Blogging Towards a ‘Personal Infrastructure’

Photo by Sonika Agarwal on Unsplash: Idol of Lord Ganesha, Mumbai.

Ganesha — the Hindu God of beginnings. A fearless idol and remover of obstacles, he attracts devotees looking for success, prosperity and protection against adversity.

Want to start blogging? We could all be doing with the promises, courage, and intellectual wisdom of Lord Ganesha.

Going public with our views, expertise, and creative work is an exciting inflection point in our personal and professional life — but it’s daunting. It’s a trade-off that we all understand perfectly: when we raise our visibility, we have to overcome our fear that some people won’t like our work, thoughts, or feelings.

In this article, I aim to provide you with information, motivation, and confidence to own the power to create a Personal Infrastructure through fearless blogging and continuous improvement.

1. Overcome Your Fear of Criticism

A certain level of anxiety is helpful, as it forces us to re-read our work to ensure it meets the highest quality standards. However, too much anxiety and overthinking prevent us from going public at all, for fear that people won’t like our content.

I remember somebody once left four stars out of five for a book that I published last year, which teaches software engineer best practices through a narrative-prose style. We’d all agree that a rating of four out of five would fall into the ‘Very Good’ category. But hilariously, the first question I asked myself was:

“why did the person leave four stars, instead of five?”

I learned to appreciate criticism — after all, somebody has gone out of their way to leave their comments and advice. Even better, in the case of my book, you have to pay for it before being allowed to leave comments. So feedback is not just free-of-charge criticism, but criticism that somebody paid me for.

If you’re not comfortable just yet starting a blog, then start with shorter forms, such as LinkedIn posts that you can schedule to go out once a week, for example. The feeling of finishing something and getting feedback is both uplifting and necessary for us writers to continue growing.

2. Accelerate Your Learning

An unusual aspect of my personality and learning style is that I find it painfully difficult to read passively. At the very least, I need a pen, a pencil, or a highlighter to read actively. But even then, it’s easy to forget what I’ve read if I’m not applying it regularly or haven’t spent enough time thinking and digesting the material.

So I ask myself:

“what’s the end-product of reading this book?”

Once I started to publish LinkedIn posts, Medium articles, and develop cheatsheets (also public on my Github), I miraculously found that I retained more knowledge over time.

It’s also vital that I do blogging for myself, not for the benefit of other people. Yes, I know it sounds absurd and self-contradictory. Why would I write articles if I don’t want to teach or entertain my readers? And why should I post something that ten thousand other people have already written about?

To answer those questions I refer back to my previous point. I need an end goal in mind and going public with my writing forces me to ensure I’ve read the material thoroughly enough. After all, the last thing I’d want is to make mistakes and provide wrong information. It’s also a great way to motivate me to read lots of books since I need content, advice, and the expertise of others to form my conclusions.

Therefore, I think of the benefits other people get from reading my articles as positive side-effects, rather than my main objective.

3. Research

It’s not as hard as everybody thinks to come up with content.

Let’s assume that I want to write an article on a series about diversity and inclusion, and particularly about unconscious bias. First of all, Google returns 36.5 million hits, so I’m hardly short of suggestions.

I also like to browse for second-hand books that often go for much cheaper than newer books (and sometimes the scribbles in the margin from the previous owner are more interesting than the print content itself). Many companies also offer their employees free subscriptions to online book libraries, online training, and on-demand learning.

Then there’s YouTube, which I could use to understand other people’s perspectives from life experience and what’s being done to tackle discrimination. Documentaries and interviews, in particular, are very good for getting quotations to support my articles. At the very least, they introduce topics that might be worthwhile investigating further in other sources.

I could even ask to interview somebody with expertise in the area, such as a director in charge of setting the culture of his/her division. Most companies these days also have focus groups, especially for things such as female equality in the workplace or unconscious bias training. Better still, I could offer to co-author an article with that person, giving them credit for their time and advice.

4. Produce High-Quality Work

To write, I need to be a good reader.

Coming from a science background (my degree was in maths), I’m certainly no expert with the English language. But I wasn’t going to let that put me off writing.

I remember in one of her talks at CppCon, C++software engineer and author Kate Gregory explained why it’s essential to recognize the difference between real and imaginary constraints. For example, she mentioned that we couldn't have two screens on the journey to the office in front of us — a real constraint.

On the other hand, beliefs like:

“I can’t code”

“I could never be a good chess player”.

These are imaginary constraints because it's perfectly possible to learn these things with the right attitude, interest, and strategy to improve.

For example, I took 100 articles I liked and printed them out into a booklet. Then took a pencil and highlighter to identify appropriate paragraph structure, tone, style, and writing techniques, such as analogy and signposting (phrases that aid in articulating the structure of a piece of writing and ensuring that readers do not get disoriented). I could then use these techniques to better my own writing.

If I’m comparing content from books, newspapers, and statistics, I visit the University of Manchester Academic Phrasebank for essay writing. Familiar to many students in the arts and humanities, this website is a fantastic resource for essay-style writing, with plenty of phrases to help compare and contrast ideas. Please also read to the end of this article to find some other valuable resources for writing high-quality essays.

University of Manchester — Academic Phrasebank

5. Direct Quotes — Have Your Cake and Eat It

Amateur writers like us can sometimes find it hard to explain something in our own words. On the other hand, experienced writers do this for a living, often with the help of peer reviews and proofreading resources. So attempting to write on the same level as the experts is asking too much of ourselves!

If a professional writer has a perfect analogy or way of putting their ideas down on paper, I prefer to use a direct quote, referencing the author and source. This way, the article becomes more of a show-and-tell exercise, in which I introduce an idea to the reader and then share a direct quote that perfectly supports my thread of discussion. At the same time, using quotations helps me to increase the length of my articles and present different points of view to form a conclusion.

For example, in my book review of Patrick King’s book ‘The Art of Everyday Assertiveness,’ the author helps explain why many people struggle with defending themselves assertively:

As unfair as this is sounds, sometimes an article with quotations, written in an essay-like fashion, leaves the reader with a more significant impression of the amount of work you’ve done than somebody who writes the article from a first-person perspective only.

And finally, citations show my readers where the ideas for articles came from, helping them to seek out the full text for themselves and discover other publications by the same author.

6. Check for Mistakes

Write better with browser extensions, which helps pick up spelling mistakes in writing. Some products offer a different way of writing the same sentence to appear with the correct tone and tense that’s appropriate to the audience.

Text-to-speech is also a powerful tool I discovered by accident and has proved to be indispensable to sanity check my work before it’s published. It’s beneficial to use after making last-minute changes to a blog that might inadvertently cause something not to make sense. And like many of us, I find it harder to read paragraphs of text from a screen.

7. Publish and Promote

Publishing articles on their own isn’t enough to gain viewers and subscribers. For that, you’ll need to turn to social media.

With over a thousand connections on LinkedIn, this is the perfect place for me to advertise and funnel readers to my new articles, with each post averaging around 200–300 views on LinkedIn. From that, approximately 10% will click on the link to my Medium blog.

I also add every article to my page on GitHub, which also displays other information such as my values and links to software tutorials for quick reference when I need it. If you haven’t already, look at my article Creating a Personal Knowledge Base on Github.

My GitHub page, which has links to articles I’ve published

I hope that this has been useful for everybody — let me know what you think in the comments section below.

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George Marklow

George Marklow

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George is a software engineer, author, blogger, and abstract artist who believes in helping others to make us happier and healthier.