's similar for starting your software development journey. If you ask for recommendations for your first programming language, framework, code editor / IDE or best cloud to deploy your apps, you'll get as many answers as you have people to ask from. And it can get overwhelming.

But most important thing is to pick one and get started. The skills are transferable, the tooling can be changed/updated/upgraded as you learn more about what you need and what kind of tooling fits you. You need to put in the work and hours though before you really know what you need what works. Otherwise, you'll spend more time picking up new tools and figuring out which one to use than you'll spend learning and creating things.

A bad or misfit tool can be a hinderance that takes the joy out of doing things. At that point, it's worthy to look elsewhere and try out a different tool. We humans come in many shapes and forms and there's no silver bullets so like with everything in life, be open for change and experimenting when there's real need. But not just when something new is shiny – especially at the beginning.

Until they do

I'm writing this post at the end of a big website rewrite. I had managed to publish on the same build (with small iterative improvements) for almost 5 years (proud of myself!). I had finally reached a moment where the desire to rewrite didn't come from procrastination or "ooh, a shiny new thing" but from months and years of built up "I wish my blog could do X" and having achieved X through bad workarounds and hacks.

I had reached a point where my tooling truly started to matter for me and it was time to redo things. I had reached a similar point in 2020 when I switched from Markdown to Ghost as I had noticed my creativity drop heavily from the bad tooling. Now I had outgrown my tools and felt that since I can very comfortably maintain a regular weekly publishing pace, it was a good time to do the rewrite.

One thing I had been wishing for years (and even tried by building a locally running Django app) was a way to mark my different blog posts as related to each other. Now I have a proper system in place for that and I've started to retroactively add those connections to some older posts. It's very handy for my blog series (like Learning Rust) or when writing about similar topics and referring to older blog posts.

I was also at the point where I had been writing for long enough that I knew what I needed from my tooling to make writing enjoyable and get my creative juices flowing. Ghost's editor was really good for that and the original switch from Markdown to Ghost taught me the importance of an enjoyable editor.

Now I'm in the middle of switching to Notion (I already have some future posts written with it but this one I'm still typing in Ghost as I want to get my buffer emptied here first before doing the move). I have all the plumbing done and experimented with.

Notion has similar, maybe even better writing and editing experience than Ghost and on the technical side is different to handle. It requires a bit more work to handle but once that work is put in up front, it allows me to do behind the scenes magic that Ghost just doesn't.

Once you're there, spend effort learning your tools

While the choice of a tool isn't important in the beginning, as soon as you become comfortable with the stuff that you're doing, I highly recommend spending time and effort learning what your tools can use.

If it's your blog, read the user manual/documentation and read blog posts from people using it. There's so much under the surface that we don't usually notice that can make our lives so much better and our creation time more efficient. Learn the keyboard shortcuts or quick commands. Learn how to use a command palette if one exists. Learn how to customize it to your need and learn what you can automate.

Whatever tool you use, make a habit out of reading their changelog. That's the best place to see what new features they've added in the new update.

Share your tips forward! Write a blog post or post about them to social media. Even the most mundane things may be a new thing to someone else.

In one of my previous workplaces, I would host a "show a cool trick with your code editor" sessions every now and then, inviting my colleagues to share how they use their tools. In every team I'm in, we talk a lot about the tools we use and I always aim to build a culture where sharing small bits and bobs is a daily habit.

Share your one tip or trick with a tool you use?

Let's start a sharing discussion going on Mastodon! Reply to the toot below via Mastodon and share a tip from one of the tools you use. No matter what tool or what you do with it – there's likely someone out there who's using the same thing and hasn't heard your tip before.


Comment by replying to this post in Mastodon.

Loading comments...

Continue discussion in Mastodon »

Syntax Error

Sign up for Syntax Error, a monthly newsletter that helps developers turn a stressful debugging situation into a joyful exploration.