Tag writing

Writing Tips

Past Articles

I’ve written a few times about writing – The Act of Reading and The Act of Writing. I thought that it would be good to put together a grab bag of some of my favorite writing tips and tricks to make life just a little bit easier for people who want to get better at writing.

On the Act of Reading

In The Act of Reading I talk about how it’s important to actively read as part and parcel of getting better as an author. Reading is important because it spreads ideas. Nothing exists in a vacuum, after all.

Read the People You Admire

Have a favorite author that you admire? Grab your favorite work and read it again. This time around, read it slowly. Savor every word. Keep a pen, note pad, dictionary and thesaurus nearby. When you hit a particularly powerful passage, make a note of the page.

Once you’ve finished a chapter, go back and take a look at the passages you highlighted. What makes them special to you? Is it the word choice? The flow? Does the author build up interleaving sentences that leave you gasping for air as the hero runs for cover?

Figure out what makes that writing work for you. It’s not going to make you hate your favorite authors. If anything, you’ll appreciate their writing even more.

Read the People You Hate

Once. Just read it through once. But figure out why you hate it.

I read most of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker before I put it down. I stopped reading the book because I couldn’t stand it. I’m sure the book was enjoyable for someone, but it didn’t work for me. The instant I realized the book didn’t resonate with me, I started asking myself questions to figure out what I didn’t like. It was important to know why I didn’t like the book; by understanding what I didn’t like, I can avoid the same pitfalls in the future. It made me happy to understand why I didn’t like the book. Once I understood my opinion I wasn’t pissed off that I had spent time reading the book. I was relieved. I learned something about what I want out of myself as a reader and as a writer.

Writing is a complex thing – there are many different pieces that make writing good or bad. Understanding what makes one piece of writing bad is just as important as understanding what makes another piece of writing good. Understanding what you don’t like about other writers will help you strengthen your own voice as a writer. Looking at it another way, if you know why something annoys you then can avoid similar problems in the future.

Read the People who Sell

As much as we might had to admit it, writing is a business. While creating art for the sake of art is a lofty goal, we all need to eat. There are many starving artists, but a few of them manage to make a good living. Read the best sellers. While you probably aren’t planning to write the great American novel or a New York Times bestseller, it doesn’t hurt to figure out what makes something a hit. Even if you don’t like popular writing, there is a lot to be learned from it: it sells, figure out why.

Read Reviews

The final suggestion I have is to read book reviews. This will be especially helpful if you’ve never tried to pull a book apart and see how it works. Book reviews can be daunting, or outright boring, if you’ve never read one before. Stick with it, you’ll learn a lot about how people read, write about, and deconstruct books. You’ll also get a glimpse at what critics like about authors – this can be a short cut to understanding what you love, hate, and what sells.

People I Read

Not that it matters, but these are some of the people I read:

Every time I read something that one of these people write, I read it to enjoy it. Then I read it again at some later time to figure out how it works.

On the Act of Writing

Writing is a daunting task. From time to time I’ll joke that I got an English degree because I just wanted to talk about things. I’ll follow it up by saying I got a non-fiction writing degree because I wanted to write about things that were already sitting around. The truth is that I knew I could figure most things out, but my writing was something that I valued and wanted to improve.

Here’s two quick tips: don’t edit as you go and don’t format as you go.

Don’t Edit as you Write

Don’t edit yourself while you’re writing. Just don’t do it. Instead of trying to get one sentence perfect, try to get the ideas out of your head as fast as you can. Editing while you’re trying to write can be distracting; you may lose your train of thought and spend most of your time focusing on a few words. In short: don’t miss the forest because you’re trying to describe the moss on a tree.

When I’m working on a blog post, especially when a longer one, I’ll make notes as I write so I can go back. Instead of editing a sentence, I’ll add a comment like “[NOTE: Don't like the sound of this, revise later, wishy washy]“. Once I’ve finished writing my first draft, I go back and look through my notes. I use these as the basis for my revisions. Sometimes I know how I want to say something but I don’t know exactly how to say it. I’ll make a note telling me to revisit a particular sentence or paragraph.

When I write, I focus on writing. When I polish my writing, I polish my writing. Each one requires different skills and different ways of thinking. I like to keep the activities separate.

Don’t Format as you Write

When I write, I only want to write. I don’t want to fiddle around with different fonts, indentation, line spacing or anything else like that. When I’m writing formatting is just a distraction: it doesn’t help my writing.

In college, and even after college, I would spend time getting my document “right” before I started writing. Word processors are a great way to procrastinate writing. It’s so easy to spend hours figuring out the optimum line spacing, tab levels, bullet formatting, and font choice to make sure that your document displays perfectly.

Your perfect document template doesn’t matter if you don’t have anything to fill it. When I write I use a plain text editor to create content. Admittedly, I use a pretty powerful text editor called Emacs and I write everything using the Markdown format. Markdown is a simple format, it converts easily to HTML, and it gets out of the way when I write. Emacs isn’t for everyone, it’s grumpy and ugly and has a steep learning curve. There are plenty of other tools out there. On the Mac there’s TextMate as well as Ulysses (that one is more for novelists). There are hundreds of editors out there that do a great job of doing nothing more than editing text. Some of them even have lovely full screen modes where they block out every other application. This is particularly good if you know you’re easily distracted.

The most important thing is to choose a tool that doesn’t distract you. Turn off spell check and grammar check while you’re writing. You can always turn it on later and fix your work. You’ll be much happier without all of those squiggles reminding you that you don’t know how to spell or that you’re ending a sentence with a preposition.

Getting Feedback

Writing shouldn’t happen in a vacuum. Writing evolves in response to feedback and experience. As you get more feedback you get better at writing.

One of the easiest ways to get feedback is to ask your friends what they think of your newest work. This can be a mixed bag, unfortunately. Your friends may not be writers, they may not be interested, or they may know nothing about the rules of grammar. On the bright side, your friends will be happy to help with your new found interest in becoming a better writer.

Writers have banded together in groups to discuss their work. Historically, there have been groups like the Inklings. You can find groups like Hugo House in every city where people have an interest in writing. While writing classes are helpful, some of the best feedback I received in college came from my fellow students. We had to ceaselessly review our peers, sometimes reviewing a paper on Monday only to read it again, with our revisions, on Friday. Watching something evolve in response to your criticism while re-shaping your own work in response to criticism is an enlightening process. Over time you’ll come to recognize your own colloquialisms, hang ups, and other linguistic oddities. You’ll learn what works and what doesn’t. Writing with other writers is one of the best ways to get better.

Proofreading

Proofreading is one of the nastiest jobs I’ve encountered while writing, especially when I’m proofreading my own writing. I’ve come up with a few tricks over the years to keep myself engaged in the task instead of rushing through it haphazardly.

Small Chunks

Work in small chunks of time. Your brain can only focus for a short period of time on something you don’t enjoy. If you’re anything like me, proofreading is something that you definitely do not enjoy. Instead of toughing it out, break your work up. If you can only focus on proofreading for 30 minutes, make sure you break up your work so that you can work on proofreading for 30 minutes and then have another task lined up. It seems simple and obvious, but I’ve tried to drive through the wall of boredom while proofreading. The results were disastrous.

Read to Yourself

Read your own writing to yourself. Don’t silently read to yourself. Print out a copy of your writing, stand up, and read it out loud. You’re going to feel silly at first. Don’t stop. Don’t talk in a quiet voice. Read in a firm, strong voice.

While you’re reading, keep a pen in one hand. Circle any part of your writing where you falter or stumble while you’re reading it. Anything that sounds weird or awkward gets circled too. Your writing should sound like you. You don’t want your readers pausing awkwardly while they read. Anywhere you stumble, they’re likely to stumble.

One final tip about reading to yourself: once I’ve gone through a particular article reading it out loud, I’ll run through specific parts again but I’ll read it in a silly voice. I’ve frequently caught awkward and just plain bad writing using this method. You’ll feel weird doing it, but it really works.

Three Proofreading Tricks

Some people like to proofread in their word processor. While the word processor is great for catching some basic spelling and grammatical mistakes, it isn’t the best place to do proofreading. I use three tricks when I’m proofreading to help me spot my spelling, grammatical, and stylistic mistakes.

The first thing is to print out a copy of your writing. I prefer to proofread by marking up a physical copy of whatever I’m working on. I’ll print out a nicely double spaced copy of a blog post and go to town on it with a red pen. this makes it very easy to cross out words, add words, and amend my revisions without losing any of the original copy and without having to refer to the margins to see what’s changed since I started.

After a while, you’re going to get bored proofreading. It’s not that exciting. If you do like proofreading, skip ahead. For the rest of you, here’s two tricks to keep you going. When you’re proofreading, take that print out and turn it upside down. Shockingly, you will have no problems reading upside down but you’ll have to work at it: by turning the paper upside down you force your brain to focus on reading. Since you have to focus more to read you focus more on the words. As a result you’ll notice more mistakes and awkwardness. When you get sick of reading upside down you can head to the bathroom and read in the mirror instead of turning the paper upside down.

Be Yourself

No matter what I say, no matter what anyone else says, the most important part of writing is to be yourself. Experiment with a voice, a style, and a tone that’s all your own. Play around with different writing techniques until you find something that works well for you. I listen to The Orb’s Adventures in the Underworld while I write. You may not want music on at all.

Above all else, have fun. Your writing should show your passion. Words aren’t some collection of dead sticks that you arrange to communicate basic facts; words communicate your passion and expertise.

The Act of Writing

In a previous post I talked about becoming an active reader by taking part in and examining the communication between author and audience. Today I’m going to explore it.

Topic

William Zinsser said it best when he said “think small”. While he was talking about writing a memoir, thinking small applies to anything that you write about. Am I going to be able to effectively write about something as complicated SQL Server’s cost based optimizer in a single blog post? No. Can I talk about my opinion of O/R-Ms and their limitations? Sure.

Just like we scope projects in our day jobs, our writing projects need to have a scope. When I first started writing – and I mean actually writing, not just writing garbage down on paper – it was in college and my topics were handed down by my professors. I found myself saying there is absolutely no way I can write 10 pages about something as obscure as the philosophy of action and inaction in the Tao Te Ching. In a way, I was right – it turned out to be 45 pages that I edited down to 28. It was also the only time I saw an “A+” in college.

Limiting yourself and your writing in scope is a blessing. When I started blogging, I had no idea what to blog about. I thought that I needed to write long profound posts, just like so many prolific bloggers before me. I forgot that I am not one of those prolific bloggers. I cannot tell you how many blog posts I started and deleted before settling into a practical writing style. Want to know how to set up HTTP Redirects in IIS 6? Now you know.

Focusing on writing small, practical posts gave me the ability to focus on my writing.

Exercise

Writing is a craft not an art.

Crafts require skills that must be practiced. If I draw every day for the next 20 years, I’m not going to turn into Picasso; writing every day isn’t enough. You have to practice your craft to improve. Doing is not enough.

How should you practice writing? I don’t know. I can only tell you how I practice writing.

Imitate

You learned to walk and talk by imitating what you saw around you. You learned how to gain the acceptance of your peers by dressing and acting like them. You learned to do your job well by imitating the habits of the people you looked up to. Whatever you want to say about imitation, you have to acknowledge that we learn through imitation.

That’s how I learned to write: by imitating people better than me.

I remember my professor, Joe Musser, giving us assignment after assignment to imitate other authors. Most of the time these were attempts to force us into writing in a new way. It worked. I learned volumes about my voice as a writer and how to write by imitating other writers.

One assignment that I particularly recall was where we had to imitate a favorite author. One of my favorite authors has always been Hunter S. Thompson. It’s not because of the rampant drug abuse or expertly placed profanity that is found throughout his work. It’s because Thompson always wrote with a voice that was strong and clear. There was never any compromise in his style or his world view. They were inseparable.

Imitating a legend is difficult. When the legend has a style so distinct as to be the voice of a culture and an era, the task becomes Sisyphean.

I can’t tell you if I succeeded or failed in my endeavor. I no longer have that example of my writing. It’s probably for the best. What I can tell you is that I learned a lot about how to write from my attempts at imitation. Just take a look at a few of the things the man has written:

America… just a nation of two hundred million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.

It was the Law of the Sea, they said. Civilization ends at the waterline. Beyond that, we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top.

These are vivid sentences. They say what they need to say and move on.

Thompson didn’t just imitate the writers he idolized, he transcribed them: “Thompson had an interesting way of studying the writers he loved. He would take and transcribe their works on his typewriter in an effort to discover each writer’s particular rhythm and flow. He typed ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘A Farewell To Arms’ in their entirety. He also was a constant letter writer and kept thorough records of his correspondences, much as Kerouac did.” from Hunter S Thompson

In order to become a better writer it’s important to understand what makes writing good. And it’s only then, when you understand how to go beyond stringing words together, that you can start getting better at writing.

Reduce

There’s no sentence that’s too short in the eyes of God.

William Zinsser said that. I believe he even wrote it in On Writing Well, his definitive guide to the process of writing. I have never read anything that changed the way I write more than that sentence.

When I was first learning to write we used the computer to submit our assignments. Our professors could grade our work via a program called Norton Textra Connect and send the results back to us. Instead, Professor Musser would print our assignments and use a red felt tip pen and cross out every extra word. Every last one of them was laid bare before my eyes. You have no idea how many extra words you’ve used until they’re crossed out on a piece of paper.

Look at the first sentence of the previous paragraph. It originally said:

When I was first learning how to write, we had to use the computer to submit all of our writing assignments.

I tinkered with the sentence and it became

When I was first learning how to write, we used the computer to submit all of our writing assignments.

That comma isn’t supposed to be there, neither is “all of”…

When I was first learning how to write we used the computer to submit our writing assignments.

Of course, we are talking about a writing class so I can assume my readers know that I’m talking about a writing assignment.

When I was first learning to write we used the computer to submit our assignments.

That’s much better.

After a few rounds of the professor making your work look like a bloodbath, you learn which words are extra. You learn to stop yourself from filling your writing with weasel words – those weak frilly words that sneak into our writing. There’s clutter in writing – a desire to be “one hundred percent complete” instead of “done.” Why say it in one word when you have four? It comes from the way we’re taught to write; the way we learn to appease the word count.

Write what you need to say and then write no more.

Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.

Expand

Once you’ve taken your writing to the minimum, build it up. But only add words you need.

When I finally became comfortable stripping down my writing to no more than a few words that clearly conveyed my point, we were allowed to add embellishment. One Monday our assignment was to write an essay. Wednesday’s assignment was to remove every extra word. Friday’s assignment was to add back in the necessary words.

Once you’ve learned to excise every needless word like a diseased tooth, it becomes difficult to put descriptors back in. They float in front of you, weighing heavily on the page. “Do I need to say that it was simply ‘done’ or is there a better word?” Many writers keep a thesaurus next to their desk to help them choose words. Sometimes you need to decide to use two words instead of one. Or three. Or four. What better way is there to compare a wonderful vacation abroad with the mindless, bureaucratic, complexity of negotiating a United States Customs Declaration form than to wax eloquent with an overabundance of words. “The downside of the trip was filling out a form on our way back” does no justice to the experience.

Every word you add should be carefully chosen. Words have power and weight. Don’t weigh down your prose with empty phrases.

Further Reading

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide To Writing Nonfiction: 30th Anniversary Edition

The Proud Highway

Write good papers

Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Extracts of Zinsser

Visions and Revisions

On Memoir, Truth and ‘Writing Well’

The Act of Reading

Tom LaRock’s recent post – SQL University – Creative Writing Week – got me thinking about the act of writing. Although interesting, his post sparked two thoughts in my head – about reading and inspiration.

Reading

I love reading. There have been years when I’ve read over 100 books. Admittedly, I was required to read about 60 of those for college. But reading, in and of itself, didn’t make me a better writer.

It’s not enough to passively read. Passive reading is a great way to kill time and enjoy a good story or learn about a new topic. Actively reading is how you get better at writing.

Active reading can be a chore. It goes beyond enjoying the story – you have to look at how the author has structured their narrative. Beyond that, you need to look at how the author is structuring chapters, paragraphs, and even sentences. There’s always a “why” to how words are put together. Variations in sentence structure, word length, and paragraph length can be used to govern pace and are frequently more effective than pure vocabulary to convey mood.

I frequently go so far as to keep a thesaurus and dictionary nearby so I can stop and figure out why the author chose a certain word. There’s often a reason behind the choice of a particular word; words have a power and a weight to them. Wise authors choose their words carefully and wisely: you should use “sobriquet” differently than “nickname”.

Active reading really requires that the reader look for the conversation between the author and the reader. You aren’t just a consumer, you’re an active participant and you need to make yourself aware of that. If you’re reading fiction, look at how the author is involving you in the story and getting you to care for the characters themselves. In his series of Culture novels, Iain M. Banks draws the reader in through a combination of sweeping conflict, humorous anthropomorphism, and telling the story of galactic intrigue on a human scale. It’s that human touch in the face of an endless, unfamiliar, universe that draws readers in and helps them identify with the characters in the story.

Once you start actively reading, you can distinguish how authors draw you in. In Inside Microsoft SQL Server 2008: T-SQL Querying Itzik Ben-Gan promises to reveal the secrets of writing T-SQL. Over the course of the book he slowly introduces knowledge and techniques making it possible for the reader to write better T-SQL. He combines this practical knowledge with the theoretical understanding of why and demonstrates why this knowledge is valuable. It’s the demonstration of value – itself an overt act of persuasion – that is used to keep the reader engaged. I’m really interested in T-SQL and set-based programming but without a value proposition I’m not going to sift through 800 pages of dense technical material.

Active reading is how you learn to understand what distinguishes a great author from any other author.

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is great because of what is left out.

Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is great because of what is left in.

Inspiration

Both Tom and Brent brought up great points about keeping inspirational writing close at hand. I keep copies of On Writing Well: The Classic Guide To Writing Nonfiction: 30th Anniversary Edition, The October Country, and there’s usually a William Gibson novel no more than 10 feet away – All Tomorrow’s Parties is a personal favorite.

What books inspire you to blog, write articles, fiction, songs, etc?

Hit up the comments and share authors that inspire you to improve your writing skills.

How the Hell Did I Get Here?

Paul Randal started this chain post. He tagged Steve Jones who, in turn, tagged Jack Corbett who finally tagged me. I’m pretty sure everyone who nominally makes sense has already been tagged at this point thus leaving Jack to scrape the bottom of the barrel.

Like Jack, I think I could approach this in a number of different ways. I think I’ve already answered the professional route that I took. If I haven’t, it’s probably because my professional route isn’t all that interesting and it’s also all available on LinkedIn. You can, and should, fill in the job changes on my resume with something interesting like “After being attacked by a bear in the janitor’s closet at CareWorks Technologies, Jeremiah decided to take a safer job at HMB (they have no bears on staff as janitors).”

Anyway, you asked for it, you got it: how the hell did I get here?

I’m a Rock and Roll Machine

I love being on stage and in front of people, even though it terrifies the crap out of me. Apparently, I like that adrenaline surge. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 13 years old. When I was 23 I answered an advertisement and auditioned for a band. I got the job after 5 minutes.

Being a musician takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and practice. You work for hours and hours as a group, and hours and hours on your own preparing for a show. At that show, you’re going to walk up on stage and try to steal the attention of a room full of people who would, frankly, rather be doing one of a million other things – playing pool, talking to friends, hitting on that girl across the bar – than listening to you. As musicians, it was our job to get their attention, hold it for an hour, and make sure that they were happy about it. That job gets even harder when you’re in a band that only plays original material.

What seemed really fun – being in a band – turned out to be a lot of work – practicing three nights a week for four hours a night with the band and then practicing even more on my own. I learned a lot about myself – my tolerance for bullshit, how to get attention, and how to act in front of a crowd of people – while I was in the band. I also learned a lot about how to budget scarce resources – money and time – while still getting the job done – getting to the show.

The band eventually fell apart, as most do, but I learned many valuable lessons that I carry with me – time and resource management, performing skills, and how to make an ass of yourself and be okay with it. Most importantly, I learned that passion alone isn’t enough. You have to work for something if you really want to be good at it.

Everything to Everyone

The fact is, I’m not everything to everyone. But for a long time, I thought that I could do it.

Before and while I was in the band, I was married. The band took up a lot of time and it took a lot of time away from my marriage. While being in a band didn’t cause my eventual divorce, I’m sure it contributed to it (I quit the band about a year before my ex-wife and I quit the marriage). I remarried pretty quickly and that marriage ended almost as fast as it started.

Throughout all of this, though, there’s a huge undercurrent – I was trying to make everyone happy. I was trying to be a good husband, musician, developer, friend, son, brother, step-father, and about a million other things. I stretched myself thin and I broke.

These days, I know that I can only be me and that I’m the only person I need to make happy. There’s a reason why I work with SQL Server but I program with Ruby, why I listen to old school hardcore punk but I play a bizarre blend of folk and country, why I devote more time to my friends and family than I have before – these things all make me happy. If it doesn’t make me happy and I don’t need to do it to live, I don’t do it.

Self-Fulfilling Catastrophe

A couple of paragraphs ago I said “I stretched myself thin and I broke.” I really do mean that. During the first divorce, I moved into a tiny house on the ass end of Columbus, stopped paying most of my bills, and ended up living on as little as $20 a week. The funny part, though, is that I always found the cash to go out and party, or to stay in and party. This became a bad habit even once the divorce was done and I should have been back on my feet. Over the next 4 years everything spiralled completely out of control.

I’m pretty sure there were more than a few times I nearly lost my job. I frequently called in “sick” from the crowded patio of a bar at 1:30AM, had my car repossessed, racked up so much debt that people were calling my family members to find out where I was, and I partied seven nights a week. I lost a lot of my friends and damaged most of my remaining friendships irrepairably in the process. Throughout this ordeal, a few of my friends stood by me. They didn’t give up on me despite my ardent attempts to turn myself into a drooling train wreck of a human being.

In June of 2008, I gave it all up. I realized that I was a total train wreck and that everything around me was completely out of control. My career was stagnant. I was sliding backwards as a person. I wasn’t meeting any of my goals for myself because I was too busy slowly killing myself.

I stopped drinking. I got the help I needed and I began the long, painful, process of pulling myself up by my shoelaces. I dried out.

By August, I had completed the SQL Server 2005 MCITP: Database Developer certification. I started the Columbus chapter of PASS in October. I started paying back all of my bad debt (only a few months left to go). Nine months after I quit drinking, I quit my one to two pack a day smoking habit (sorry about that one, Mom and Dad) – I never would have thought I could end my 13 year addiction to nicotine.

I have a great relationship with my family and friends now, it’s better than anything I could ever hope for.

I learned a lot of things from this.

  1. I can be horribly selfish.
  2. There’s nothing better than not being that selfish.
  3. I can do damn near anything I want to do if I put my mind to it.
  4. There are some things in life that are so important you can’t afford to overlook them.

Afterward

This summer, one of my friends (someone who met me at my lowest and stuck by me through everything) is giving me the greatest honor I could ever hope for: on June 19th I’ll be officiating his wedding. Like a lot of people, I wouldn’t change a thing about my life.

Links for the Week of 2009.12.04

SQL Server

  • Kendal Van Dyke: Delegation: What It Is And How To Set It Up – The title says it all, folks.
  • wmarow’s disk & disk array calculator – Storage calculator. This wouldn't be terribly fascinating, except I know the performance characteristics of our I/O subsystem and when I plug in the variables, this is pretty close to real life performance. (Not directly SQL Server related, but it’s my blog so it goes where I wants it.)
  • A Loan At Last! – Brad Schulz thoroughly describes how to create a loan payment schedule stored procedure using nothing but T-SQL. The end result is beautiful to behold.

Development

Stuff & Things

The First Ever Log Reader Awards

Starting today, and ending on Friday, October 16th, you can submit a blog post, or series of blog posts, to the 2009 Log Reader Awards.

What is it?

You’re probably asking yourself “What’s a Log Reader Award?” Well, dear reader, a Log Reader Award is an award created by bloggers (myself, Andy Warren, and Brent Ozar) to recognize other bloggers for their excellence in writing across a number of metrics including style and technical knowledge. (Ability to recognize an Oxford comma is a plus, but not required.) We realize that it’s important to recognize people of all skill levels and that what makes a great introduction to a topic is not the same thing that makes up a deep dive into a single feature of SQL Server.

To make this easier, there are multiple categories: Book Review, Business Intelligence, CLR, New Blog (less than one year old, at least one post a month), Professional Development, Series (Multiple Posts), Server Management & Automation, T-SQL, and Unusual (it’s great, you love it, but it doesn’t belong in a previous category).

How does it work?

Well, you go to the submission form and enter your details. On October 17th, we take your list of submissions and review them. Keep in mind, though, that we’re only going to review the last two posts you submit. This is how we’re going to stop you from voting Chicago style. Only posts that you’ve written between October 15th, 2008 and October 16th, 2009 are eligible. You can’t submit your doctoral thesis on relational design that you wrote 15 years ago. We’re looking for current articles from active bloggers.

Your RSS subscription will look like this

Your RSS subscription will look like this

What do you get?

The satisfaction of a job well done.

No, seriously, what’s the reward?

In addition to the satisfaction of a job well done, you will also receive the praise and admiration of your peers. We’re working on ways for award recipients to show off that they are an amazing blogger. Oh, and we’ll be announcing the winner at PASS. In front of people. So it won’t just be me telling the coat check crew about you… everyone will get to know how great you are!

Links for the week – 2009.10.02

SQL Server

Developers, use Profiler to profile yourself John Sterrett goes over how to use profiler to profile your own SSMS session.

Toys and Tools Mike Hillwig put together a list of great SQL Server tools.

The ABCs of Management Studio Shortcuts Glory be to keyboard shortcuts

Development

ASP.NET MVC 2 Preview 2 New MVC hotness has been released. Yes, it’s a preview, but this contains some interesting features. Better get it while the getting is good!

Stuff & Things

Google Search Options Offer More Recent, Personal Results Ever get really frustrated searching for something that you saw online? Ever know that the blog you’re looking for was written a week ago? Google’s new search options will let you narrow down your search with some particularly specific criteria.

Why Good Writing Matters – And How You Can Improve Good writing is incredibly important. There’s a reason why I spent four years of my life studying writing: I knew that learning how to communicate effectively was important and that I could learn most skills (apart from rocket surgery) on the job.

29 ways to ingrain a behavior Forming habits is difficult. Especially when you’re trying to build new habits and get rid of old ones. 29 tips to help you change.

Links for the Week of 2009.09.12

SQL Server

Optimizing Queries That Access Correlated datetime Columns DATE_CORRELATION_OPTIMIZATION is some good stuff. If you have an InvoiceDate column that happens to be close to the OrderDate column in a related table, and this setting is on, the compiler will generate what could be a much better optimization plan.

Difference between an index and a primary key Denny Cherry does a great job of explaining this one. I frequently misuse primary key and clustered index as the same in conversation (yes, I do have A LOT of conversations about databases, even outside of work). I need to be better about that. This reminds me why.

Development

Vertical Centering in CSS This question comes up every once in a while. I always forget how to do it. Hopefully this will help someone else get their vertical centering sorted out.

The Unspoken Truth About Managing Geeks I’m not a manager but I play one on TV. There some good info in here. Especially if you only play a manager on TV.

Using Accessibility Modifiers on Auto Properties Auto properties rule. Justin Etheredge demonstrates how to keep that level of awesome rolling forward.

Stuff & Things

Simplified Virtual PC Creation with Differencing Disks I don’t know what to say. The idea is so damn simple I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. Thanks to Jonathan Kehayias for this article. This is going to save me so much time and trouble.

20 Tips for Writing for the Web

Flowing Data | Data Visualization and Statistics It’s a blog that’s devoted to different ways of presenting information. Gotta love that. Flat tabular display of data is good, but there’s often a better way. A much better way.

Make Fried Pie in Five Minutes and Kickstart Your Day Fried. Pie.

Monkey on a motorcycle

Think about the different areas of your life Love the quote.

Links for the Week of 2009-01-30

SQL Server

Set based random numbers George Mastros points out that generating a random number using RAND() in a set-based operation will always return the same value for every row in the result set. What’s a DBA to do? Luckily, George also covers a great way to get around this predicament.

Hardware for SQL Server 2008 Andrew Fryer posted a few links to SQL Server 2008 Hardware recommendations from Microsoft. Good times.

The IDENTITY Property: A Much-Maligned Construct in SQL Server Aaron Alton gives a great overview of IDENTITY and why you might want to go about using it.

Development

Sharing ASP.net Session State Between Web Applications With SQL Server – Part I Back when I was a web developer I tried to figure out how to do this on multiple occasions (back in the .NET 1.1 days). Unfortunately, I never came up with any good way to accomplish this without re-implementing session state storage and project deadlines always took hold so we developed quick, hacky, brittle solutions. Looks like Alex Cuse has put together something a lot more robust than anything I’ve ever come up with. Thanks Alex! (Part 2 available here)

Software + Services in Plain English Brian H Prince has provided a link to a video featuring some sweet paper dolls to explain Software + Services (not Software as a Service). Plus, there’s some implied dating between the paper dolls when they “meet for coffee” and end up talking about their crappy IT infrastructure (total nerd date).

Löve In Two Dimensions Why the Lucky Stiff provides information on a game/graphics programming framework called Löve that’s something like a combination of Lua and SDL.

General

Hold the Coprophagia William Gibson is, hands down, my favorite author. As he works on a new novel he publishes fragments on his blog. Enjoy.

22 Most Used Free Fonts By Professional Designers The kind folks over at instantshift.com have put together a list of freely available fonts from the pros. Very good additions to anyone’s collection.

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