Today’s post is an interview with Ev Bogue, one of my personal writing heroes. I started reading Ev’s work about five years ago and it shifted my perspective on everything. Just like when someone hands you a tape of new music with lyrics that speak directly to you, I felt stronger in my own creative convictions every time I read his writing.
Ev Bogue is the person who gave me the courage to start my own blog, and then my own business. I’m greatly honored to feature this interview with him.
Lauren: You write and publish books that teach people tech skills, ranging from how to learn basic HTML to building programmable web servers. Why should writers in particular be concerned with stepping up their game when it comes to tech?
Ev: The technical writing era in my career came after my writing business bottomed out in 2012. I was traveling the world, and I got so annoyed with my website that I just forwarded evbogue.com to a social network. Which was a complete disaster, because I had nothing unique going on anymore. I was just another desperate noisy voice in the stream. When I switched from having my own website to outsourcing all of my design decisions to a social network I found that I was only interacting with people who never leave the social network. This was disastrous because I wanted to make money from my work, but no one ever bought anything because they never clicked off the social network. So after some vagabonding around I pulled myself together in a basement by learning some basic tech skills. It took about 3 months, but by then I had a website again and was ready to get back into the game.
The profound lesson I managed to learn being an idiot was that I have to have complete control over my digital world as a writer. If I don’t, I’m the product instead of the producer. To anyone out there who doesn’t have a website, and is also not making a whole lot of money from their writing, I’d say to them: get a website and make it yours in the way that it becomes yours by working with the website every day as well as your writing. This way the website evolves with you, instead of stagnating in 1999 or wherever your web designer’s best year was when they had the most hair.
Lauren: I know a lot of writers are intimidated by the thought of designing their own website. If someone is starting from ground zero (meaning they have never designed a website before), would something like your Design Your Website still be able to help them? In other words, how much prior knowledge do you really have to bring to the table to get started?
Ev: Design Your Website teaches HTML5 and CSS3, and it starts with the absolute basics such as how to format a website from scratch using the basic building blocks of HTML. For example:
<p>This is the first paragraph of my website.</p>
There’s an entire chapter explaining what all of the above means and why you need to get it under your belt before you go any further. One of the reasons I wrote DYW was because I didn’t have any great resources to recommend to people who want to learn the basics of web design. There are many places on the Internet that will teach you trendy tips and tricks, and how to make your website as fancy as possible. But you can’t make your website as fancy as possible if you don’t have the fundamentals down. DYW covers the fundamentals without expecting you to know anything except how to launch a plain text editor and save a file.
Lauren: I’ve been following your writing, online and in book form, for about five years now and I’m always amazed at your steady, prolific output. Do you follow a set writing schedule?
Ev: I have, and I haven’t, had a set writing schedule. Right now I do have a writing schedule, because I’m trying to get people to sign up for two different email lists. The Client List, which is $10 a month and/or 6-months if you buy a book—it’s twice a week. And The Mailing, which is a free short note twice a week. My writing schedule also revolves around books, because I’m always trying to get a book out the door. This keeps me motivated because I’m motivated by money, and I don’t make any money if I don’t have anything to offer people. The landscape is always changing, and I’m always learning new things, so I find myself launching new books on a regular basis.
Lauren: How do you make yourself write when you don’t feel like it?
Ev: I drink a box of wine and then I write. Interesting things happen. I’ve heard this is a bad habit to have though. Or I go to a coffee shop, open up a single terminal window in Terminology, vim into a new file, and then just write for 30 minutes or until something happens.
Lauren: How do you decide on the topics for your next book? Do your readers influence what new tech skill you tackle next?
Ev: When I’m trying to decide on what topic to write about I first use The Mailing and/or The Client List to try ideas out until something catches people’s interest. My readers are always trying to get me to write about things they already know all about and would never buy a book on, such as minimalism or marketing. I take suggestions with a grain of salt, because doing what people say has gotten me into trouble a few times. For example, last year (2014) a handful of people begged me to write another minimalism book. I came up with the idea, wrote 15 chapters, and then pitched it to the people who said they were going to buy it and none of the people who gave me their word they would buy it bought it. I ended up making two sales, and not from people who said ‘hell yes!’ about the book idea beforehand. I went back to technical writing after that experiment.
Ev: Rolling release is inspired by how the current Node.js master branch, io.js, is released. Instead of releasing a stable release of the program a few times a year, they update and release it whenever there is a minor change. Arch Linux works in a very similar way on a much larger scale. The great thing about a rolling release is there is often something new, and I can attempt to keep up with the fast pace of Node.js development. However, one of the biggest reasons I decided to do a rolling release is I’m always learning something new about Node.js and all of the modules in the ecosystem, so if I was to mark the book as ‘DONE’ it’d be undone in a matter of weeks. A lot of Node.js books you can buy at the physical bookstore are out of date for just this reason, because there’s a big difference between Node.js 0.8.6 (the stable release in 2012) and io.js 2.2.1 (the current version). I get a huge advantage over print technical writers by only publishing to the digital world, so why not take advantage of that advantage?
Ev: The Mailing is free, The Client List is paid. The Mailing seems to be shorter, and The Client List is longer. I pitch products somewhat often on The Mailing, I never pitch on The Client List. I see The Client List as an added perk for people who’ve supported my work in any way during the last six months. I see The Mailing as the on-ramp for newer clients and people who just want to keep up with what I’m working on until they’re interested in something I’ve written.
Lauren: What new tech skills are you planning to add to your arsenal in the future?
Ev: Right now it’s all Node.js all of the time, because I’m working on The Node.js Book right now. But I have a book on programming in C on my desk, and I want to sit down and learn C because C is hardcore. But learning C is hard, so it might be a long time until I’m a hardcore programmer.