"You're not succinct..."
"You don't communicate clearly..."
"You rambled on and didn't get your point across.."
(I know what you are thinking, this is exactly the type of feedback you would want to hear after a job interview.)
A few years ago this was what I was hearing. It was hard to hear, but I thrive on feedback like that. When I know I’m not doing my best, I can’t sit still. I have to get to work.
Ever since then I have been working to improve how I communicate.
Still focused on improving, I started the year with the goal of becoming a better writer. I'm much better now then I was when I was hearing the above feedback. But I wanted to get even better, I needed to be sharper and more concise.
One of my concrete steps towards this was to write a blog post every other week. That didn’t seem too intimidating of a number (but I also had no idea what I was getting into). So far I’m on schedule. And I can see myself improving.
I’ve had a few people ask me what I’ve been doing to write these posts. I figured I’d share my approach in case it is helpful to others.
Use the Right Tools
Notion is my go to tool for everything in my personal life. But I found for writing it was too much. Too many options, too many possible distractions. So I write the first draft of all my posts on Apple Notes. It’s somewhat spartan but has all the needed editing and formatting tools. It’s also great because I can keep my phone and computer in sync. If I’m on the go and have an idea, I can jot it down and refine it later.
Once a post feels pretty good I copy it from notes and paste it into Hemingway. I use this to simplify my writing and clean it up. If you haven’t used Hemingway it is like Grammarly. But its focus is on helping you write simply. In a way that people can actually read. (Usually the opposite of what they teach you in school).
Between these two tools, I can turn any idea into something that is readable and interesting.
Write What You Know (And What You Learn)
It can be intimidating to write something if you compare yourself to others. There will always be others with bigger ideas or more interesting subject matter. But there a definitely things where you are a unique expert (or can become one.) I follow writers who have pulled together large followings by deep diving into supply chain companies or by breaking down health tech S-1’s. Those don't sound like fascinating topics. But when someone who is an expert writes about it, it can be captivating.
What if you’re not an expert yet? Become one. There’s a popular movement in startups right now, building in public. You can apply the same idea to your writing, learn in public. Pick a topic and start learning everything about it. Make note of the most interesting and impactful things you discover. And then write about them. This becomes your idea generation machine for writing topics. As a bonus it helps you reinforce what you are learning.
I knew that I wanted to get into Product Management but I needed more experience. I started researching it and wrote about when I was learning. When I started my current role, my hiring manager noted my research and writing as one of the reasons I got the job.
The biggest challenge I have felt in writing is the act itself. I would think of an idea and instead of writing about it I would keep thinking about it. I would spend days (or weeks) thinking about it, trying to craft the perfect narrative in my head. And then I would never actually get around to writing it. I couldn’t make it perfect in my head so I wouldn’t write it.
I had a friend who had experienced something similar. His advice to me — which is obvious in hindsight — just start writing! Now when I have an idea I pull out my notes and start writing. Good, bad, unclear, insane… it doesn’t matter. I just get it on the page. Then I can come back later and make something out of it. In its first draft, this post was twice as long as it is now. It was much easier to get all my rambling thoughts out there and then cut the ones that didn’t make sense. I usually have a queue of 3 or 4 drafts of posts where I’ve written whatever was in my head. Writing the final version is easy since I have all the building blocks on the page.
Write When You’re Inspired
Before I had a real job and kids, I was a night owl. I could stay up all night working on projects and going to the gym. Turns out you can’t do that once you’re an adult.
When our baby was born I found one benefit of the chaos it introduced to our lives. He likes to wake up in the middle of the night and eat. While I would be holding him my brain would start racing with ideas. My night owl juices would start flowing. The drafts I mentioned above are usually written while I am awake feeding him. Then I come back with my rational day brain to clean them up.
The point of this is not to stay up all night or have a baby (they are great fyi). But rather to figure out when you feel most inspired and try to write during that time. That may not always work with your schedule but when it does it feels great. The opposite is also true, whenever you feel a spark of creativity, embrace it. Take a break out of your routine to get those thoughts out of your head and onto the page.
Invest In Yourself
I thought if I wrote a lot, I could brute force my way to being a better writer. Repetitions and practice definitely help. But they couldn’t help me spot my bad habits or learn best practices. So I made an investment in my writing. I signed up for a copy writing class. It was some of the best money and time I’ve ever spent. It helped me see all the things I was doing wrong. And gave me a framework for how to write in a more clear and power style. I felt nuts telling my wife I would be tied up at night because I was forcing myself to take a writing class. But the gains far outstrip the money and time spent.
Just Send It
Even after doing all the above I would still never know when something was ready for others to read. I’d keep going back through it tweaking words and adding ideas. It felt like it was never complete. A mentor of mine gave me a great model for getting away from that behavior. He told me that he publishes almost all his writing before it is “ready”. His theory is that it is easier to let others tell you what you missed, rather than digging around looking for what you missed. He even makes a point of noting this at the end of each post and invites others to tell him what is missing. Applying that mentality got me writing and publishing a lot more. It no longer needs to be perfect. It just needs to convey the big ideas.
So if you’re wondering if something is ready to post, just send it!