Workflow

I receive a fair number of questions regarding my blogging methods and workflow. So while I don’t ususally like to go off-topic, I’m guessing this information will be of interest to a fair number of our readers. If you’re not a blogger, I’ll see you tomorrow… :-) —Alan

Workflow is simply the sequence of steps through which a piece of work passes from initiation to completion. In this case, I’m going to talk a bit about how a blog post goes from idea to post; what steps I take and what tools I use in the process.

Process

Most of my posts start off in Google Docs. When an idea presents itself, I sketch out a quick draft in a new Google Docs document and save to the web. This allows me to get an idea down on “paper” before it vanishes into thin air. Later, when I have more time, I access the doc and continue to work on the post until the text is finalized. For a short news item, this might take just a few minutes and one visit to Google Docs. A full bike review or a long op-ed piece might take multiple days, or even weeks, and a dozen or more sessions. The ability to access documents at any time, on any computer, makes Google Docs an indespinsable tool for my particular workflow (more on this later).

Once I’m done editing the text, I copy everything into BBEdit for formatting. I apply all of the HTML markup manually within BBEdit including structural code, links, and styling. I prefer to code each post manually instead of depending upon the visual editor within WordPress; this ensures portability and compliance, as well as giving me precise control over formatting and styling. (Note: For quick posts that I’ll finish in one session such as news releases or product announcements, I sometimes bypass the Google Docs step and write directly in BBEdit.)

Most of my posts include a photo. Typically, I write a post first, then I capture the photo (or multiple photos) to accompany the post. Less often, a photo will trigger a post idea and the process is reversed. Once I’ve captured a photo and processed it through Photoshop, I manually upload the image to my webserver via SFTP using Fetch.

By the time I get to WordPress, pretty much all the work is done. I copy the fully-formatted post into the WordPress editing window (with the visual editor disabled), type a title, choose a category, check any post-specific preferences, preview, and post. This last step takes all of about a minute.

Photographic Workflow

I use a fairly standard photographic workflow. I typically shoot raw; import, sort, and tag with Adobe Bridge; convert and make global adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw; and finally, crop, retouch, and apply more involved adjustments in Photoshop. I save fully processed images as PSD files, then export to JPG for uploading to the web.

Mobile Blogging

My biggest challenge is producing 1-4 blog posts per day and managing a busy blog while simultaneously working a demanding, full-time job and making time for family and friends. To make it work, I have to take advantage of those little snippets of time between this-and-that to write and process photos. I carry a 13” MacBook Pro and an iPod Touch in my bike bag at all times; the MacBook is used for content creation, and the iPod Touch is used for comment moderation and e-mail. For internet access, I use a Novatel MiFi mobile hotspot that provides a 30’ bubble of Wi-Fi coverage for up to 5 devices. This allows me to do things like write on the train, process photos during my lunch break, and moderate comments while walking to the bus.

Tools

  • 21” iMac
  • 13” MacBook Pro
  • iPod Touch
  • Wacom Drawing Tablet
  • Novatel MiFi Mobile Hotspot
  • Canon 50D w/assorted lenses and accessories
  • Canon G10
  • WordPress (self-hosted)
  • Google Docs
  • Bare Bones BBEdit
  • Fetch
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe Bridge
  • Adobe Camera Raw

I hope this window into my workflow is helpful for my fellow bike bloggers who are just getting started. And if you’re an experienced blogger, I’d love to hear about your methods and workflow in the comment area below.

16 Responses to “Workflow”

  • DerrickP says:

    Very cool to see your workflow. I know this is something I’ve wondered before about your work. Your mobile approach is awesome. I use Google Docs for lots of work stuff, just never a blog post. That’s a great tip! Thanks for all the awesome blogging you do!

  • Pete says:

    Whatever you’re doing, it works! Even aside from the great content the site looks fantastic.
    I also wanted to thank you for the really slick iPhone version. Makes it easy to check in any time. And the photography looks just as good.

  • Logan says:

    Wonderful idea for a post! Its great to read about your process. :)

  • Alan says:

    Thanks, Logan. But more importantly, CONGRATS to you and Tammy for being featured in an article in the NYT today. Awesome! :-)

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/business/08consume.html

  • BB says:

    Thanks for an interesting and informative post. I’m going to look at the option of utilising Google Docs myself. Seeing the work involved reminds me to thank you for a wonderful blog and for investing so much time and effort for your readers benefit. It’s much appreciated.

  • townmouse says:

    I’m not as prolific as you are, but I’ve been blogging for (help!) five years now so I guess that makes me experienced. I’m not as organised either (perhaps the two things are related) – but I have managed to post almost every working day since I began. The main difficulty is keeping a flow of posts during the slow times which means constantly having a short list of ‘back up’ posts in my head which get written up when I need them. I don’t pre-write at all, although I will do a fair bit of composition in my head, especially when I’m on my bike, or gardening, and there are plenty of spare mental cycles. I may go out hunting for photos once I’ve got an idea for a post that requires one but I’m not a good enough photographer to guarantee getting a good photo on a given subject so I’ve learned to mostly let the photos drive the posting rather than the other way round – and hope that people mainly come for the words, not the pictures. And then it’s all written up in notepad, pasted into wordpress, and the pictures and links added. I find that keeps the writing fresh, and I usually find a new twist to a post when I finally come to putting it together that I wouldn’t have thought of if I’d written it in advance. I would guess I spend an average of half an hour a day on it, and I have absolutely no idea why! But I don’t seem to be able to stop.

    Keep up the good work. I’m in awe of your photography skills and enjoy the fact that there’s almost aways something new here, and generally a civilised and good natured debate to be had too.

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    How interesting to read about your methods and note the similarities and differences! I have found that writers, painters and photographers (I am all three of these!) tend to be secretive and protective of their methods, but I have always liked to share and appreciate when others share.

    Unlike you, I compose my posts for Lovely Bicycle entirely in Blogspot. I think this is because I need to see the writing in context in order for the post to work. The text does not really exist on its own for me; it is the interaction between the text, images, and interface, if that makes sense.

    Ideas for posts occur to me in a variety of ways, and like you, sometimes the ideas come first and pictures follow, while other times the pictures precede the ideas. But the key for me, is to write the post while the idea is still fresh, or else I tend to lose interest. Usually, though not always, planning posts – and especially series of posts – in advance does not work.

    As for tools, I could not live without my MacBook Air, which I carry everywhere for work. I too lead a very busy life, so the posts often get written in between meetings or activities. For photos I use mostly my point-and-shoot (a Lumix 3), but sometimes my DSLR (a Nikon D-90). I don’t take the photography I do for the blog nearly as seriously as the photography I do professionally in “real life”, so digital editing is minimal and often slap-dash. This is actually something I’d like to work on – make it a point to use my DSLR more, play around with the pictures more, etc. – but alas, it is not always feasible.

    Thank you again for sharing your process in this post; it was a great read and a nice behind-the-scenes look.

  • Ryan Patterson says:

    Always great to great to get a glimpse at the process behind work you admire. Thank you for sharing.

  • Alan says:

    @townmouse

    Thanks for sharing. It sounds like a have a very workable workflow; the fact that you’re still regularly blogging after 5 years indicates to me that you have a system that really works for you!

    Keep up the great work!
    Alan

  • Alan says:

    @Lovely Bicycle!

    Thanks so much for sharing. I too have found that creative-types can be secretive about their methods, but as we all know (but often forget), it’s not about the ________(insert tool/technique of choice here).

    Your comment about needing to see the post in context is very interesting. I work as a graphic designer, and I’m often frustrated by the fact that my clients frequently want to edit the text in their documents after I’ve already fully designed and formatted a piece. Even though the text they provide is supposedly “final”, they still nearly always want to come back after the document is designed to make edits. Perhaps they too need to see their writing in the context of the finished piece.

    Keep up the great work – I enjoy your blog!

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Bikejuju says:

    I love this peek behind the scenes! It’s like a DVD extra of blogging!

    I’m blown away by the volume bloggers like you and Lovely Bicycle are able to maintain while also working – it’s all I can do to slap together a post once or twice a week and wish I was doing more.

    I’m pretty surprised you are not using Lightroom, it has become an invaluable tool for organizing my photographs, and now the image editing in it is so good (masking brush! Fill light slider!) that often I do not need to pull images through Photoshop.

    I have a similar process except I use Evernote instead of Google docs, and I don’t hand-code. Lordy! And I am a power user of Delicious for bookmarking links – I probably bookmark three to ten things a day to my Delicious account, and have a specific tag I use on Delicious to remind myself “possible future blog post.” The tag, surprisingly enough, is “bikejujupost.”

    Keep doing what you do!

  • Chris Sorlie says:

    Thanks for your blogging information. I still use Word Press .com, not .org. although I am thinking of changing so I use a similar flash header. I love your header – just great.
    I almost always post the picture first and then write a short, light, easy to read, commentary. My blog is more a photography blog with a wide range of subjects.
    Your photography is always fantastic as are your articles. I would like to do a similar site with scooters but I suspect the field is a bit narrow as the recumbent’s were for you. Time is a bit of an issue as well. I admire how you manage yours!
    How did you learn about the business side of blogging?

  • Alan says:

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks so much for the kind words. I like your photographs!

    Regarding the business side of blogging, like most of the bloggers I know who are doing this, I’m basically flying by the seat of my pants. I look at what successful bloggers in other genres are doing (i.e. Gizmodo, Deuce, etc.), ask a lot of questions, and simply try things to see what works.

    Regards,
    Alan

  • kaniska new england says:

    @alan

    i don’t blog, but i do carry some similar gear for school or work.

    Novatel MiFi Mobile Hotspot – how many hours can you get off of this? trying to avoid buying one of these, but its been tempting for a while now

    i went back and forth in terms of bike friendly laptop between super small asus eeepc netbook (weak processing power) at 2.5 lbs and my current medium, skinny, cheap dell vostro laptop at 3.5 lbs. i’m constrained severely in my laptop choices because i insist on vendor installed/supported linux. i wish i could go back to about 3 lbs or less with a powerful laptop, but that would be $2000+ ):. a lot of linux fans, use macs for their laptops, but i think that’s just as bad as using windows laptop, philosophically

    i used the drawing tablet for a few weeks, but it just wasn’t useful enough, frequently enough for me.

    you can keep coding html by hand, but consider doing it inside dreamweaver. its amazingly useful and plays nicely with hand coded html. yes, it costs money, but if you are doing this on a daily basis, might be worth it.

  • Alan says:

    Hi Kanishka,

    Thanks for the info.

    I’ve been getting at least a few hours per charge with the MiFi. When it gets low, I tether it to my laptop with a micro USB cable and it works like any other 3G card while charging at the same time. Of course, doing this limits me to only the single, tethered connection.

    I’ve had Dreamweaver on my computers for many years (originally as part of the Macromedia collections, and in recent years as part of the Creative Suite) and I’ve been coerced (:-)) into using it at times when we had multiple designers working on the same set of files, but for the most part I find it to be overkill for blogging. My preference is for BBEdit because it’s so light, fast, and familiar. Of course, I’m definitely in the minority as DW is the industry standard.

    Regards,
    Alan

  • kaniska new england says:

    i’m an emacs guy myself, so kind of minimalist relative to the visual studio and eclipse programming environment people, so i can kind of relate to the bbedit urge

 
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