18 August 2011
Writing is useful. It helps us to become better researchers. It helps us to learn. It helps us to organize our thoughts. It is a very effective networking tool. It helps others in similar situations. In short, writing is both selfish and selfless.
“Your writing is a trail of your expertise and knowledge for people you have not met” – Buck Woody.
How to Write
Know how to write. Anyone can write a so-so blog post; not everyone can articulate their ideas well.
Second, keep it short. Brevity is the soul of wit. Concise writing is easier to understand.
The underlying message is that writing is serious work. When I write, I have to concentrate just as hard as I do in my day job.
When I write, I have a series of steps.
Any one of these steps takes me from 10-30 minutes.
Writing takes time and effort. It requires revisions to get the point across. Even great writers have to do several drafts. Editors exist for this reason. Just as important: develop your own style. Have a style that is your own. If you don’t know what your style is, there are a few books to get you started. The two I am reading are On Writing Well, and The Elements of Style. The former goes over how to improve your skills as a writer; the latter goes over how to find your own style.
Ideas, Ideas, Ideas
Write Your Life!
Being skillful at writing is useless if you have nothing to write about. At first, I didn’t think I had much to contribute. Then I realized: Everything I have done in my career is worth blogging about. My challenges are common problems. We should each pick an audience, and figure out what we’ve done or researched that would apply to them. One fun tactic is to write down one idea per minute for twenty minutes. Then take each concept and write 2-3 sentences for each, taking two minutes apiece. Delete anything that you can’t write two sentences about.
What should I write? Anything. Write your life. What are your biggest challenges? Those are shared. What are your biggest successes? Those are shared. Here’s a way to get started:
Where to Write
Email. Email is a form of writing. It’s probably the most common way you write. At its best, it is a single thought in a clear, written form. At its worst, it is a rambling, misspelled jumble of random word vomit. Like all forms of writing, the goal is to get your point across. Most people won’t spend more than 10-30 seconds reading an email. So be clear, concise, and direct.
Blog posts. The goal of a blog post is to provide information to the reader in less than 10 minutes. There are many different kinds of blog posts, and they can cover any topic you want, at any depth. Do you want to write about why computers are not like fish? Go for it! A post about how DBCC PAGE works internally? Go for it! Just remember who your audience is, and write for them. There are many, many resources online on how to write a good blog post. Some of my favorites are The Blogess, 9 Steps to Better Writing, and Brent Ozar (b / t)'s Intro to Blogging article.
Books. This is a much longer form of writing. Books are long enough to delve into several topics, and to act as a reference. They are so long they require extensive internal structure. That’s why chapters exist. These are also a large project to do, and are almost always done collaboratively. Technical books often have multiple authors, because very few people know enough about a subject to be authoritative for that long. The few who do usually don’t have time to write. In addition, books have editors, who are there to force revisions. Even more than blog posts or email, books require lots of revisions to get right.
Writing is a great thing to do, for yourself and your community. It helps educate the world around you, helps you learn, and is a great resource for your next job. There’s no reason not to write.