Writing can be a great way to position yourself as an expert in your field. Here are some pointers on how to get started.
Self-promotion might seem distasteful to an otherwise modest IT Leader. However, the occasional tooting of your own horn not only makes you a more valuable employee, but also allows you to explore new ideas, and help set the future direction of the IT field.
After reading my earlier article, The IT leader's guide to shameless self-promotion, you should have thought through your personal marketing campaign, and have given some consideration to your goals, audience, and style. Here are a few tips for writing and publishing your first article.
1. Find your topics
In my own writing, and in discussions with other writers, I've found that coming up with ideas for articles is a separate activity than actual writing. I'll have bursts of inspiration in the wee hours of the night, or in the shower, where I'll have a half-dozen ideas. With ubiquitous smartphones it's easy to record topic ideas when inspiration strikes, and develop a "topic pool." Whenever you find yourself with an unconventional or interesting take on a topic, or come across a current event that you could relate to your areas of expertise, note it down. I've used software like Evernote and OneNote to track topics, or in a pinch, just shout out a topic idea as a to-do list item to Alexa, Siri, or whichever virtual assistant happens to be within earshot—although the latter sometimes results in nonsensical items like "Write article about art official intelligence in clod computing."
Try to avoid topics that simply concur with, or rehash popular opinion. The world probably doesn't need another piece about the greatness of Cloud Computing, or the importance of backups. If you're struggling to find ideas, look for the popular opinion and explore the opposite position. Don't be afraid to be a bit controversial, while also keeping your public "brand" in mind. An unconventional stance on a technology topic is great, but avoid political statements, or any topic you'd not want overheard in your company lunchroom. Remember that your topic choice is ultimately contributing to your brand.
Don't be afraid to draw from everyday life for inspiration as well. I've used everything from spending time in the hospital to restaurant visits as the basis of my articles, and we're awash in moments that can serve as a metaphor or basis for nearly any business or technology topic you care to explore.
2. Just sit down and write
Many people regard writing as some sort of mysterious art form that requires deep preparation, specialized tools, and perhaps a remote cabin filled with scented candles next to a babbling brook. In truth, I do a significant portion of my writing crammed in an airplane seat, or after a long day of work while sitting in a hotel room. As with any activity, you'll gradually develop your writing "muscle," but the first few articles may be difficult and time consuming.
Even if you're writing about a technical topic, before writing your first sentence consider what idea or concept you want your audience to take away after reading your article. Having an end in mind will help guide how you explore your topic, and ensure that your article takes the reader on a journey with a defined endpoint. If it helps, jot down the objective of your article, and a few key items you want to convey, in a logical sequence. This will provide a structured outline that serves as the basis of your article.
Strive for brevity in your writing, and cover one or two compelling aspects of your topic rather than spending several pages considering every possible angle. If you're struggling with your writing, identify a few authors or content providers with writing that you enjoy, and critically read several pieces, looking for tone and style elements that can inform your own emerging writing style.
Finally, strive for success rather than perfection. The article that's published with a typo or two is no better than the near-perfect opus sitting on your hard drive, unread by anyone other than yourself.
3. Pick your publishing platform
We're awash in publishing platforms like never before, and most are starving for content. Whereas a few years ago you might have to set up and promote a personal blog, platforms like LinkedIn provide an easy way to start publishing and building your brand. For technical topics, there are blogs and news sites dedicated to every technology under the sun, from Ajax to Zoho.
The hardest part of starting a new activity is often the first step, so I'd suggest LinkedIn as a great platform to start your writing and personal-brand building activities. Your articles will be shared with people who presumably know you in a professional capacity, and LinkedIn provides easily understandable metrics that will help you understand which topics resonate with your peers.
As your writing and body of work develop, consider more targeted media outlets where people who can ultimately contribute to your personal brand read and engage. Most sites will list their editors or some sort of contact, and my nine years of writing for TechRepublic started with a simple email to the editor with some topic ideas, links to previous articles I'd published, and a paragraph on why I thought I was a good fit for the site.
4. Leverage your work
As you build your writing skills, not only will you refine your writing and personal voice, but you'll also have a body of work that makes you more attractive to publishers, potential speaking engagements, and future employers. If your writing is compelling, you'll go from someone who works in technology to someone who helps shape the future of technology.
Take a few moments to jot down a topic or two, and resolve to write your first article. You may be surprised how easy it is, and at the response you receive as your talents and body of work grow.