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During a mentoring meeting today at work, my mentee asked me how I make time to write blog posts. I hadn’t really thought about it before, so I joked that I needed to write a blog post on that. That’s so meta.
After thinking about it more, a blog post felt like a good idea. Let’s get right to it.
Why write blog posts anyway? #
I’ve written about writing1 before, especially about why technical people should write more often. Writing about things you know, things you love, and things you want other people to know has plenty of benefits:
- It helps you structure your own thoughts about a topic
- Talking about a topic makes the knowledge more solid in your brain
- You can link posts to people who want to know more about the topic
- Eventually people come along, read your posts, and they let you know about it
If there’s one thing that you should take away from this post, it’s this: Write for you – not for anyone else.
Here’s what I mean by that. Write because it benefits you. Write because it makes you happy. Write because it helps you organize your thoughts. Write because you want to leave a small mark on the world when you’re gone.2
Sometimes I write a post and think “Nobody will ever read this.” I write it anyway.
However, there are those times where you write something and a reader gains something from it. A tiny portion of those readers will send you something about the post. I use this as my fuel to keep going and it serves as a reminder that I’m doing something for myself that other people enjoy.
Structure is everything #
I try to follow a formula for most of my posts and it helps me organize my thoughts efficiently. Here’s what I do:
Introduction: Start with something brief that helps people determine whether they want to read the post or not. The last thing I want to do is waste someone’s time. If the topic applies to them or seems interesting, great! If not, they get some time back and they can skip the post.
Why: A reader that was hooked on the introduction might be interested in the topic but unsure why it’s needed. Explain how you arrived at your decision point. This could uncover a use case the reader never considered, or it might highlight a blind spot in their thought process.
What: Explain how to do something! Walk through each step and take a pause to explain why each step is needed. Highlight optional steps or areas where extra attention and consideration might be required. Diagrams, command line output, and screenshots deliver tons of value here, so don’t hold back.
Extras: You might carry a topic to a certain point, but a reader might want to go farther. Provide links to documentation or point to areas where a reader might want to keep exploring to do more on the topic. Avoid leaving the reader with a dead end.
Eye of the beholder #
You may pass up a blog post opportunity because you think everyone knows enough on the topic already. You might do the same if a topic seems to complex.
My advice: write it anyway.
I’ve written incredibly detailed posts about kerberos setups and silly simple posts about deleting a single iptables rule. They both get decent web traffic. They were both fun to write.
Learn from other writers #
I read a lot of blogs regularly. Here are some I bloggers I really enjoy reading:
When I read posts, I think about the topic in the post itself, but I also think about how the author writes. I pick out one or two things I really enjoy from their writing and I begin adding those things to my writing habits.
Some of these habits are complex. Others aren’t.
For example, Derek Sivers’ Writing One Sentence Per Line post was incredibly helpful and simple. I’ve implemented it in my writing and it makes a huge difference.
(Try writing one sentence per line. Trust me. It works.)
Over time, just like everything else, you will find ways to make your writing better while writing more efficiently. Avoid getting discouraged and always keep it fun. Write for you.