November 30, 2020

Writing Well: A Must-Have Skill That No One Taught You

How being a good writer can take your career to the next level

Line graph that shows career with writing and without writing
Image credit: Author

I started writing because the generous community of programmers had helped me by sharing their knowledge freely over the internet. I wanted to contribute to this incredible trend so I could be a part of something bigger than myself.

Little did I know that it would be me who benefitted the most by pursuing this noble cause.

Three years of writing on the internet has done more for my career than what four years of college education did.

I published 14 articles in the past three years while I was teaching myself programming, data science, and machine learning. These have allowed me to reach hundreds of thousands of readers around the world, make valuable connections, get a unique job opportunity, work with people from multiple countries, and make more money than I hoped.

I now work as the Community Manager for a remote startup that teaches data skills online. I could not have asked for a better first job as a 20-year old!

In this article, I’ll tell you why being a good writer can take your career to the next level and how you can start your writing journey.

The Writing Revolution

We are living through a Writing Revolution where good writing skills can have an immense impact on the life of every ambitious knowledge worker.

That's because in the past 30 years, our world has changed in a fundamental way — the Internet has demolished the cost of distributing information.

“It turns days into minutes,” Andrew Grove, the legendary CEO of Intel, commented on the arrival of email. “A lot more people know what’s going on than did before, and they know it a lot faster than they used to.”

Today we have email, Slack, Notion, Github, Twitter, Facebook, and a plethora of internet apps focused on written communication.

For 200,000 years of human history, speaking and listening were the primary modes of communication. But in the past 30 years, reading and writing have overtaken them as the primary mode of communication.

Evolution of speaking to writing
The Writing Revolution

You are now living in the early years of a Writing Revolution that has changed the way humans communicate with each other.

It doesn't matter whether you write code, design stuff, create things, build communities, market products or lead people who do these things. Writing is your primary mean of communication. So, being a better writer can help you.

However, traditional education has failed to recognise this human-scale revolution — good writing tuitions are still reserved for students of the liberal arts.

You cannot wait for traditional education to catch up when being a good writer can benefit your career now.

Especially with the remote-working revolution underway.

The Remote-Working Revolution

During the pandemic, some of the biggest companies of our generation, like Facebook, Twitter, and Shopify, announced a permanent transition to remote working. Inevitably, they have paved the path for entire industries to follow.

Therefore, it’s highly likely that your next company will be working remotely.

In remote settings, with little face-to-face interaction, good written communication becomes the key.

It’s your competitive advantage in a tough job market.

Work-from-home means that the competitors for your next job are not just from your city — they’re from your entire country and potentially the whole world. Add economic depression and rock bottom unemployment rates to the mix, and you have a saturated job market.

You need to find a way to stand out.

Being a good writer will help you.

When deciding between a few candidates to fill a position, companies like Basecamp hire the better writer. People of Basecamp have been working remotely for more than 20 years and great writing is a prerequisite for every single position they have.

Being a Good Writer Boosts the Arc of Your Entire Career

Being a good writer helps you get a new job. A better job.

But more importantly, it helps you do your everyday work better, and therefore, changes the arc of your entire career!

Line graph that shows career with writing and without writing
Effect of good writing skills on the progress in your career

Here are three ways it boosts your career:

1. Grabbing the valuable attention of people around you

  • You need your coworkers to understand the reports and strategies you create.
  • You need your peers to read that awesome idea you propose.
  • You need your subordinates to pay attention to you.
  • You need hiring managers to read your next job application.
  • You need interesting people that you admire to read and answer your cold emails.
  • You need your connections on LinkedIn or Twitter to pay attention to your posts — we all know better connections mean better opportunities.

Yet, you can’t rely on the awesomeness of your ideas to grab their attention. Everyone has loads of them.

What differentiates successful people is their ability to convey their ideas in ways that make people want to pay attention.

“Being a good writer is about more than writing. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They know what to omit.”

— David Heinemeier Hanson and Jason Fried, founders of Basecamp

2. Finding new career opportunities

Writing on the internet can advance your career. A well-written article, published on the internet, works 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to find new opportunities for you!

Therefore, your blog is like a resume, only better.

Writing a useful article is the quickest way to establish yourself as an expert in that field. No degrees required.

Two years ago, I wrote an article to help people get started with reading Deep Learning research papers. It still fetches me LinkedIn connections from PhDs in universities around the world. The funny thing is that I have read only one research paper in my life — when I wrote the article!

“By making it easy for people to find you online, you’ll create a vehicle for serendipity.”

— David Perell, creator of the popular course Write of Passage

A good online presence allows you to connect with like-minded people around the world who you would never be able to meet in real life. And meaningful social connections are often the source of surreal career opportunities.

3. Improving your thinking

“You don’t just write to share what you think. You write to discover what you think in the first place.”

— Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic, the company behind Wordpress

Compressing your thoughts into the written word removes noise from your thoughts. Clear writing induces clear thinking.

This is why Jeff Bezos made his executives prepare six-page narratives instead of 20-slide PowerPoints before any meeting. Bezos believes that PowerPoint presentations conceal lazy thinking. Instead, he wants his employees to think deeply and take the time to express their thoughts cogently.

I’m often amazed to see how writing an idea leaves me with a better version of the idea itself. It makes me realise how sloppy my thinking usually is.

Writing clearly can have the same effect on your thinking too.

A chart that shows how writing doubles your odds and success
These three benefits create a self-sustaining flywheel that accelerates your career

So, how do you start?

Step 1: Unlearn What You Learnt at School

You’ve probably taken writing lessons in school.

And yet, so much of what school teaches you is worse than useless. It hurts you in real life. You need to unlearn so much if you want to write meaningful things in real life.

Here are some of the things that school made you do in order to get respectable grades:

  • You followed minimum word limits. Whereas the real world has maximum word limits - the key is to convey your message in as few words as possible.
  • You followed rigid formats for “creative” writing. There was a format for essays, formal letters, and even informal letters! Well, guess what? Nobody likes it when you are formulaic and everyone loves being surprised.
  • You wrote an introductory paragraph before you made your point. Whereas, in the real world, your first sentence needs to grab the reader. Nobody has the time to read an introduction to your main content.
  • You wrote what was prescribed instead of what you wanted. You never realized that you write your best when you write about something that you are excited about.
Checklist that shows the difference between writing for school and writing for your career
No one told you that too much focus on getting good at school can actually do you harm

What Else?

There are writing courses all over the internet that promise to turn you into a successful author or a professional blogger or a successful newsletter writer.

Oh, that dream of writing like a pro and monetising your words!

But wait, most of us don’t aspire to be a professional writer.

You probably want to be a pragmatic programmer, a resourceful builder, a great manager, or maybe a successful entrepreneur. Don’t you?

By connecting an incredibly useful skill with a dreamy aspiration, those guides miss the point of writing well.

Learning to write well is about learning to convey your thoughts to others.

I have found that there are no good courses to help professionals get started with writing on the Internet.

Therefore, I created one — Clear Writing, Clear Thinking. It's a short email course where I've distilled everything I've learnt from writing articles that have been viewed by 500k+ peole.

Obstacle course that shows how to get to first published article

Thanks for reading.

You can follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn to see my latest "brain dumps" about writing on the Internet, community building and self-learning.