I’ve received a lot of positive feedback for my “About Me” section’s writing style. Since then, a few people have asked me about my writing process and approach. I would not consider myself to be a professional (or even amateur) writer. The goal of this article is just to outline my thought process around writing. This is broadly applicable to most forms of writing.
Before I write, I imagine myself talking about the subject.
- Where am I?
- Who am I speaking to?
- What is my goal?
For example, when I wrote my about page, I imagined myself at a professional happy hour event (the where). I am probably mingling in small groups with those in my field or adjacent. These people could be college students, a junior engineer, or a high level VP (the who). Then I ask myself,
What do I want these people to remember about me? (the what)
This process is one that takes refinement. I started with what I didn’t particularly care to showcase: achievements, awards, and expertise. These attributes are hopefully already well defined on my resume and LinkedIn profile. I wanted to convey who I am as a person, or more accurately, who I believe I am as a person.
I make this distinction because past events in your life will never change, but how you feel about them will change. When I was writing my college application essay, “the whole monk thing” was a way bigger deal to me. I went into great detail about how that experience shaped me. In my current about section, I spend a lot of time emphasizing how “hunger to provide” shaped me. In a few years when I’m doing something ~awesome~, this particular job hunting experience will probably fade from memory, to be replaced by new life changing experiences.
As you write and craft your narrative, it’s important to remember your story is always evolving. Your writing skill can only carry you as far as your own perspective.
The art of the story is a crafted with a pen and mirror.
While I write, I try not to erase anything before completing the thought. It is important to get all of your thoughts out first and refine later. I also continue to speak all of my writing out loud. If I wouldn’t say it, I don’t write it.
When I finish a thought from the speaker perspective, I read the writing out loud from the listener perspective. I want to put myself in the shoes of a person who has to listen to me drone on. As I measure myself against the goals of my writing, I’ll also consider stylistic choices:
- Am I being intentional with my word choice? My sentence structure?
- What do I want the mood to be?
For example, even as I’m writing this, I made some stylistic choices. My first draft said “…I try not to backspace anything…“. In this version, I changed the word “backspace” to “erase”. This is an intentional choice. I wanted to convey that deleting your words mid-sentence is akin to interruption. Visually, someone running an eraser straight through the middle of a sketch. Be intentional with your words and structure.
Mood is another consideration I make. Mood is independent of content and audience. Take the professional happy hour scenario again. I could be talking to the exact same people about the exact same thing, but I could be doing it with the glow of hope or with a grim shadow. The way to express mood is often subtle. My suggestion is to know the mood you’d like to express, obtain that mood, then write.
After I write, I save and walk away. I stop thinking about the writing completely. I like to give myself somewhere between 30 mins to overnight before looking at the writing again. When I return, I re-imagine my where/who/what and read out loud from the beginning. It is important to be both the speaker and the listener. If it’s difficult for you to imagine yourself simultaneously as both, read it separately from each perspective.
- As a speaker, did I communicate my goal?
- As a listener, do I understand what the goal was?
The reason it is important to evaluate from both perspectives is because intent needs to match impact. For example, let’s say I spent a lot of time elaborating on the difficulty of the Distributed Systems course I took in college before claiming my success. Here’s the hypothetical result:
Intent: I want to show that I knew very little about computer science and was in over my head.
Impact: Reader thinks I was clearly naturally talented all along.
The impact does not match the intent. I have to understand, from the listener perspective, what the impact is before I can match it to the intent.
- Know your goals
- Be intentional
- Read it out loud