Writing a blog can be a personal endeavor or a chance to give back to the community. Either way, you can also benefit from sharing your knowledge, skills, and insights. But first, you must work past obstacles stopping you from writing in the first place.
I’ve heard people say, “I just don’t have time to blog.” If you’re already writing documentation or detailing changes in pull requests or JIRA tickets, or writing thorough and detailed answers on a forum, you’re already a good portion of the way there. I’ve turned dozens of Stack Overflow answers into blog posts, and in many cases it wasn’t much more complex than copying and pasting.
I’ve also heard, “well, someone has already blogged about that.” So what? Do local news channels only report exclusive stories? Your notes about how you solved a problem will be useful to others who are also trying to solve that same problem, even if you aren’t the only one to write about the topic. Provided you’re not plagiarizing, your explanation, voice, or terminology choice might trigger the lightbulb moment for the reader.
Still others will say, “but people will be too critical of my writing.” You become a better writer and communicator when you can explain something in a way that can withstand critique. However, and this is probably the hardest part: no matter how well you write, people on the internet can be ruthless, so you’ll need to be thick-skinned. Don’t be intimidated—ignore them or treat their comments as an opportunity to improve. I’ve grown a thicker skin over time, but even in the early years of my career, I didn’t let hurt feelings get in the way of the other benefits.
If you’re really worried about your writing skills, partner with another blogger or technical writer and review each other’s drafts. They may suggest improvements before you publish and you’ll likely learn from each other, too.
Personally, I started blogging to better scale my answers to questions. After I’d seen the same question two or three times I’d create a blog post with the answer and start linking to the blog every time the same question came up rather than spending time answering it again in full. This doesn’t work so well on Stack Overflow, as link-only answers are discouraged, but it does let me post a short, low-effort answer with the promise of deeper treatment in the link. In a way, this has allowed me to help more users than I ever could have without a blog.
But I also blog for me. Several times I’ve written about a problem I solved at some point in my career so I can easily access hard-to-memorize code or details no matter where I am—my personal machine, work machine, phone, or tablet. Some examples:
I’ve also created landing pages with a collection of links about a topic. These aren’t blog posts, per se, but they are
handy places to send people who are struggling with an issue—and they won’t have to remember all those URLs. Examples:
How to Start Your Blog
I’ve written several articles about what I do in my current role and how I got here. These articles have helped me reinforce my skills and self-confidence, and I’ve become a better communicator. With any luck, I also help others aspire toward their next role. Further, if you blog about topics about which you’re learning and solutions you implement, potential employers will see your problem-solving skills outside of what they would get from your resume.
The barrier to entry is low—most blogging platforms have free or low-cost entry-level options, requiring minimal effort to get started. Some platforms are rigid in their design and feature set; I’ve found WordPress
to be the most flexible. There’s a large marketplace of free templates and plug-ins
for all imaginable appearance and functionality, and if you want to get your hands dirty and customize these, you can. If you’re not already familiar with PHP and MySQL, it’s also a great way to learn those technologies.
I also don’t want to discount other available platforms:
The following are open-source platforms. These are free to use and already implement an easily navigable and editable structuring for publishing blogs and ideas:
8 Tips for Budding Writers
Before you launch your blog, consider these ideas:
- Have a few posts ready to go, with at least one published, before you start promoting your new blog. When I helped launch sqlperformance.com I had four posts in the queue before we started any marketing blitz. The goal was to always have two or three posts buffered and ready to go, to never feel rushed to post something last-minute, and to eliminate obstacles that could get in the way of producing new content on a schedule. I’ve met these goals consistently for nearly a decade.
- Set a reasonable cadence. You don’t need to post daily, or even weekly, to benefit from blogging. Choose a frequency you can commit to and keep consistent, whether this is once a month, once a week, or a few times a week.
- Use drafts to keep yourself ahead. I constantly jot down bullet points in a draft for some topic I’d like to cover. When I’m struggling with writer’s block, I sift through my drafts and often find an already half-written post needing a little wordsmithing around those bullet points.
- Don’t corner yourself into word count minimums. A post doesn’t have to hit a minimum word count to be useful; in fact, those targets are usually detrimental, as they lead to wordy padding to meet the threshold. Sometimes the best posts are short, sweet, and get right to the point.
- Don’t spend too much time and effort on SEO. If you write good content, people will find it. SEO scores are relatively meaningless and can take away your credibility, especially if the content reads better to the search engine crawler than it does to the actual human reader. I’ve worked with folks in the past who have keyword-stuffed or literally copied and pasted nonsensical sequences of words from a search phrase into an article. Sure, it improved some arbitrary SEO score measured by the crawler, but these extra words confused, or even alienated, the reader.
- Use social media to promote your blog. Promoting your blog posts to your social media followers can increase your blog audience. Alternatively, someone who reads your blog posts might also be interested in following you on social media. Make sure your blog’s “About” page points to your social media accounts and your social media profiles point back to your blog.
- Monetize your blog in small ways. A blog on its own is unlikely to make you rich but you can to offset costs and your time by using host referral links, posting companion YouTube videos, or setting up banner advertisements. Just don’t make it look like Google Ads threw up on the page—there’s not much worse than struggling to distinguish content from ads on a web page.
- Use your blog as a launchpad for a more lucrative writing career, without the commitment of writing a book. I don’t get paid for every article I write, but I did start earning money from writing after I had proven myself in the industry for free.
Brent Ozar, a SQL Server® expert, also has plenty of good advice here: How to Start a Blog
What Are You Waiting For?
Blogging has opened many doors for me over the years. In fact, it’s how I started my career and is a primary reason I’m in my role today. It can do similar things for you, and I hope I’ve demonstrated how it’s both beneficial and easy to start.