I was talking with an old colleague recently about an age-old problem. He said, “I should write more but I’m just too busy.” It’s true, it’s really hard to justify sitting down and writing something that isn’t part of a deliverable, may not even be read and worst of all surely isn’t billable! Decades of experience get hidden away, only showing up on phone calls and emails. We often joke, “Our best work is under NDA.”
In the end though, public writing is one of the best things that you can do to show off what you know, teach others and make the case that you are the person that should be trusted by your customer for those billable hours.
Here are some of the things that I’ve found helpful for getting words down on paper.
First off, whether you write one article a year, or an article a week, I can assure you that you will look back on your writing with pride. Get something on paper and publish it.
Get a home for your writing!
Figure out where you want to publish your writing. It could be an internal blog, a Slack channel, your external company blog or even a self-hosted blog with or without a custom domain. Sites like LinkedIn, Medium and WordPress make it pretty easy to make a space for your articles. I like getting this figured out first, since once your article is done, you are going to be antsy to get it out there right away.
Keep track of ideas!
I keep an electronic to-do list to keep track of the tasks I need to do. I’ve made a folder just for blog and article topics. Whenever you get a good idea (I always seem to get them when I’m washing dishes!) get it recorded. You might not get around to writing on that topic for a year or more, but having a bank of ideas ready to go really helps the writing process.
Review that list from time to time. More ideas will almost certainly come to you, write those down as well. I currently have 213 items in my “Blogs to write” folder. (I should write more!) Some of the stored away items are questions, some are comparisons, and some are simply the title of an article. After a while you will find that you have a stable of topics that you could crank out articles for with only a little preparation.
Try the “old favorites” to get started!
What are some good ideas that you could get started on today?
There are some articles that “write themselves”, they are often either topical or document part of your day-to-day activities.
- Top Ten Lists / Listicals
- How you got started
- Trends or things you find interesting
- A technology you like and why
- The hot news item du jour
- The year in review
- Take a slide from a webinar and turn it into an entire article
- Why some topic is important to you
You could probably start riffing on any of those topics and get something interesting out right now.
An example to get started
Picking a top 5 or top 10 can be an easy onramp to writing an article. Start first by writing your top 10 list. Then, expand each item to explain what they mean. Write an introduction explaining what top 10 items you are going to go through and finally wrap up your article with a couple sentences. It’s fine to be a little cliché if it helps you wrap up your first few articles. Find some stock phrases that help you close up. Name it something engaging or descriptive and then fix any typos and problems in an editing pass or two. Then Publish!
The writing process
The hardest thing is the first word, that’s why I often write my conclusion first! You often will know what you are trying to tell people, so tell them, and then back fill the details and intro as needed.
Outlines or sentence prompts really help. Get some words and phrases down in your document, as many as you can at first. You don’t have to fit them all into your final piece. Some of them become perfect future articles whether or not they get in. Filling in the meat of the article is a lot easier when you’ve blocked out most of the content in the first phase. I like writing a series of topic headings and then going back and fleshing them out. Prompts work!
Use Speech to Text (if that works for you). Many phones, word processors and computers come with free speech to text. I’ve experimented with riffing on topics while taking walks and then cleaning them up later. This can be a great way to get a couple hundreds of unedited words on the page.
I’ve found it works best if you immediately move over to the editing and writing process since there’ll be enough recognition mistakes that you lose track of what you meant if you let too much time pass.
Figure out how many words you want to target. For me around 1000 words is a sweet spot. I often will write a couple hundred more words than that, and then tighten things up in the editing process. This amount of text takes me an evening to write when the words are flowing. I like to do an editing pass when I’ve hit my word count target, but then also will sleep on a piece and re-read the next day for my final editing pass.
Build on what your write
Use what you wrote as a stepping-stone to further content. A sentence can become a new article, or you can expand the topic to a conference proposal or talk.
I’ve had great luck turning articles into webinars (and vice versa). This is a great way to get your words in front of a new audience. Some articles are evergreen and can be updated for the next year, others can be reworked to expand on one of your paragraphs.
It’s your text; don’t let it stop working for you.
Let people know what you wrote
At first, few people will know what you’ve written. Let people know by announcing your article on social media like Twitter, LinkedIn and similar sites. Send links to your coworkers and customers. I’ve found that customers love this type of content and will often forward it around their companies and peers. It goes beyond the thing you are selling and shows you are there as a partner, not just to sell more product.
Writing is a muscle and when exercised, becomes stronger. 750 words on a topic feels like a walk around the block when you’ve trained for a marathon.
Everyone ends up with a different voice and style so figure out what works for you.
In the end, the most important thing is to write. Get your knowledge and thoughts out there.
I’d love to see what you write!