I’m thrilled by the recent attention and your feedback. Seeing your “Aha!” moments motivates me to write — though I’ve been neglectful lately. I’m busy, the dog ate my browser, the draft’s in the email… you know the drill. If you need an explanation fix, check out my old site from college:
It has many posts I’ll be revising and importing over time.
This post is for betterexplained newcomers and old-timers: the how and why of the site. If you like my approach, it’s a guide to writing. Otherwise it’s your own list of advice to avoid.
Find your purpose
Blogging is introspective. I’ve realized my interests after much thought:
- I like math, writing, computers, business, personal development, communication, and learning.
- I cringe when ideas are explained poorly. Jargon and complicated explanations discourage the beginner. It shows you don’t really know the material. I get upset thinking that a poor explanation may turn someone away from a field forever, and want to fix that.
- I have many beliefs about education. Insight beats memorization. Any subject (anything!) can be explained simply if you understand it well enough. Curiosity and passion are enough to conquer a subject.
I’ve always wanted to share hard-won ideas and save other people mental anguish — BetterExplained has been a nagging thought in my mind. Today it’s alive with a purpose:
To explain topics clearly, intuitively, and share the “a-ha!” moments that make learning fun. Any subject can be better explained; today it’s just me writing, but I want to catalog insights from everyone.
This vision excites me — find the one that motivates you.
Be yourself (it’s harder than you think)
Writing naturally is hard. When you put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, or stand before an audience, you stiffen. You get self conscious. You don’t act like yourself.
Fortunately this feeling disappears with practice. You stop pontificating; you explain. You don’t “write an article”; you have a conversation. You use humor, stories, and personal examples instead of abstract generalities. You write even if people won’t agree with everything you say.
Use your talents in whatever combination you can.
But if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths:
1. Become the best at one specific thing.
2. Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.
I feel my greatest talents are being curious, having enthusiasm and wanting things to be simple. I’m no expert. But I’m going to learn what I can and share it in the most intuitive way possible. Someone I admire feels similarly:
I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.
Write what you know; link what you don’t
You may not be an expert (I’m not), but you’ve collected nuggets of information and personal insights that nobody else has. Share them in your own style.
Then link to wikipedia, delicious, and the detailed articles so readers can learn the nitty gritty. Eventually you’ll learn the nitty gritty too, have your own insights, and simplify them into a new article.
Writing well is hard. Really hard. My definition means:
- Timeless content that is still relevant in a year.
- Original thought and deep insights that aren’t immediately obvious. If sharing details, organize them in a clever way.
- Fun to read. Write for people. Use humor, quotes, stories. Remember: I’m Kalid, you’re you, and we’re having a conversation. This is no textbook.
- Succinct, clear, and organized. I want to pump ideas into your head as fast as possible (I hope you don’t mind). Fewer words = faster intake = happier user.
That’s the goal, not that I always reach it.
Why write quality, not quantity? In my experience, an outstanding post trumps a dozen average ones. Top posts create traffic, links, diggs, and get people talking. You receive emails and comments which make your day and motivate you to write more, and better. Sub-par posts dilute your site and waste time.
Astound visitors with the quality of your content. Define your own quality bar and run towards it. Be merciless when revising. Don’t be afraid to fix up old posts — streamlining previous articles is good practice.
Blogging has no holy book. This is a non-fiction site about math and programming topics; a poetry blog has different goals. I don’t know your goals, so just write and push your own bar. You can be top-quality in your field.
I think I have above-average interest in math, science, simplicity, education, curiosity, and passion. The combination lead to my style and the focus of this site. I’m thrilled that others seem to like it too. Find your style; someone will like it.
Writing on a consistent schedule is hard — if you’ve mastered the secret, let me know. I have dozens of posts in various draft forms, and it seems I need a Herculean effort to go back and revise them. Some posts stream out of my head and I’m done in a few hours. Others weigh over me for days or weeks, requiring a flurry of energy to finish and clean up.
I suggest an “articles” folder to collect your thoughts, in whatever stage. Sometimes you just have a sentence or two, but it can grow into a whole post over time.
I’ve learned writing isn’t all fun, even on topics you enjoy. Editing can be painful — push yourself through.
My opinions were shaped by these authors:
- Steve Yegge
- Darren Rowse
- Paul Graham
- George Orwell’s Tips
- Elements of Style (read online) by Strunk and White
- On Writing Well by White’s mentee, William Zinsser.
Good luck in your writing. Now that you know my passions, I’m interested in what you care about. Drop me a note anytime.