What’s the reason for this blog post?
As a tech lead at Cleo, I want to learn to be a better writer so that I can help to support the people I work with, and so that I can communicate more efficiently and effectively, and this blog post is my way of taking another step along that journey.
In fact, it’s not even finished. I’m sharing a draft. Because how else can I talk about the importance of just getting started?
So if writing does not come naturally to you, here’s an approach that works for me.
How to write a blog post (first draft)
Come up with an idea
This can really be anything, ideally something that has a problem statement and then a solution, encouraging readers to try your approach (or to learn from your mistakes)
Write down your sub-sections
You’ll probably want to break your idea down into a few subsections. Try and follow some kind of narrative structure if you can.
Flesh the idea out
Write down words on the topics in those subheadings until you’ve got a blog post! Then put it on a blog. You’re done!
But that’s not really enough, is it?
The real thing
Come up with an idea
In the first draft of this blog post (written above) I was extremely vague about what a blog post could be about. A blog post is a relatively standard format; you’re looking to find a problem that your readers will have, and then you’re trying to give insight into that topic (for example, in the past I’ve written about the importance of writing documentation even if no-one reads it. Almost anyone who’s ever written documentation knows the feeling of it being ignored).
I believe that whether or not your intended audience engages with your writing, writing your thoughts down can be an excellent way to crystallise your opinions on a topic. I often find myself reaching an opinion halfway through writing the pros and cons of different approaches in a technical design session, and then needing to go back and make sure I give a fair assessment to the other approaches now I’ve decided which I think is best.
This means that I think when you’re picking a thing to write about, it’s much more important to pick something that’s meaningful to you than trying to reach a particular group of people. If you’re anything like me, then writing about topics that you’re passionate about is much easier than writing about topics that are dull or dry! An area of focus for me in my career right now is improving my impact on Cleo’s engineering strategy, and that is helped by writing and getting better at writing, and so that’s what I am trying to practice.
Write down your subsections
A large part of how to break down a piece of writing is about what you want people to take away from it. In this blog post, I’m deliberately playing with narrative structures that I mentioned in the intial draft above; I’m writing the same thing twice, showing the absolute bare bones of my thoughts, and then a fully fleshed out version, so you can see how I worked through it.
But most blog posts (and writing efforts in general) don’t show behind the scenes like this. They’re the final product, fully rounded out, and that means that you want to try and take your reader along with you from the start. Think about what assumptions you can make. If you’re writing for Rails developers, you can assume they’re familiar with how Rails apps are normally structured; if you’re writing for a broader audience, make sure you work to minimise the need for prior knowlege by keeping your examples general too.
Part of being able to minimise the knowledge needed is to break your work down into chunks, and give them meaningful headings, letting people know in advance the story they’re in for. Ideally, you should know what to expect by reading through the headings. This means that if someone already knows what you’re covering in the intro, they can skip ahead; if you make your writing easier to skim, people are likely to do that rather than bouncing off it.
Flesh the idea out
Once you’ve got an idea of the idea you’re working to convey, and how you want to break down the idea into sections, you’re left with what is in my opinion the hardest part of writing: Filling in the details. Every person has a distinct writing style (including Cleo), and working out how to express your ideas in a compelling way can be really difficult, particularly when you’re learning to do it initially.
I’ve found that one of the most useful tools for this is to just write out far more than I want to keep, and then cut it down; writing a shorter, clearer post is harder for me than writing a long one. The version of this post that you’re reading now has gone through several passes, and was at one point much longer than the (hopefully) more concise and clear result.
I’ll go through my subheadings and make simple bullet points of all the things I want to capture (sometimes, those bullet points get promoted to subheadings themselves!) and then I’ll write a very rough draft of what I want to say in that point. For me, my faster writing is much more flowery and sesquipedalian (told you this was a first draft). You might find that your grammar isn’t quite as good as you'd like it to be, or that you’ve got type-o's. Whatever it is for you, editing your work can be a vital way to make your writing clearer and more to the point.
Oh, that’s right! You’ll want to add a conclusion at the end, so people know what you wanted them to take from the piece.
Writing is a skill you can practice, and as with many skills, the hardest thing is to get started; once you’re doing it, you can learn and grow and thrive, making what was once a challenge a joy.
Whatever reason you’ve got for writing, I hope that reading this has given you and idea of how to get started, or at the very least that you’ve enjoyed learning about how I write a little.
Enjoy this post? Give it a share or send it along to a friend. You never know, it could make a big difference. And of course, if you want to try the best money app in the world for free, just hit this link right here.
Big love. Cleo 💙