What Makes a Great Tech Writer



With the days counting down to when shawnblanc.net becomes my full-time gig I have been spending a lot of time thinking about what my new daily schedule will look like.

I’m the sort of guy who is always thinking about the future. Not in the noble “always looking ahead” sort of way, but in the “my brain is always making up scenarios of how things will pan out” sort of way. And ever since I decided to take my site full-time I began picturing what my days would look like once that happened. At the beginning I mostly assumed I would be spending my whole day sitting behind the keyboard and watching the pulse of news, or — if nothing exciting was happening — spend my time writing long-form pieces. But, the more I think about it, the more that sounds like the road to a burnt-out and boring website.

Yes, I expect the pace of writing to pick up, and yes I am very much looking forward to doing more long-form writing. (There are a few reviews I’m already planning for, and some interviews I’d like to begin as well.) But sitting behind my computer and blogging for 8 hours a day does not sound like a dream job to me.

And that has caused me to consider just what it is that makes a great tech writer.

It doesn’t take much to be a pretty good tech writer. Someone who can, more or less, clearly communicate and add some personality to their paragraphs has a decent shot at a landing a tech writing gig. And, believe it or not, they don’t really have to be much of a writer.

But to be a great tech writer takes two more things: (a) you’ve got to actually be great at writing; and (b) what I think really defines the line between the good and the great is being able to tell stories and bring the technology into our everyday lives.

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If you run a tech-centric website, then, so far as I see it, there are two paces of posting schedule that your site can take: (a) the breaking news, real-time schedule; or (b) the schedule and pace that you set on your own. Most tech-centric sites opt for the former.

For the past four years my day job has necessitated that I not be on the “breaking-news, real-time schedule” with shawnblanc.net. However, even when I do begin my full-time schedule beginning in April I do not intend to dramatically change the pace of my writing, nor seek to make this website a spot for all the breaking news.

By making an intentional decision to not pursue a real-time schedule with my site it allows me the space to think and breathe and therefore write things which are more thought related than they are time-sensitive.

I’d rather write stories than break them.

For example, I stood in line for an iPad 2 this past Friday almost entirely for the experience of it. It is fun to go down to the Apple store a few hours early, meet some strangers, and casually poke fun of how nerdy we all are. I did not stand in line so I could be the first person to get home with my iPad 2 and write a review. And, like I said, I think a huge element to what makes a great tech writer is someone who can tell stories and experiences.

In an interview on Method & Craft, Naz Hamid said:

The ability to spend time away from a screen and a computer and experience the world at large and do other things related to the work (speaking or travel or just collaborating on projects) is necessary for a healthy mind. So that independence, to be able to work on other projects outside of the studio allows everyone to be able to explore other experiences and not just for work. The things you do outside of work — that you’re passionate about — should be equally nurtured.

What makes a great designer or writer is not what they do when they’re at their computer, but rather what they do when they’re not at it. Though our best work is often materialized when we’re working at the computer, the foundation of that work is formed and nurtured when we’re away from the screen.

In a job where it seems so vitally important that I stay connected to the real-time Web, it will be thanks to the times where I disconnect that I will find any hope of being relevant and meaningful in my writing.