From time to time, I’m asked by new or potential technical bloggers for advice on how to get into writing, or how to overcome some kind of mental reservation that he/she may have.
It’s actually somewhat ironic - I still suffer from many of the same issues that I suffered from back before Keeping It Classless existed.
I have been having some serious "Newbie Blogger" issues last few weeks. Ironically, I feel compelled to write about them.— Matt Oswalt (@Mierdin) March 29, 2015
So, truth be told, I constantly remind myself of the same advice that I give to the bloggers-to-be that ask me for advice. It’s high time that I open the kimono a little bit and hopefully help someone in the process. Here are my top three tips for technical bloggers - whether you’re just getting started, or if you’re already fairly established but maybe hitting some blockage.
Be keenly aware of the motivation(s) that drive your blogging. Write them down. Look at them every day. Keeping these in mind should be your primary source of energy when writing about a technical topic. Unless blogging is your actual job (in which case this article is not addressed to you) then you have some kind of day job that you draw experience from. You don’t want the blog to become just a second day job on top of that - so always be reminding yourself of this motivation.
At the top of my own personal list is the ability to be corrected by the technical leaders in a field. I wrote an article a while back on Open vSwitch. I had just started getting into the project and setting it up in my home lab, so I wrote a post about it, as is fairly common. I made an erroneous statement without realizing it. Ben Pfaff - the creator of Open vSwitch and just an overall brilliant guy (IMO one of the key minds responsible for the current revolution taking place in networking) left a comment constructively explaining my error and detailing how I may amend the problem.
I challenge you to find me a better way to learn a topic.
Aside from aforementioned motivation, this is absolutely key. At first I thought it was just me and my obsessive nature, carefully nitpicking my own work, cautioning me from hitting that publish button, for fear that something catastrophic will go wrong if I do. However, the more folks I talk to about this, the more I realize it’s a widespread problem. Maybe it’s because (and this is a gross generalization) those of us that take on a technical role tend to be fairly introverted. Regardless, excuse-making is everywhere, and we will do everything we can to tell ourselves that a blog post is not good enough to publish.
The folks involved with technology that also maintain any kind of public presence is still a fairly tightly-knit group, but we move just as quickly as the industry in which we participate. It is quite intimidating, even for folks that have been involved for some time. Imagine what it is like for someone that just graduated from school and started listening to Packet Pushers.
In short, we’re really good at telling ourselves reasons why we shouldn’t tackle a particular topic. I know I personally will get super hyped-up about a topic, and start to build the layout, then once I’ve started to research and build content for an article, I lose steam. Most of the time it’s because I find similar resources, or maybe I just start to think that it may not be that interesting for others to hear. However, like clockwork, these excuses start pouring in.
This is a difficult subject - some excuses may actually be worth listening to. For instance - I revive old article drafts all the time. Sometimes, as I do so, I realize that this topic is actually kind of irrelevant, since something newer has been released or discussed, and it’s just not worth covering anymore. However, rather than make this super subjective, I’d like to just take the top two excuses I’ve heard from both myself and others, and address them directly:
Someone already wrote or spoke about this, so I’m just copying them. - This idea is fundamentally flawed. Imagine you’re interviewing for a company, and they ask for your salary history. This is a broken concept, since (aside from the fact it’s none of their business) they are not hiring you for your old job, they’re hiring you for a new one. The reason behind this idea is the same idea behind worrying about covering the same material.
So, as long as you’re not plagiarizing (which I’d assume is unlikely since you’re so worried about this) you bring a new perspective to a topic that adds to the collective opinion. Voice it.
I might be wrong about something and someone is going to call me out on it in public - GOOD! May you be so lucky to be noticed by those with the knowledge and experience to help you learn from your mistakes. In some (probably sick and twisted) way, I look forward to getting comments from experts in the field that are going to constructively help me learn and grow. Maybe that’s the answer for you as well.
Look - you’re putting yourself out there. You’re okay with the idea of being corrected in some way, otherwise you wouldn’t even be considering doing it in the first place. Turn this excuse on it’s head and use it to motivate you to push forward.
For the life of me, I can’t remember who gave me this advice (feel free to claim it) but it’s really good:
“Try to be right. Expect to be wrong”.
In the few years since I heard that advice, it has really stuck, and proven itself to be true time and time again. If you care about technical accuracy, then try as best you can to make your material as upstanding as it can be. But don’t obsess about it to the point that it prohibits your ability to push the button. Both are part of the learning experience that moves you forward. I might even slightly modify that advice to “Try to be right. Look forward to being wrong.”
I look forward to writing my year-end posts, because I have (foolishly) set goals for number of blog posts I want to write every single year, and consistently fallen short. In retrospect, I am quite happy with the number and quality of my posts, and I owe a lot of that to the fact that I’ve been able to grow in other ways of my life.
The blog is a bank that you are continually putting money into. If you’re really passionate about technology, maintaining a cadence will be really tough. It’s okay. I write in spurts so often, I’m probably the worst offender of this. It’s all because I’m spending the rest of the time working on the technology itself and diving deep enough that when I come back to the blog, I have even richer content to offer.
It’s also okay to put an article down for a little bit. I mean, I kept coming back to this article repeatedly, because required a decent amount of reflection and thought. Other blog posts that may be strictly technical can be more straightforward, because you may just be explaining how it works. Don’t feel bad if you lose steam halfway through an article. It’s in drafts - leave it and come back later with a fresh perspective. Trust me - as someone who just dived back into the realm of software development, I can say with confidence, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Also, don’t be afraid to put a blog post down to conduct more research. Don’t let this become an unrealistic excuse based purely out of irrational obsession (as outlined in the last section) but maintaining technical accuracy is important, and if you feel you can do more, then don’t feel like you’re in a race against time to get it published. This is one of my fundamental disagreements with the trends of blogging once a day for a month, etc. The sentiment is nice, but ultimately I feel it just encourages you to hit that publish button regardless of quality.
In essence - blogging is a tool. Don’t allow it to be something you have to do, but something you get to do. I don’t personally recommend that you make it a means by which you can get more income through ad revenue, but you may go that path. I’ve found that using this medium as a release for technical energy pays for itself in intangible but far more valuable ways. Try to remind yourself of this when you encounter roadblocks.
Please let me know if there is a roadblock that you are experiencing that I did not address, by commenting below, or reaching out to me on Twitter.