How writing regularly has helped me
Around 8 months ago, in August 2020, I started publishing weekly blog posts. In these 8 months, I’ve written 36 posts, only missing twice.
Writing has unsurprisingly helped me in several ways: career development, connecting with others, and “creation as entertainment”. In this article, I will analyze these benefits, and for those interested in writing, be it in the form of blog posts, work documentation, or hobbyist fiction, you might find pros and cons for your own situation to spend more time on writing.
- Career development via writing
- Entertainment and connection via writing
Career development via writing
One of the essential abilities in a data science role is communication - past a certain seniority level, it is difficult to create broader impact with purely technical skills.
Communication skills is a strong multiplier of technical skills. This is due to the simple fact that most high impact projects involve multiple people or teams outside of data science, and so to be effective, one needs to be able to convey their ideas across all levels of technical understanding.
The fastest, high ROI method to improve at communication, is to communicate more. Writing is one way to practice. When I think back on technical documentation I wrote during my school days, I cringe a little (I dare you to look at your old essays, or even your old resumes).
I’ve definitely come a long way since then, and by writing at work, have been able to gain more visibility with stakeholders.
Due to the refinement of a framework I refer to as 3 levels of complexity of data science storytelling, I gained opportunities such as being a conference speaker to audiences of hundreds, despite often being the person with the lowest work tenure (in years) on the roster.
Thanks to solid technical skills, I had been able to work on high impact projects, but it was also my communication skills that granted me those opportunities at the time, as a relatively fresh data science professional.
Whether you’re a seasoned data science professional or a new grad, I encourage you to write more about the work, be it documentation or presentations. It will not have immediate results, and might be stressful initially, but for me, it has yielded massive returns (and compounds, too!) for my career.
In video game development, writing has helped me on a practical level. For my first game, instead of hiring a contractor to write the game (which might have been $3,000 USD or more) I wrote the entire 70,000 word script myself.
I was initially confident in my abilities to do so, since I had experience writing fiction for games in my university years. I still learned a lot from the process since it was the first time I wrote a script as large as the one for my game, and the structure was different from typical fiction writing.
Since a lot of context is visualized on screen, and the game has audio, there is no need for as many visual descriptions via text, but more emphasis may be put on the spoken or internal dialogue to make the most of the video game medium.
Again, this was a case of “practice makes perfect” - no amount of preparation or passive learning could have braced me for writing the game manuscript. I had to scrap huge portions (10k words or more), 3 times over.
Apart from writing as a video game “asset” (like art assets), my writing skills helped me share my stories of game development. This is related to one of the points later on about public speaking - I have been able to speak at large conferences about game development, such as PyCons (3 years over 3 countries), Visual;Conference (largest English-speaking visual novel developer conference), and more.
Writing skills boosted my game development journey, despite the fact that this is not even what I considered my core responsibility - which is Python/Ren’Py programming!
Entertainment and connection via writing
I have previously written how I see many forms of creation as entertainment, as opposed to passive consumption. This is because of the flow state that creating can kick off, which is fun and satisfying - imagine the satisfaction when things just “clicked” after a 2-hour long deep work session on something you are creating just for yourself.
I’ll be frank here - blog writing for me isn’t always a bed of roses. It’s not an easy task to have written 36 posts on a weekly cadence, but my habit building habit made it a lot easier. I’ve trained myself so that it feels weird to skip a week, like one would feel weird if they don’t brush teeth daily.
Article on how I brainstorm ideas and write one blog a week
So, for the most part, blog writing is fun, since many posts, such as the data science career guides, are what I would spend time talking to people about during coffee chats anyway. It’s like “what would I say to a friend interested in data science”? I’d tell them all I know, but now I can have this conversation at scale!
I also write to share habits and optimizations I have cultivated through the years, such as my daily routine, or how I trained myself to deep work on demand. I could speak about these topics for ages in person, and have done so enough to have crystalized thoughts on them, but found that it was much more effective to share them with the larger world via writing. So for writing I am thankful.
I get many folks reaching out to say my posts have helped, which motivates me to write and share more. On that note, I encourage you to let me know if my blog has helped, via LinkedIn!
Secondarily, I get inbound requests for speaking engagements, and so apart from connecting with people, and “creation as entertainment”, blog writing has helped my career as well.
I put public speaking in this article about the benefits of writing, due to slides often being part of the medium. There are other overlaps between “speaking” and writing, for example, I often type speaker notes in the form of bullet points, which I have gotten much faster and concise at over the years due to my writing practice.
Several years ago, it might take me 15+ hours to prepare for a 1 hour talk, including the dry runs I did, to make sure that I could perform at my best!
These days, some talks require 2 hours for me to prepare on the very low end, if I have skeleton slides that I modify from a previous related talk. It still takes a while, since I like to customize for the audience. e.g. adding Parle-G (biscuit) reference in PyCon India slides. The preparation time can take 6 hours or more for net new talks. (see my speaking page) for some examples.
Same with blogging, this can sometimes be a bit of a chore, but so is working in data science or game development, while overall being highly fun and fulfilling.
Of course, lowering the opportunity cost (preparation time spent) of speaking at conferences allows me to speak at more of them. This is fun for me since I really do enjoy public speaking and the feeling of being on a stage. (I used to play guitar and perform in high school and university, so this is a related pastime.)
Writing regularly and improving at the skill, has benefited several aspects of my life, be it in my career, connecting with people, and just for fun.
So if you are interested in spending more time practicing writing, this might show you that it’s worth it.
Much like many types of pursuits, it can be a rocky road at the beginning - I took weeks to write a blog post in the beginning! But if you stick with it, it’s a superb multiplier to other types of skills (e.g. data science, software), as well as being fun in its own right.