Become a Better Blogger (2 Part Series)
In today's content-driven inter-connected world, blogging has become an avenue for professionals from all backgrounds to demonstrate their expertise and knowledge. Blogs have become both an informal and formal form of currency, as influential bloggers market products to their audience for compensation, and experts in their respective fields are sought after for public speaking and similar engagements through their online presence.
I'll begin with a personal story. As I began freelancing, I realized all the knowledge I had was trapped in my head. I never blogged when I was working a standard 9-5 job. I was often too tired to do so. After a day of coding, it was challenging to write words of wisdom to share with the world. Projects I developed were typically for internal use and not available for public preview. This posed a dilemma - how do I prove I did what I did? As I began searching for work, I felt like I was starting over, as if I had just graduated from University. To my disappointment, my CV was not enough in the freelance market.
Freelancing was a different game altogether. The market was different, and the competition was fierce. In order to stand out, potential clients had to see demonstratable proof that you did what you say you did, even if you're just bidding on short-term work. I had little to show, except a CV, which didn't always communicate how the technical work I did in the past would translate to being a worthwhile business investment for companies in need of freelance talent. People wanted to see it with their own eyes what I could do. I needed to develop a portfolio, fast. But a newly-built portfolio can't replace years of time and experience on enterprise-scale projects. I would need a blog to complement it. People look for industry expertise through knowledge sharing. Yet, as with a portfolio, creating a blog from scratch was its own challenge.
I didn't know how to identify and categorize all the information I knew into a format that would be worth sharing. What would people care about? As I looked back on my career, another aid I had was my StackOverflow profile, where I occasionally answered questions to share lessons learned, but that was outdated: I didn't want to work on technologies I struggled with in the past - RoR and Java.
Perhaps I learned the hard way the value of maintaining a blog. Don't make the same mistake. Even if you're not looking to freelance, maintaining a blog to passively promote your expertise never hurts. With the prevalence of social media, companies may screen candidates based on their social media account. Wouldn't it be better if a Google search yielded a link to your blog demonstrating your technical expertise rather than your Instagram filled with photos from your private life?
But writing content after a day of writing code is not easy.
As I searched for blog topics, I struggled to identify topics that I thought would be useful and valuable to the public. I came to realize that wisdom is accrued over time. While there are the eureka moments that do occur and lead to an awesome solution, there's also the often forgotten lengthy path that it may have taken to come to that conclusion. That knowledge gets lost as the final solution is discovered. While it's often not necessary to document the lengthy process that didn't lead to a solution, there are also nuggets of wisdom found from attempting different solutions that could be valuable to others, which leads to the first tip.
Even if it's just one or two lines, document what you did that day. What did you accomplish? How did it make you feel? Were you struggling? Maybe you don't feel like writing about work. That's fine.
Write about something in your personal life. Maybe your son or daughter discovered something new for the first time. Maybe your pet made a new friend. What else happened in your life? Take notes. They'll help inspire a lengthier article when the time is right.
You can keep these public or private depending on what works best for you. If you're thinking of collaborating on a post with someone, perhaps a shared document is the best place.
I created tinythoughts because I like the idea of journaling, but it was hard to start, and even harder to continue. I added features like low character count, prompts, and reminders, to make journaling more accessible. And it is working – I use tinythoughts nearly every day!
If you need help getting started, here are some tools to jumpstart your journaling journey:
- tinythoughts - A sentence a day journal
- Memo - Take Smarter Notes with GitHub Gists
- Five-Minute Journal - A Happier You in 5 Minutes a Day
Leave a comment if there are other tools I should include!
Once you've found your tool of choice, you need to schedule the time to write!
It can be 5 minutes of time; it can be 30 minutes of time. Define a time that works for your schedule. You could block off 15 minutes daily but only use 5 minutes. As long as the time is set aside, it's time you can use to focus on writing and set aside other distractions.
Choose a time that works best for your schedule. Maybe it's before you end your workday. Maybe it's during your lunch break. Maybe it's in the evening, right before bed. Experiment and see what time works best for your schedule. Maybe some days will be different than others due to personal obligations. If that's the case, then set a different time for those days.
Set a reoccurring calendar reminder, and make sure to block off that time on your calendar as 'busy'. Send a notification to remind yourself the time is arriving and/or has arrived. When the notification arrives, wrap up your current task and commit to completing that entry. Remember, the entry doesn't need to be lengthy. You could even just spend a minute typing up a sentence or two about your day. Just make sure you do it.
Keeping a writing habit takes discipline. An easy way to develop the habit is to make it easy and to gradually add on to it as it gets easier. Scale back as your life requires. Just keep doing it.
At regular intervals, take some time to reflect on your past entries. It could be weekly, monthly, every 2 months, quarterly, etc.
When you reflect on your entries, take notes on any topics you identify that could become potential blog posts. Start a new document solely to track blog topics.
Are there any noticeable patterns in your mood? What triggered these patterns? Or maybe there was a sudden change in your mood. What led to that? It's these patterns and sudden changes that can become a source for 'inspiration'. This 'inspiration' is there, you just have to find it - to notice it. These patterns or changes are an indication that maybe something worthwhile happened in your life worth writing about. Not everything has to be positive. Challenges and/or failures are also a learning experience. Take some time to reflect on your entries and analyze your mood.
Maybe some days yielded significant accomplishments. What led to these accomplishments? How did you accomplish the challenge you faced? Did anyone help you? Was there a pivotal moment that changed the direction? What happened after the accomplishment? Was it well-received or did it lead to further unforeseen issues?
As with accomplishments, identify any periods of intense challenge. Was there anything in particular that led to that challenge? What could have prevented some of those challenges? How did you overcome this? What lessons did you learn from this experience?
Remember, wisdom comes with time. It's important to look at events over a span of time in order to understand the impact it had. It is in this analysis that true insights occur.
As your list of topics grows, make sure to use your list! Set aside more focused time to hash out a blog post. Reminder: it doesn't have to be a lengthy post! Just get started, and it'll be easier to write more in less time as it becomes a more regular practice. You don't have to finish it in one sitting either. Start writing on one day, and continue it over the next several days in an amount of time that works best for your schedule.
A one-time solution to a programming problem is valuable, but it's also time-sensitive. Technologies change over time, and at some point, that solution will become obscure with time (i.e. when an update is released to fix the problem, etc.). Higher-level concepts though, such as approaches to solving technical challenges, last much longer.
If you plan to write about a one-time solution, write a post sooner rather than later. It doesn't have to be a long post, but don't wait too long to publish.
I hope these tips have been helpful. I've always enjoyed writing, though it was often creative writing that consumed my free time. Lately, I've become pretty interested in incorporating writing into my daily lifestyle in a technical and non-technical capacity. I've been researching writing, copywriting, content marketing, habit building, productivity hacks, and similar topics to accomplish this. If you're interested in learning more about developing a writing habit, follow me for more tips and insights.
Also, I'm interested in hearing about your story. Leave a comment below and share your thoughts. What has been the greatest challenge in maintaining a blogging schedule? What other hacks have you added that have helped you write more? How regularly do you write? How often do you publish? What is your motivation for blogging? Is there anything I can do to help you?
The software industry moves fast. But if you keep up, you can have an incredible career.