A friend recently contacted me through LinkedIn, writing:
I see that you’re posting regularly to your blog, shared here on LinkedIn. I’ve been wanting to start a blog where I write about the things I learn, specifically related to my field of study (removed to protect their privacy), but I find it pretty scary. It might most of all be impostor-syndrome keeping me back. I’m afraid to show how much I don’t know. Do you have any tips to someone who wants to, but doesn’t dare to?
Naturally, I answered them, and I think my perspectives should be out there for everyone to read. Here, then, is my answer to them – with some added asides as I’m translating this from Norwegian to English:
Good question. TLDR; Jump into it, both feet first, and deal with your worries later.
I’ve been blogging for well over ten years now, and have gotten a fair amount of practice at it. I usually divide my content into to coarse categories: facts (i.e. tips and tricks, how-tos and so on) and opinion pieces.
When writing something for the first category, I start with presenting the problem to be solved, before I offer the solution. The goal is two-fold: on the one hand, it’s about sharing knowledge, while on the other hand it’s about documenting knowledge so that I can find it myself at a later point.
As an aside here, this helps with the attainment of the second tenet of the Hacker attitude, and I believe it is also relevant to the third ideal of DevOps.
When writing an opinion piece, I’m obviously offering up my opinion on something. It might be so banal as a review of a book, game, or piece of hardware, or it might be an in-depth piece on some subject or other.
It’s been important to me to consider the goal of writing. The documentation side of it is very useful, and having the blog as a knowledge base comes in handy. As for opinion pieces, it’s often as much about philosophizing about what I know – and I’ve got a few posts that are the end product of many hours of work, resulting both in a post which has been more thoroughly been thought out, but also in a more defined and better formulated position.
An aside here: The documentation side was where the blog started all those years ago, and it remains a core part of the blog to this day. Being opinionated is something I come to honestly, though…
My best advice is to jump in, both feet first. Write about what you know and develop your voice as a blogger. Meanwhile, start writing about those subjects you don’t know (or feel you know) as well, that you want to learn about. Those latter posts can be left in draft status until you feel good about them – I’ve got ten or fifteen of them that I don’t know if I’ll finish or not, and another five to ten that will be finished – I just need to read up a bit.
I’m a big believer in the effect of writing a little every day, and have kept to a weekly publishing rate as a personal deadline. I’ll often have posts ready a month or two in advance, while at other times I have to look about at the last moment to find something to write about.
Keep your shoulders and ambitions low, and write about what you care about. Think about who your desired audience are, and what the goal is. Content production can be (more than) a full time occupation if the goal is international fame and fortune. If your ambitions are to get something out there for people to find (on which you can then build), you are more likely to hit the mark.
As I’ve said ad nauseam in other posts, I write for an audience of one; I am both the author and the audience for my posts. I’m putting them out there for everyone to read because I know that posts such as mine can help someone else – and of course it doesn’t hurt that it lets me access the posts from any internet-connected device, at any time.
Having the ability to write clearly has been a deciding factor for me in (at least) two recruitment processes; one time the recruiter found me through the blog, while I used it to showcase my ability not only to write clear documentation, but to do so in English at another time.
A final aside; we had a bit of a discussion afterwards about whether or not they should post under their own name or ano/pseudonymously. My opinion here is that the information – as a general rule – is more important than the name of the author. As a result, I believe it is better to post ano/pseudonymously than not to post at all.