I don’t blog consistently, and I’m still struggling to find my voice. I find writing difficult for many reasons, especially when it comes to identifying topics worth writing about. I want to bring a combination of passion, expertise, and a fresh perspective into a topic – which makes finding a theme to cover challenging. To top it all off, English is my third language. Getting the content to flow well is difficult, and I don’t always have the ear for it.

In contrast, I find it straightforward to write once I know what to write about. In part due to the volume of writing I have to do for work: as a technical lead at Google I routinely use extensive design documents to communicate my ideas. I also wrote a book once.

I found a set of techniques that work well for me. I don’t know if these techniques help me write higher quality material – you’ll be the judge of that. But these techniques help me express ideas from my head and onto paper. Hopefully in a digestible and entertaining format.

I never took journalism 101. Like with many things in live, I found my own way of doing things: why take an easy path, when a difficult one could work just as well?

I break down writing process into a set of distinct steps. I start with some preliminary research, write an outline, do my in-depth research, write a wine draft, turn that into a coffee draft, and finally proofread the result. I try to take breaks and get some distance from whatever I’m working on in between these steps.

Preliminary research

This is a step zero, although it might not apply to everything I write about. This is a breadth-first, “open as many tabs as computer can handle” type of research. There’s no in-depth reading at this point, and only high level information is consumed.

I picked up this approach from my wife, who is an indisputable queen of online research. I find it tempting to dig into the first source I find. Stopping myself from digging too deep helps me understand the information landscape.

For instance, when writing about financial independence in Cote d’Ivoire (a topic I know nothing about) my preliminary research consisted of: a brief review of country’s history, a list of major geopolitical events, investment landscape, and identifying trustworthy sources which could tell me more about currency stability or tax situation.

I’ve also looked for existing sources on the subject, but there wasn’t any.


This post started with an outline. An outline is crucial to pacing and identifying areas of focus. Chapter summaries in a book, outlining headings in technical documents, or putting together a bulleted list for a blog post – you name it.

Outline only needs to make sense to you, and you don’t have to use complete sentences. I started with the following outline for this post:

  • I write a lot
    • Quantity doesn’t mean quality
    • I don’t publish most things I write
    • A lot of practice with technical docs
  • Outline
  • Wine draft
  • Coffee draft

An outline is not final, and it evolves as I write. For instance, by the time I wrote the bulk of this post, an outline evolved – something was removed, and a whole lot of things were added:

  • I write a lot
    • Double down on how bad I am at writing
      • Quantity doesn’t mean quality
    • I don’t publish most things I write
    • A lot of practice with technical docs
  • Preliminary research
  • Write an outline (you’re here now!)
  • In-depth research
  • Write wine draft
  • Write coffee draft
  • Proofread the result

I like to keep an outline on the screen as I write, as it reminds me to write in context. I often jot down a brief outline when I have ideas about writing something: this way I don’t have to start from scratch when I sit down to write.

In-depth research

This is where I actually read through dozens of tabs I opened during the preliminary research. This is where I spend the most of my time for topics I don’t feel particularly comfortable with.

I make a point to time box research tasks. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole when researching a topic, and there’s always more to learn the more you understand the subject. Putting a time limit on each research topic helps me stay on track.

Wine draft

Step 4 out of 6: this is when I start writing.

I found it near impossible to write without separating creative stream of conciousness from the editing process. The “wine draft” is the first attempt at filling in the blanks. The grammar can be all wrong, and the sentences don’t always have to make sense. It’s not necessary for the content to flow or read nicely.

This is where the outline really helps, because writing top to bottom is generally very difficult. Filling in the blanks under the outline however is much easier. I often find myself jumping between different headings and writing a little bit here and there under each heading.

Prioritizing cadence during this step helps, as a stable writing rhythm helps me enter the state of flow. To stay in the flow, I have a wine draft authoring rule: no sentence-level editing. Moving paragraphs or headings around is fine, but changing sentences is generally not.

That’s the goal - get as much content out as possible, no matter how much the language rules get abused. I find it easier to edit down a boatload of content, rather than struggle to come up with the missing pieces when editing.

This is the stage when I decide if the content is not worth publishing – many of my wine drafts never see the light of day.

I find accompanying wine mandatory, but whiskey or tea works in a pinch.

Coffee draft

After the wine draft is complete, I take a break. Often couple of hours is enough to create a distance between me and the text. A coffee draft requires more focus and attention. This is when the messy draft takes shape and becomes (hopefully) readable. You tell me.

I make my way down, sentence by sentence, turning ramblings of a madman into a coherent narrative. I rearrange sentences, correct syntactic and grammatical errors, and liberally remove what doesn’t contribute to the narrative. If the wine draft is particularly incoherent, I simply rewrite each paragraph one by one.

This is when I add illustrations if need be. A coffee draft is nearly the final result, barring typos and minor mistakes.

Coffee helps here, but, unlike with a wine draft, is not required.


The final step involves good old proofreading (unless you have a proofreader: it was great having one when working with a publisher).

I try to proofread in a different software suite, or with different fonts and colors: it helps create further distance between the content and I. For instance, I write this post in Vim using Markdown, but I proofread by reading the final preview using my blog’s visual theme.

It often helps to read things out loud too: anything you can do to change up the way you perceive the text.

And finally it’s ready to be published: ta-da! This method hasn’t failed me yet, be it for writing Mastering Vim, technical design docs at Google, or blog posts like this one. Fingers crossed it’ll continue working well for me.