The first time I was invited to give a keynote speech, I thought “Why would they want me? I have nothing to say.” The second time was a few months later. Same thing. What should I talk about? What’s worth listening to?
Previously I had been asked by my favorite publisher to write a book. But, what should it be about? I don’t really have much interesting to say. I’m just learning, after all.
Now it’s about ten years later. I’ve written and contributed to several books. I don’t know how many conferences I’ve spoken at anymore or even how many countries I’ve been invited to. Still, when I receive a request to speak or am asked my thoughts on a topic by a stranger, I think to myself, “But, why? What do I have to say?” I’m still learning, after all.
I started writing my second book, Rails Recipes, roughly a month after I started actually using Rails full time at work. Compared to a lot of other people I knew, I was unqualified to write it. I was going to have to learn a lot in order to write anything at all. I was even going to have to learn what I needed to learn!
The only thing I had to say about Rails at the time is “I don’t know what to say about Rails”.
By the time I finished the book I had written many small Rails applications and worked on one large one extensively. I had also read almost every line of code in the book and made some fairly decent contributions to the framework. By the end of the book project, I was an expert. I had a lot to say about Rails.
But I think one of the reasons the book resonated so well with new Rails developers is that it was written from the fresh perspective of someone still learning.
I saw Martin Fowler give a lecture in Bangalore 11 years ago. He said something that has stuck with me ever since: “Whenever I want to really learn about something, I write a book about it.” To most people, like me, this is counter-intuitive, but my own history has shown me that it makes a lot of sense.
So, these days, while casting about for something worth saying, I just ask myself, “What do I wish I had something to say about?” and I explore that topic aloud. Sometimes it falls flat, and sometimes it results in content that helps me and other people get through the world a little easier.
Don’t be afraid of not knowing enough or not being experienced enough to help people with your words. The worst case is you learn something in the process. The best case is you create something remarkable.