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Unlocking the Secrets to Success - How to Thrive as a Technical Writer and Earn a Living

Unlocking the Secrets to Success - How to Thrive as a Technical Writer and Earn a Living

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Andrew Baisden
ยทMar 8, 2023ยท

15 min read

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I have been doing technical writing since 2020 and during that period I have written paid articles for numerous companies and have made a very good side income from it. I frequently have companies reaching out to me on social media and via emails which is a great bonus because it means that I rarely need to cold approach anyone. I started writing because I wanted to be seen as an active contributor in the tech industry to boost my job prospects. It was also a good way to document my learning and create tutorials that I could use for my own personal reference. Building an audience and turning it into an income stream was never my goal that was a welcome surprise. So go into it with a free and open mentality and just let it happen naturally.

Technical writing is a lucrative and rewarding career path that offers numerous opportunities to work with cutting-edge technologies and make a difference in various industries. Whether you're interested in software documentation, hardware manuals, technical reports, or scientific publications, there's always a demand for skilled writers who can convey complex information clearly and concisely.

However, becoming a successful technical writer requires more than just good writing skills. You need to have a deep understanding of your subject matter, be able to collaborate effectively with subject matter experts (SMEs) and stakeholders, stay up-to-date with industry trends and best practices, and master various tools and technologies that are essential for creating high-quality documentation.

In this article, we'll explore some proven strategies for how to be a successful technical writer and make money. We'll cover everything from honing your writing skills to building your personal brand, networking with peers and clients, leveraging online platforms and resources, and diversifying your income streams. So whether you're just starting out in the field or looking to take your career to the next level, read on. I will break it down into 9 steps.

  • Step 1: Choose your writing tools

  • Step 2: The power of AI

  • Step 3: Banner design

  • Step 4: Create writer's accounts

  • Step 5: Start posting articles ASAP

  • Step 6: The importance of engagement

  • Step 7: Social Media Outreach

  • Step 8: Data and stats tracking

  • Step 9: Finding paying clients

Step 1: Choose your writing tools

Before you even start your writing journey you need to have your writing stack set up. At the moment I am using a few core tools which I will list below as well as their use case so you can get an idea of the tools that you could be used as well.

Grammarly

Use Grammarly for spelling, grammar, punctuation, clarity, and writing style. It will make your articles professional from day one.

Obsidian

Choose a good writing tool for your articles. Personally, I use Obsidian because writing articles in Markdown makes it easy to post them on different platforms. I do sometimes use Google Docs because some clients prefer it to be in a word document format. I would then use the Code Blocks syntax highlighting extension for Google Docs so that I can add code to my Google Docs articles.

When it comes to sharing articles with the client especially if it is in Markdown format I have been using HackMD and Dropbox Paper.

Notion

I use Notion for managing all of the content for my articles and creating a content calendar. This is where I track article progress, take notes and do everything else article related. If you wanted to you could use Notion for writing your articles, I just prefer the writing experience in Obsidian and the fact that I can have the raw markdown files on my local computer.

It is extremely important that you have a content calendar. A content calendar is important because it allows you to plan out your content in advance, ensuring that you have a consistent and cohesive message across all of your platforms. It also helps you stay organised and on track with your goals, as well as allows you to schedule posts at optimal times for maximum engagement. By having a content calendar, you can save time and energy while still producing high-quality content that resonates with your audience.

With a content calendar, you can make notes on trending and upcoming topics and figure out which articles to prioritise. I created my own custom content calendar in Notion you can easily do a google search for content calendars and you will find templates for Notion, ClickUp etc... Or you can create your own custom one.

Step 2: The power of AI

Utilise AI tools because they can help you to generate content which can improve your articles even more. Combine them with your own original content to make infinite content. These are a few tools of course the list is endless I wrote an article 51 AI tools you should be using for life, programming, content creation and everything else so you can find even more.

Writing original content is still the best route to take however these copywriting AI tools can be a good introduction especially if you are not a naturally gifted writer and still a beginner. Its quite possible to develop your own writing style over time though which is what I did back when these AI writing tools were not that popular or well known. So understand that they are fundamentally tools and the best writers are capable of creating their own personal, custom original content. This is important if you want to stand out from the crowd on your own. As a writer I believe that Grammarly makes you the most natural writer because it is doing the spelling, grammar, punctuation, and clarity, which enhances your own written content.

Midjourney

Recently I have been using Midjourney for creating custom artwork for some of my articles. These AI tools can generate anything you ask for so you no longer need to spend hours designing some creative unless you want to of course.

Jasper.ai

AI tools like Jasper are great for copywriting, coming up with topic ideas, headlines and so much more. They will make your writing experience more enjoyable and you will never run out of ideas for articles.

Copy.ai

Copy.ai is very similar to Jasper they are both amazing when it comes to doing copywriting and are going to improve your article's content even more. Both tools are optional of course you can easily write articles without them but it's good to know that they are going to be there when you need them.

ChatGPT

ChatGPT needs no introduction we are all well aware of what it is capable of. It is like having your own copywriting, marketing and advertising team.

Step 3: Banner design

A good banner design can increase the number of views on an article and really sell it which is why it's important to work hard on having a design that compliments your writing. People are more likely to click on your article if there is a beautiful creative.

Figma

My preference has been to use Figma for the majority of my banner development. You can work with all kinds of design assets, especially SVG files which scale without degrading so you can have high-quality artwork. Canva is another great alternative if that is your preference.

Photoshop

Sometimes assets need superior photo editing and that is where Photoshop comes in.

Step 4: Create writer's accounts

The top 3 GOATS (greatest of all time) and most well-known FREE tech writing platforms are DEV, Hashnode and Medium so sign up and create accounts on all of them. You are going to be building your audience across all 3 because let's be honest not everyone has an account on all of them but they might have an account on at least one of them. You have just boosted your chances that people are going to see your articles on at least one platform. Cross-post your content to grow an audience across all 3 and see where you are getting the most engagement.

Take a look at the trending topics for each hashtag on Hashnode and DEV and write as many articles as you can on them. Staying relevant and up-to-date will get you more views. Now follow the top authors on Hashnode and DEV so you are always up to date on the best articles which will help when you start to write your own.

On DEV you can filter by relevant, latest, top, week, month, year and infinity. This will make it easy to find the trending articles and the ones with the most engagement. Use it as a learning experience to see what the most popular authors are talking about, their writing style etc... With this information eventually you will develop your own style of writing. You can also search by tags to see the topics with the most posts so you will know which topics are the most high engagement.

https://res.cloudinary.com/d74fh3kw/image/upload/v1678122782/dev-platform_o7pxsc.jpg

Hashnode lets you explore various blogs and trending topics and hashtags. With all of this information, it's easy to find what people are most interested in and talking about and the most popular writers can be filtered by week and month so it's never been easier to see who you should be following.

https://res.cloudinary.com/d74fh3kw/image/upload/v1678123128/hashnode-platform_wj51s5.jpg

The Medium platform can be a little bit more difficult to break into because they have all writing content on there and not just programming related. It is possible to get noticed though and grow a following. I have found that if you join publications then your article gets 10X more visibility. That's because some of these publications can get millions of views in a month which means a lot of people will see your articles.

https://res.cloudinary.com/d74fh3kw/image/upload/v1678124093/medium-platform_s0sjy2.jpg

Step 5: Start posting articles ASAP

Post articles daily for at least 30 - 90 days to build consistency. When you keep showing up then people will notice you more this is the first step to becoming established. Use as many hashtags as you can for your articles when you are getting ready to post them. Assign relevant hashtags and ideally the most popular ones like JavaScript, React, Python, webdev, beginners etc...

I tried to post daily for as long as possible when I started because I was determined to pick up as many of those writing badges as possible from DEV and Hashnode. These badges give you even more writing credibility. Check out mine here.

These are on my DEV profile.

https://res.cloudinary.com/d74fh3kw/image/upload/v1678124673/dev-badges_k2nc6a.jpg

These are on my Hashnode profile.

https://res.cloudinary.com/d74fh3kw/image/upload/v1678124675/hashnode-badges_n0bubh.jpg

There are many types of articles that you can write. The two most popular types would be tutorials and listicles. Tutorials are where you essentially walk the reader through the process of learning something with lots of code examples and possibly even an application that you could build together. A good example of this is an article I wrote called The Complete Modern React Developer 2022. Listicles are basically resources like for example my article 51 AI tools you should be using for life, programming, content creation and everything else.

Articles on developer stories and learning experiences tend to perform well too especially those about non-tech people finally getting a job in tech. Every article you write will build your reputation as a writer even more and it's these articles that are eventually going to get you, clients. That's why it's important to have a strong profile and even better if you have articles with hundreds and thousands of engagements.

Your strength comes from your niche and your own technology stack. So write about the topics which are most familiar to you. Of course, you should be learning new things and when you do make sure to write about them as well.

To help you get started I have an article 100 blog topic ideas for your next article - No more writers block.

Step 6: The importance of engagement

Engage with EVERYONE's content on the blogs. Just like Twitter, you need to engage with other people's content too so they do the same. Engaging with your audience is important for a writer for several reasons:

  1. Building a readership: Building a following of devoted readers who are interested in your work requires interaction with your audience. This can result in more people visiting your blog or website or buying your products if you have any.

  2. Feedback and critique: Connecting with your audience can yield insightful criticism and feedback on your work. Readers' opinions and ideas can help you write more effectively because you may not have thought of them yourself.

  3. Creating a community: Building a sense of community around your work can be facilitated by engaging with your audience. Discussions, arguments, and the sharing of ideas that result from this can be gratifying for both you and your readers.

  4. Promoting your work: Promoting your work can be accomplished through engaging with your audience. Readers are more inclined to recommend your writing to others when they identify with you and feel invested in what you have to say.

In other words, interacting with your audience can help you gain a dedicated readership, develop your writing, establish a sense of community, and market your work. I have over 3k+ comments on the DEV platform because I like to engage with other writers especially the new starters so they feel welcome in the community. If you take a look at a lot of writers' profiles not everyone invests the time in responding to their audience and seeking out other writers. Some might have a lot of articles but often times they rarely engage with their own audience.

https://res.cloudinary.com/d74fh3kw/image/upload/v1678126287/dev-comments_ismrr6.png

Step 7: Social Media Outreach

Posting your content on social media can help you reach a wider audience, build a following, engage with readers, promote your work, and establish your brand. It is an important tool for modern writers to connect with their audience and grow their readership. Social media platforms have millions of users, and posting your content on these platforms can help you reach a wider audience than you might reach through other means.

It also allows writers to engage with their readers in real time, responding to comments and questions and building a sense of community around their work. It is an easy and cost-effective way to promote your writing to a large audience. You can share links to your blog, announce new releases or upcoming articles, and share excerpts or teasers from your work.

With the help of social media, writers can establish their brand and build a personal brand identity that can help them stand out in a crowded market. I tend to post only one variant of my articles on social media to avoid them looking spammy. So decide if you will post the DEV, Hashnode or Medium version. You could even alternate it does not always have to be from the same platform.

If it is Twitter then sometimes if your article is high value then other people might repost your article too. This will again boost your engagement. The best engagement happens when a big account or the official DEV and Hashnode Twitter accounts tweet out your article. You can gain even more engagement by liking and retweeting it which increases the likelihood that it goes viral. This has worked for me many times. Having your article get picked up by daily.dev has a similar result too! I have had articles show up and be promoted on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and daily.dev.

Step 8: Data and stats tracking

Keep track of all of your stats and do it weekly or monthly. So track follower growth, views, likes etc... All of this data will motivate you and help you to write better content.

DEV, Hashnode and Medium all have stat tracking in their dashboards so it's pretty straightforward to see all of this data.

Tracking stats and data for your articles is important for quite a few reasons:

  1. Measure performance: You will assess how well your articles are performing by tracking statistics and data. You may view the number of readers, average time spent on your site, and top-performing articles for each article.

  2. Identify trends: You can spot trends in your readership by tracking metrics and data. You may develop more material that appeals to your audience's interests and needs by observing the themes that are popular with them.

  3. Improve SEO: You might enhance your search engine optimisation by keeping track of statistics and data (SEO). You may target specific keywords in your content and raise your search engine rating by researching the keywords that are bringing visitors to your website.

  4. Optimise content: You should tailor your material to your audience by monitoring statistics and analytics. You can determine the kind of material that appeals to your audience and produce more of it by looking at which pieces are performing the best.

  5. Identify areas for improvement: You can find opportunities for improvement by keeping statistics and data about your performance. For instance, you might need to work on making your material more readable or mobile-friendly if you see that people are leaving your site after just a few seconds. And this is important if you have your own blog or if you're using a developer API to put your Hashnode or DEV blog on your website.

In essence, tracking statistics and data for your articles is crucial for gauging success, spotting patterns, enhancing SEO, content optimisation, and pinpointing problem areas. You can produce material this way that connects with your audience, raises your search engine ranking and expands your readership.

Step 9: Finding paying clients

It's going to take some time but eventually, you should have a fairly strong writer's profile which is going to help you to get clients and paid work. At this point, you could even apply to be a writer at freeCodeCamp which will further boost your writer profile, but in my opinion, you should only do it after you have at least 10+ good tutorial-based articles to your name and a decent following on social media and on your blogs.

Olubisi Idris Ayinde put together a great article called Get Paid to Write for These 45+ Websiteswhich is a good starting point for finding some companies that offer paid technical writing roles. You can also search on any job board to find all kinds of content and technical writing roles.

Final thoughts

This article provided valuable insights and practical advice for those looking to pursue a career in technical writing. By emphasising the importance of developing a strong foundation of industry-specific knowledge, staying up to date with technology and trends, networking, and building a diverse skill set, the article provides a roadmap for success in this rewarding field.

With dedication, persistence, and a commitment to ongoing learning and growth, aspiring technical writers can position themselves for a fulfilling career and a stable income in this dynamic and exciting industry.

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