Everybody Writes (and Why You Should Blog)
In Everybody Writes1, Ann Handley teaches content marketers how to generate “ridiculously good” content. Anyone who has recently enjoyed the pain of the job hunt will notice that much of the advice can be adapted to self-marketing. In my recent code school experience, developing an online presence was as important as learning web development, and since it is hard to market yourself as a web developer without developing anything for the web, a blog is a great place to start. You have picked a career where your ability to learn is one of your most marketable skills, as well as your ability to communicate — both of which you can showcase in your blog. You don’t have to worry about having something original to say: treat it as an opportunity to organize your thoughts and to teach a beginner what you know. Handley gives great advice for people learning to blog and how to generally optimize your online presence — both are great ways to market yourself as a fresh code-school alum.
Write early, write often. If something is new to you, it will likely be new to someone else as well. The more writing practice you get, the easier it becomes — “writing is a habit, not an art”, and you can’t help but improve in an art that you practice every day. Handley recommends starting with the ugly first draft2 — make it ugly, don’t delete anything, don’t rephrase or reread. Just get it out of you and on to your screen, then walk away for a day. Maybe two. If you are really stuck on how to begin, you could start with “Dear diary”3. This helps you get in the mood to write, and keeps your tone conversational. Also, if you are writing to a non-technical person, it will keep your writing clear, and inspire you to give enough back story so that they aren’t lost.
Write a tight post
Decide on a goal
Is it to teach? To share? To critique? The goal for technical blogs is not usually to obtain a following — it is to share a bit of experience that will turn up when another frustrated developer puts keywords into a search engine. An online presence is important, but it should not be a blow by blow of how hard it is to learn to code. A handy formula for creating quality content is:
Utility * Inspiration * Empathy = Quality Content4
Make it useful, make it reader centric (even if that reader is you six months from now), and make it thoughtful.
Forget the 5 paragraph essay format from high school
I rarely read a long blog post from beginning to end, and the sweet spot for length is around 1500 words5. Make it easy for the reader to get the gist of your post by providing sub-headings, bold text, and code samples — these are strong visual elements that can help your reader anchor what they are learning.
Once you have written the ugly first draft with your goal in mind, rewrite it with the reader in mind — will they understand the context of what you are trying to get across? Assume the reader knows nothing, but isn’t stupid. Find data and examples that illustrate what you are trying to share (and make sure that you give credit where credit is due6).
Work on your grammar
After reframing, examine your sentence structure. Are you using a passive voice? Microsoft Word grammar check hates the passive voice, but I never knew what that meant. Try grammarly if you need help, and even if you think you don’t. Editing your own work is hard, because your brain will fill in all the things you meant to say but didn’t. Also, put the important words at the start of the sentence, just in case the reader dozes off half-way through.
About Me pages
Be intentional about the words that describe you in your About Me page7. Describe your accomplishments with examples, and if possible, try to mirror the language used by the companies you want to work for. Check out the keywords they use, and make sure to encorporate them in your headlines and personal summary.
About us pages aren’t really about the company; instead they focus on relaying who they are in relation to the visitor.
If your reader is an employer, let them know you are for hire — your posts should always be in the context of what you can do for the reader.
Showing up can be the hardest thing — finding something original to say, or fearing a public mistake is what keeps many people from writing, but blogging shows you are interested in, well, something. Being interesting means being interested in things, and wanting to share the things you find interesting is a natural follow through. Given the right mentorship, your technical abilities will grow, but getting in the door is step one. So, if you are looking to update your web presence, or create a web presence, this book is for you.
Handley, A. (2014). Everybody Writes : Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content. Wiley & Sons Canada, Limited, John.↩
Tip 9: “Embrace the Ugly First Draft”, p. 41.↩
Tip 14: “Start with Dear Mom…”, p. 54.↩
“Introduction”, p. 7.↩
Tip 60: “The Ideal Length for Blog Posts, Podcast, Facebook Posts, Tweets, and Other Marketing Content”, p. 184.↩
Tip 57: “Seek Permission, Not Forgiveness”, p. 170.↩
Tip 71: “Writing the About Us Page”, p 244.↩