How I Write
A few folks recently have asked me about my writing habits. One fellow wondered how much time I spent consuming content versus creating content. I thought I’d write a really quick, short post and explain. First, I definitely read a lot of tech news. Some of it is atomized through various Twitter feeds I simply scan, some of it is interacting *a lot* on Quora, some of it is more about following very specific entrepreneurs, technologists, and investors, some of it is rifling through my Instapaper feed whenever I have a chance, some of it is reading The New Yorker and The Economist (not the entire magazine, usually about 15-20% of every issue), and having lots of conversations with people who are orders of magnitude smarter and more experienced than I am. So, I spend a significant amount of time consuming content whereas I maybe spend a small fraction of that creating content.
I always have folders of Google Docs open on different topics that I’ll write about. My writing is rarely time-sensitive, so I just keep noodling on topics that I’m interested in and because everyone around me is talking about technology and startups, these topics just always come up. At the moment, I have documents with drafts looking at how Instagram could morph into more than a photosharing company, or a follow-up piece on big data applied specifically to the consumer web, or a piece about how different social graphs could possibly transform travel (I don’t think it can), and a more product-focused review of a relatively new startup that I’m using more and more and excited about. I mention these all to simply convey that I keep working on all of them until one catches fire and then I just focus, finish, and post that one online.
In terms of style, I tend to be a bit formal for a tech blog, and I oftentimes wish I wasn’t so formal in writing. The benefit of this is that I put a lot of pressure on myself to be short, to the point, and to use the least amount of words possible. I write drafts very quickly and spend four to five reviews simply cutting out language. The cost is that my writing can be a bit stale, or devoid of personality compared to other tech writers, and I tend to use more suggestive language, hoping readers will read between the lines, rather than being punchy. For whatever reason, that’s just my style.
If my writing had a specific style, I’d call it “synthesis” writing. I definitely feel compelled to look at multiple angles of what I’m looking at and then draw in salient points from disparate sources into one short, digestible, reductive piece. On TechCrunch in particular, I never try to explain everything about an area or topic. Instead, I begin writing by assuming that whomever is reading the piece is going to be way, way, way more informed about it than me, so that rather than bore the reader with a long explanation, instead I prefer to frame issues in ways that will either stretch and/or challenge their current frame of thinking. The best feeling isn’t when someone reads a piece of yours and says it’s good, it’s when they say something like, “Yeah, but what about this angle and these possibilities?” That kind of instigation usually leads to a really good nugget of new intelligence, and sometimes writing is the only way to draw those thoughts out.