You don’t need to blog to practice your writing

I started writing this blog in 2015 about a year after I began my management career. I wrote a few pieces a year, then one piece a year, and then nothing all year long. I love to write, but I find it difficult to make the time to write the words, then to edit and re-write the words, and to consider whether it will still find an audience after all that, and to actually publish. In contrast, I write constantly at work, which is similar to my approach to public speaking. I still strive for accuracy and successful communication, but the stakes for getting the words exactly right are lower: I can follow up on questions, corrections, and expanded analyses. In this post, I’ll share how I’ve used my love of writing as a light-weight method of building connection with my team and practicing my written communication.

Inspired by several of my colleagues, I started writing a weekly newsletter to my team in 2021. I’ve designed this newsletter to be optional and send all must-read information through separate easily-findable memos. My ultimate goal is that the people who work with me have a better understanding of the challenges I’m thinking about, how I approach decision-making, and have additional data points about me outside of memos and meetings. My secondary goal is to regularly organize my thoughts around a hypothesis and supporting information, and test how well I’m able to communicate that.

Every week I write about something that I’m thinking about, or something that someone has asked about. I try to steer away from our projects, unless there’s a cultural significance to highlight; there are other venues to talk about those. Here are some topics from the last year:

  • How I’ve engaged with some of our group-wide process experimentation,
  • Gratitude for feedback received,
  • How I spend my week as a director,
  • How I think about our promotion and annual review processes,
  • What I learned from our promotion calibration,
  • The importance of building connection with other people,
  • We can do hard things (and have!),
  • How engineers can (and should) influence our product decisions and roadmap,
  • Reflections on how I’m able to be my best self at work,
  • How we team leads are planning for the future

Some of those topics could easily be their own blog posts, and I love that those thoughts have already percolated through my mind and onto a page in a safe space. Some topics are so tightly coupled to the company that they’ll never be found in public. In either case, I’m so glad that I wrote about them and shared them with my group!

If you wish you had more time to write, I recommend that you start writing a weekly newsletter to your team.

Here’s how you can get started:

  • Choose your audience with a minimum viable product mindset.
    1. I chose just the engineers in my reporting chain, rather than my entire cross-functional team, because I wanted this to be an extension of my skip-level relationship with the engineers. There’s plenty that will be applicable to other people, but I don’t need to write for them.
  • Write with as consistent a frequency as possible.
    • I write weekly, but allow skips for vacation, short weeks, or unusually challenging weeks. I give notice about when I’ll skip ahead of time if I can.
  • Write about anything that’s on your mind and safe to share.
    • Some weeks it’s long — my longest was about 2500 words. Some weeks it’s short — my shortest is about 300 words. There is no minimum word count.
  • Write in your voice.
    • Read over what you’ve written before sending it, but you don’t need an editor. You won’t always write the clearest sentence, and you might leave out a detail here and there. It’s OK if you get questions about something you’ve written, or if you have to send out a clarification. Follow-up questions are a great sign that someone is reading it!
  • Use this as an opportunity to send reminders: important links buried in other e-mails, important other comms to dig into, upcoming dates.
    • Time constraints and writer’s block might lead to this being your only weekly content; this is your safety net!
  • Put a time limit on your writing.
    • I block out an hour each week to write. I jot down ideas throughout the week, then spend 15-20 minutes drafting my newsletter. I spend another 5 minutes combing through my inbox for useful links to remind people about, then 5 minutes to read through it all and make any adjustments. I use the extra time for fact-checking, or for going deeper on a topic, but usually don’t need it.

This writing process is much simpler than memos I co-create with fellow leads, or even this blog (which is edited by my wife), which also means that there are fewer obstacles to publishing.

I like to send the newsletter out late in the week, like Thursday afternoon or Friday morning. If I miss Friday morning, I often schedule-send it out on Monday morning so that it doesn’t get buried in weekend spam. I draft in a private scratchpad doc, then paste into a shared doc, and send out an e-mail.

Internal newsletters are great, but they are not a replacement for other things

An internal newsletter is not a replacement for public-facing blog posts, but it is a great way to share yourself with your team and to continue to hone your craft with a friendly audience who might give you more immediate feedback. I only publish about one of ten blog posts that I write, but I publish my weekly internal newsletter almost every week.

This is also not a replacement for more formal documents at work: proposals, overviews, analyses, etc. You don’t need to squeeze everything into one e-mail, and you shouldn’t.

If you’re not sure how well your newsletter will go, I recommend framing your newsletter as a time-bound experiment you will discontinue if it fails to deliver its expected value. I started and discontinued a team newsletter a few years ago because the writing investment was too large due to focusing solely on the team’s many projects. Focusing an internal newsletter on my thoughts and decision-making processes has greatly reduced the scope and cost. The fact that I’ve been able to consistently deliver, and have great follow-up conversations with my team, has greatly increased my reward.

Did this post resonate?

If you haven’t tried an internal newsletter yet, give it a shot!

If you have, have you found any other tips you’d recommend?

‘You don’t need to blog to practice your writing’

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