This blog post was originally a Racket with Simon Tomes and has been transcribed and rewritten to make sense in blog form.
Don’t overthink your topic
When I first tried to write articles, I remember that I got really nervous about putting something out there which was going to reach a lot of people. I looked at a lot of other articles and blogs, and they all seemed super professional which made me worry about what I was going to bring to the table. I was fixated on whether what I was writing was going to look professional or that I was writing in the “right way”.
So when writing an article I think the biggest thing is getting over your imposter syndrome and just getting started with writing. I try not to get too much in my head about “is this the right thing to say” or “is this is going to be an important enough thing to say”. Instead I pick a topic that interests me, talk about it and then maybe people will engage with it and maybe they won’t.
There’s real power in just getting stuff out there. Even if you talk about something that others have covered, yours might be the voice that gets through to a person (or people). You can write something which resonates with someone enough to make a difference to their career; it might trigger something in them where they just see a topic in a different way. Yours might be the content that introduces them to a topic, so that they then go and explore it further and make it the essence of their career.
Use your own voice and tone
I think that if you try not to constrain yourself by writing things in the “right way”, it helps you out so much.
Anytime you see one of my articles it will say stuff like “the awesome power of”, references to Ramone the Testing Otter™ or Dungeons and Dragons. That’s because when I’ve picked what I’m talking about I want to say it in my voice because, as mentioned above, I might be that voice that reaches out to people. Using my voice has made it easier to get posts and articles out there; I’ve realised that I’m not writing a book, I am just putting information out there for people (usually for free) so I don’t need to be overly professional.
I am a big believer in just writing whatever topic that comes to mind in your own voice and tone, then worry about editing later. I initially just blurt out what I’m thinking about to see what that might lead to, if it leads to nothing then so be it and if it leads to an article idea then I can edit it to put some structure behind it. This is a good method because then the framework of the article is already in my voice and your tone which is super important.
Starting with a framework for an article
I come up with a skeleton of what I want to say using bullet points to capture my initial ideas. Usually this is a list of ideas on the go which I’m always adding to, I will be having a shower and I will have a good idea so that gets added.
From the bullet point skeleton I start to flesh them out by asking “can I just talk about them?”. I just sit down and start typing out information in the same way that I would in a conversation with somebody face to face.
That’s a really good way to at least get started on something, from which I can ask somebody else to have a look and check if what I’ve written makes sense or if there’s anything else that I am missing.
Generating an idea for a topic
Gathering ideas and just seeing what kind of conversations are interesting to people is a great way to come up with article ideas. By putting stuff out there you can spark ideas for things to write about; I’ll occasionally test an idea by tweeting about it and then see what engagement and responses the topic gets. I tend to find that this gives me inspiration to write a blog post about, sometimes directly or sometimes based on the Twitter conversation / feedback to the post.
You can put a question out as a Tweet and then embed it at the bottom of a blog post so they’re a loop where someone can find the article or blog post, then respond to the question at the end via the Twitter post (instead of adding a comments section). Keeping the conversation going can then spark more ideas for more posts and articles and content. I’ve done something similar where I start a LinkedIn or Twitter post after a talk and then the comments and content from the responses make a good blog post. When I talked about diversity in testing that originally started life as a talk and from conversations after the talk and on Twitter it sparked ideas which led to a blog post.
Start conversations at work within your community of practice to find out what are interesting things to blog about. If you find that you’re talking about a new thing or teaching somebody something new it’s likely that other people will want to know about this as well. So write it down or even turn your slides into a blog post.
Originally I was very reluctant to change a post and that put a lot of pressure on me to get things right the first time around. This held me back from being able to get things out there, as I would want everything to be right before it goes live.
But now I am like, you know what, I need to change that paragraph or make this change. Allow your posts to evolve, because you can reflect on your written word and go “actually things have changed slightly” or “I can say it like this for greater clarity”. When I publish a blog post, I’m always happy to get it out there because then I can come back to it fresh the next day and change it based on feedback.
If you do change a line and want to call that out, then put a line at the start of the article to say “I’ve made these edits”.
Perfect is the enemy of good
We shouldn’t be held to a standard when coming up with an article or how we write it because that’s where imposter syndrome lies.
As I’ve said above, you’re not writing a book. A blog post doesn’t have to be perfect and can be changed and evolved as needed. You don’t have to write something that changes things forever or write a proper novel; it can be something short, just a quick read of a couple of minutes, so people can spark their own ideas.
Be kind and use a basic heuristic for publishing your post. Focus on just trying to meet one of three criteria:
- Does the post do something to the reader?
- Can the reader learn something?
- Will the reader feel something?
If the post is doing one of those things then go for it, but sometimes even if it’s not then you can still just go for it and see what happens. What’s the worst that can happen, there’s always the delete button.