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16 Apr, 2008

Behind the scenes of The Art of Agile Development's Sit Together practice.

Today, I have something completely different: a screencast showing how I wrote the first draft of the "Sit Together" practice in The Art of Agile Development. It's a time lapse video: five seconds of video corresponds to one minute of writing.

This video is a pretty good example of my style of writing. I can't say whether it's a "good" way of writing or not--it works for me, but I have no idea if anybody else writes this way.

To start with, I almost never write an outline. Shane and I had an overall outline for the book, but not for each individual section. Instead, I'll just start writing. I'll think as I write--you'll notice a bunch of pauses in the video--and when a new idea occurs to me, I'll jot it down somewhere on the page.

When everything is going well, my thoughts gush out of my brain and onto the page. It's also when I produce my best work. That wasn't the case for this section, though, which was particularly difficult to write. Part of the problem was that screencasting made me self-conscious, in a sort of Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of writing. A bigger problem, though, was that we hadn't yet explained XP's simultaneous phases or its attitude towards documentation. I constantly found myself trying to justify these issues as I wrote. (Later, after the first draft was completed, we separated those concepts into their own sections, which helped a lot.)

Since I have to produce material even when things aren't going well, I have a bunch of tricks I use to prime the pump. If I'm having trouble, I'll often stop and reread what I've written. Sometimes that will inspire me to continue. Other times, I'll retype an existing paragraph, making slight modifications as I go, and then delete the original. This helps me relax and get into flow. If I'm having particular trouble, I might switch gears and work on a completely different section instead.

As the initial material comes together, I go back and reread it several times, editing as I go, and doing more of the "retype paragraphs with slight modifications" thing. I also look at how everything fits together and I'll often move around whole paragraphs in order to improve structure.

Finally, once most of the writing is done, I'll do a lot of reading and review, going through the material over and over, refining it each time.

Overall, it's a very iterative process that's a combination of brainstorming, simultaneous writing/editing, and structuring. See for yourself: the following screencasts cover the entire writing process for the first draft of "Sit Together."

Part 1:

(~9 min)


Part 2:

(~6 min)


Part 3:

(~8 min)


Part 4:

(~9 min)


Part 5:

(~6 min)