In my last post I talked about the problem of communication on the web, and its subsequent fragmentation. All the activity I pertain to in the post suggests the need and want to write to communicate opinions and points of view is stronger than ever, yet the success of these new platforms relies on people using them effectively, and beyond Twitter, I know relative few people who dedicate time to writing and creating medium- to long-form content.
I asked a flippant question on Twitter: for those of you who want to write and keep a blog but don’t, why don’t you? What are the barriers to starting? I don’t think I have ever had as many responses to a single question, which was fascinating, and the responses were full of interesting points of view which I shall attempt to summarise here.
But firstly, what’s the big deal?
Within the design and technology community, the supposed importance of writing has never been discussed more. At the extreme I’ve seen some people beat themselves up over writer’s block, and some full-on arguments between blogging luminaries on the right way to write and post. Personally, I belief is that it’s important to share knowledge, opinion, and points of view that help shape our young and immature industry; we’re in a privileged position to be at the early to help contribute to its future. But writing doesn’t have to be about work: your more than likely going to share interests to those who have chosen the same career paths, and it’s nice to step outside the echo chamber and explore the cross-sections.
It’s more than this though: long form writing can be a sort of catharsis; a way of taking effortful action on something you believe in, that is ultimately more satisfying than writing a tweet.
And of course writing can help raise your profile if you’re self employed, and help new clients and projects find you. I’ve written about a range of things on this blog that have directly led to interesting opportunities. If you work hard enough on your writing, you can become a maven in your chosen fields: John Gruber and Jason Kottke are two of the most well-regarded and visible bloggers in our community who are now well-regarded opinion-leaders on Apple (and tech) and culture, respectively.
So why don’t more people write?
Now to the responses to my question, neatly compartmentalised into four recurring themes:
Time, and lack of it. By far the most common response was a lack of time. This response feels so multi-levelled it’s difficult to know where to start to understand why it’s valid. I’ve always said that if you want something, or want to do something you enjoy, you will always make time for it. You make time to run around the park; you make time to go to the pub. Of course it’s fine to prioritise everything else over writing, but make sure you’re doing that not because of any of the following other reasons…
A fear of failure. This response cropped up often. It takes a little bit of something–let’s call it balls–to make something and let it loose to the public. But as a community (if you’re a designer or developer), we do this all the time. Designers (both beginners and the more experienced) post their work to Dribbble, Behance and Fiftytwo to seek feedback. Developers release their work on Github for all to see and use. The cracks are exposed, yet this somehow Feels Okay. There shouldn’t be any difference with writing. If you want to give it a try, nobody can criticise you for doing it. Apart from the occasional troll, people are going to respond very well. It could help at first to write privately, or at least write without then sharing posts on Twitter. Get into the flow with a few posts, share them with friends whose opinion you trust, and see what happens.
Lack of skill. Writing comes more naturally to some, in the same way sketching and coding comes more naturally to others. But without actually doing anything, it’s impossible to hone and develop any skill. I read well-regarded bloggers’ posts with envy: their brevity, tone of voice, and content are all something I aspire to but I reassure myself that they have been doing this for a decade or two. It would be impossible to match their skill from the outset, so it’s not worth comparing your own writing with that of anyone else. Of course as you feel more confident and proficient, you can always go back and delete old, cringe-worthy posts: I certainly have.
What would I write about? It doesn’t matter. Write for yourself. Scribble your thoughts down that you find interesting. That problematic client you had? Might be painful for you but will be interesting for others to read about and learn from. That amazing burger joint not many people know about? Everyone loves burgers: tell people about it! It only takes a paragraph or two. Share a link that you find interesting, but write more than 140 characters as to why. Reference someone else post and expand on it with your own thoughts.
Finally, a few responses talked about pragmatic technical barriers to blogging: existing hosted platforms are usually far from perfect, and self-hosting solutions usually demand technical nous to get started. In my next post I want to talk about this in more detail.