Tech writers often struggle with having too much to write about as opposed to too little. Our writer’s block comes from being overwhelmed with possibilities rather than a shortage of material. We have to make choices, and that’s not easy for tech writers, given how technology drives almost every aspect of society.
Of course, when we find the topics that fit what we want to write about today, many other challenges that impede us from moving forward come into play. Questions like:
- Am I smart enough to write about this?
- What if I get it wrong?
- How much research is enough?
- What could I possibly add to the discussion?
- Where would I publish the final results?
Let’s look at each of those and get past those illusionary blocks.
Am I smart enough to write about this?
Ah, imposter syndrome; I see you lurking in the minds of tech writers everywhere. It is never a question of being smart enough. You are more than capable of performing fundamental research and checking for material that both supports the topic you’re interested in and critiques it. By taking that first step of studying your idea, you already know more than the people around you.
How much you need to know about a topic before you start writing depends more on your audience and what you intend to do with the final result than on your knowledge level. Articles documenting what you have done to research a topic are just as valuable for the world as articles offering specific conclusions or recommendations. Of course, you may be writing for a client that expects a certain level of expertise you are not sure you can live up to. In that case, spend more time researching than you would otherwise and take advantage of colleagues who can read the material before you declare it “done.”
What if I get it wrong?
The fear of getting something wrong where others can see it is pervasive and encourages writer’s block. However, the actual ramifications of getting something wrong depend on how you portray the material and whether you can correct it post-publication. The bar is low if you are writing a blog post on your own site. You can change the material and thank the person who pointed out the error. That shows you are open to learning and grows your network of people who might review your writing in advance. If you write a blog post for someone else’s site, they will likely review your content, too.
But let’s say the ramifications are more profound. Your professional reputation rides on this content being correct! Your client is paying for accuracy! International legislation on this topic depends on YOU! OK, that’s possible. In those cases, however, there is always a review process. And if there isn’t, create one. Writing where the stakes are high should never be done in a vacuum.
Being wrong is not the end of the world. It’s profoundly uncomfortable, but if you let that worry stop you from progressing, you are REALLY doing it wrong.
How much research is enough?
You have your topic. You understand how important it is to get it right. And the Internet is absolutely full of material, sometimes contradictory, on the subject at hand. Knowing when to stop the research and move on to writing is a learned skill.
I’ve discovered two things when it comes to research. First, if I’m not careful, this becomes a reflection of imposter syndrome (again! it’s everywhere). My feelings of inadequacy on whether I can do justice to a subject are often masked by doing “just a little more” research. I’ve blocked myself with fears of my own ignorance. I research and research until I realize I’ve hit my deadline and I don’t have any content to show for it. Second, when the themes in the research material start to repeat themselves, more research will probably not help. When that starts happening, it’s time to document the themes and move on.
What could I possibly add to the discussion?
There are three excellent reasons to write about a hot topic. One is to document what you’re learning to help others trying to figure out where to start. Two, because a client is paying you because they need the material. And three, because you think something is missing in most of the material you’ve read and want to raise the point.
While the structure and details of your writing will change depending on why you’re writing, your perspective is always valuable. People new to the topic will find a fellow newcomer’s writing helpful to their own start. Clients think something should be written, or they wouldn’t be paying you. And bringing a new or poorly-documented perspective is always useful. Perhaps not always appreciated, but always useful.
Where would I publish the final results?
The answer to this depends entirely on your reasons for writing. If your primary purpose in publishing is your own joy in writing, just do it. If you are publishing because there might be a chance the material will help others, definitely do it on your own blog or LinkedIn. However, a tech blog or magazine might be the right place if you want a wider impact. When a client is paying for the work, determining where to publish the final results is not your problem; they already have a place in mind. And, of course, if you are looking for serious academic consideration, then books and peer-reviewed journals are always an option.
Answering this question with “I can’t think of anyone who would want to read this so I won’t bother” is certainly an answer, but it’s not great. While there is a very small chance you may be correct that no one is interested, you still benefit from practicing your writing.
There is a difference between a healthy consideration of skills and boundaries and an inner monologue of negativity that blocks you from writing. You may not have time to write about a topic that interests you, but that’s entirely different than not being smart enough to do it.
If nothing else, keep a list of ideas on those topics that interest you and take notes as you learn more about them. You may find that, over time, the material writes itself. Overcoming writer’s block can be just that easy.
If you know of others that might enjoy being part of a community designed to support tech writers, please send them here to The Writer’s Comfort Zone!