Writing is hard, but you should try it anyway.

Writing is hard, but you should try it anyway.
Photo by Joshua Hoehne / Unsplash

It is! Allow me a second to lament that my last entry on this blog was written on January 26th last year. Well, what can you do?

Why is writing generally a good idea, even if it's just a blog post with a limited audience? I wondered that myself.

Ah, yes, the "AI takeover" everyone is buzzing about. Why bother writing when you can ask ChatGPT to do it for you? In the tweet above, Paul Graham writes how people are using AI (or ChatGPT, to be precise) more and more to write all sorts of stuff for them because writing is hard. He then continues :

I warn you now, this is going to have unfortunate consequences, just as switching to living in suburbia and driving everywhere did. When you lose the ability to write, you also lose some of your ability to think.
.... I'm not warning about the switch to AI in the hope of averting it, but to warn the few people who care enough to save themselves, or their kids. Learn to use AI. It's a powerful technology, and you should know how to use it. But also learn how to write.

These few lines got me thinking about writing and what and how I can do to write more and write better.

To be clear, I am not talking about writing in general "literature form." I am talking about writing as a technical person, software engineer, engineer, or architect. After all, the goal of these writings is not to entertain or make you wonder (although it can sometimes?) but more to be precise and unambiguous, to communicate things well.

I have never considered myself good at writing (present-day included).
When I think about it, through most of high school and college, where these kinds of skills could be exercised in the form of essays, and so on, I was never good at it. At least the ones for Literature classes. You might guess why I've chosen the STEM path.

I think it's even harder to write in your non-native language. English is the lingua franca of today's day and age, especially in tech. So, being a non-native English speaker is one more barrier you must overcome.

Why writing is essential for software engineers?

Ok, so writing is not easy. But why should you still try to be better at it?

"Writing is thinking"

The quote above, which I searched for and found out was uttered by the VP of the Word team, holds the same theme as Paul Graham's tweet above - writing enables you to think, to carve out thoughts from your brain, for them to take form so that others can see them and understand them. They say that if you can think clearly, you can write clearly. It's just a matter of willingness to try and learn the skill.

As a software engineer, yes, you write code, but maybe more importantly - you communicate with others on your team and organization. While face-to-face communication is crucial, sometimes it's impossible to do it (especially with today's prevailing async communication and remote teams), and you need something more durable and with higher reach. Composing a feature/system documentation, setup guide, requirements review, or just a simple code review, the ability to write well is essential. If you can compose precise and concise writing, you can communicate well. It boils down to that - communication is a much-needed skill in the tool-belt of every engineer.

How do I write better?

That's a good question. As with any skill, you need to practice. A lot.

Besides that obvious advice, there are some universal rules for better writing, regardless of purpose and form. An excellent book called On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction details basic rules related to writing and a bunch of examples that the author collected. The guide is nicely written, and although the main subject is a "meta" subject, it isn't dull or dry.

While the books cover a lot of principles, methods, and forms of writing, I will highlight here a few that I found interesting because I think they are easily applicable to the "software engineer" or writing a blog like this one.

Reduce clutter

When I think about clutter, the first thing that comes to my mind is local politicians. They often overuse certain words and phrases and talk too much without saying anything. This, of course, should be avoided. The book's author mentioned above compares clutter to weeds, constantly integrating into speech and writing. Go over your written sentences. Is anything creating clutter? Could you remove it?
This is also important when writing documentation for a product or a feature. If it's concise and easily understandable, it's considered good if you can quickly find the answer to your question.


This is the essence of writing well; it's intuitive and natural. It's a process. Not even professional writers get the sentence the "right way" for the first time. They rewrite, fiddle with it, and sentences evolve with every rewrite.

Writing is like a good watch—it should run smoothly and have no extra parts

Sequential storytelling

This is specifically important for "technical writing." Why? Because often you are explaining some concept or process to the audience. It forced you to make sure how it works so you can guide your audience to the same sequence of ideas and deductions that helped you to make the process clear.

It's the principle of leading readers who know nothing, step by step, to a grasp of subjects they didn't think they had an aptitude for or were afraid they were too dumb to understand.

The audience

In short, you are writing for yourself. Don't get intimidated by some large audience that will read your piece and criticize you.
That is not to say your writing shouldn't have structure and you shouldn't care,
on the contrary. There is no excuse if your reader is lost in the middle of the writing.
The first is a matter of style, and expressing who you are, the second is a matter of craft.

Never say anything in writing that you wouldn't comfortably say in conversation.

Another thing I often hear from others, or even myself, "No one will be reading this; no one cares about this." But that doesn't matter. Even if no one will, you will. For example, I often go back to some older blog posts because I've written some details that come in handy. Or they are simply a reminder about the interests I had and the learning I did.

Writing is not a contest.

In high school and college, I always feared that someone else would write better than I would if I wrote about something. This is nonsense. Writing is not a contest, and everyone should go at their own pace; the only one you are competing with is yourself.

This book has many other useful pieces of advice, and I recommend you take a look.
After all, one must read a lot to be better at writing.

Make a habit of reading what is being written today and what has been written by earlier masters. Writing is learned by imitation. If anyone asked me how I learned to write, I'd say I learned by reading the men and women who were doing the kind of writing I wanted to do and trying to figure out how they did it.