Tips On Tech Writing

This is a blog post about blogging. Yes, it’s true. I’m shuddering myself as I type this. Well, specifically, it’s about writing about technology startups. Every so often, in what seems like waves, people approach me and ask for tips on how to write. They maybe want to write, but can’t find the time. Or, they feel as if they have to write for their job, or their career. Whatever the motivation, I’m asked this question or some variant so often, I figured I’d share some concrete ideas for those who are really interested, as well as sharing some potentially counterintuitive advice (which should be taken with a large grain of salt).

Scenario 1: You Want To Write, But It Takes Too Much Time

  1. Try writing in outline form, like they made us do in grammar school with numbers, nesting, and Roman numerals.
  2. Try following Barbara Minto’s “Pyramid Principle” of logical writing. (Hat tip: Michael Dearing)
  3. Follow This Rule: “One blog post, one point.” In school, they teach us to write papers measured by pages and words. That’s a recipe for disaster because (1) most students procrastinate; (2) they write shit; and (3) they follow guidelines based on length rather than striving for economy in language.
  4. If, for whatever reasons, you’re embarrassed, not satisfied, a perfectionist, or concerned about how you’ll be received, just stop and don’t even try.

Scenario 2: You Want To Write, But You Don’t Know What To Write About

  1. There are great places to get and test ideas, such as Twitter, Quora, and so forth.
  2. Rule of 3: If you have the same interesting conversation 3x in a relatively short period of time with at least 3 interesting people who don’t know each other, write about it! (Same goes for Twitter, or other places for online conversation.)
  3. Just share your own perspective in plain language. A lot of people I see wrestle over trying to look smart or well-read on a topic as they write, but readers want to see the writer’s perspective, whether it’s biased, balanced, or somewhere in between.
  4. Simply put, share stories about you — your challenges and opportunities in work, things that interest you, and explain why. Or, write about products or sites you like, or you wish existed.

Scenario 3: You Feel As If You “Should” Write More But Don’t Want To

  1. My belief is that people should only write if they feel personally (and truly) compelled to do so. I happen to like to write. I know many people who do not. They should not write. The motivation has to come from within the writer, and people are simply wired to communicate (and also ingest information) in different ways.

That’s it. For me, it’s simple. For those who are interested, I wrote this about a year ago, and it goes through my process for writing. But, that’s just me. It won’t work for others. So, in sum, if you find yourself in Scenario 1, the most important thing to do is to force yourself to write quicker, let go of the jargon, the drive to be perfect, and just put your thoughts out there with clarity — a post can just be 1-2 sentences if you feel so compelled. If you’re more in Scenario 2, try to find the intersection between your true interests (be honest with yourself) and what your audience may find interesting, either about that topic or about you. And if you’re in Scenario 3, there are better things to do with your time, believe me. Finally, some tips I catch myself repeating often:

  • “One blog post, one point.”
  • Don’t spend more than one hour on a post. In fact, around 20 minutes is best.
  • Don’t assume a reader will have all the context, but also don’t assume they’re not in the flow.
  • Add something new, or personal, or both. Otherwise, it’s noise.
  • Be straightforward and economical in your language. It shows respect for the reader.
  • If you’re an expert, make the complex simple, make the obscure sublime. That is art.
  • Don’t give a shit about what other people say about what you write, good or bad, and don’t try to measure the quality of a post on how often it’s shared, which can sometimes distort the feedback signal.
  • Share a point of view. Explain how you see the world and don’t be afraid to change your mind.
  • Think of your writing as a long-form resume that brings to life the static information that’s stuck on your LinkedIn profile. People will want to know who you are, not just what you’ve done.
  • And finally, write to genuinely share knowledge and/or your opinion on a matter, not to show off a body of knowledge, or prove you were right, or other vain or analytical things. The latter are commodities, while the former are rare to find.
  • *** [This post took 35 minutes.] ***