Becoming a full-stack writer

You say you’re a writer? Good for you. But if you really want to be valued (and paid more), you need to constantly increase your versatility. You need to be a full-stack writer.

Full-stack developers are valuable

A full-stack application developer is one who is adept at all elements of creating software, including both front-end (that is, user-facing) elements and back-end (server) portions. Such a developer would have to master multiple programming languages and know about topics like usability design, code efficiency, and interactions between client and server portions of code.

Full-stack developers are in great demand because they can solve all sorts of problems — and because they can foresee and diagnose interactions between different elements of code. They don’t need to involve multiple people to get the problem solved.

What does it mean to be a full-stack writer?

Most nonfiction writers would tell you that they’re successful because they can assemble multiple ideas into a consistent argument. They can conceive something and then write about it in an effective way.

But saying this is your skill as a writer is like saying “coding” is your skill as a developer. It’s limiting. On many writing projects, if this is all you can do, you’ll need to involve other people. And that makes you less valuable.

What skills could you add to become more versatile? Here’s a potential list:

  • Developing ideas
  • Doing research effectively (not just picking the first thing that comes up in a Google search)
  • Writing good material extremely quickly
  • Writing steadily regardless of your emotional state (excited, agitated, or depressed, for example)
  • Working on multiple writing projects at once
  • Developing a great memory for ideas
  • Effectively editing your own writing (self-editing)
  • Writing narratives (case studies and other stories)
  • Writing ironclad logical arguments
  • Metaphors
  • Humorous writing
  • Writing about technical topics (the more topics you can master, the more versatile you are)
  • Collaborating with other writers
  • Editing other writers
  • Writing in other people’s voices — ghostwriting
  • Copy editing and proofreading
  • Writing in new formats (for example, press releases, research reports, web content, newsletters, blog posts, documentation, marketing emails, or academic papers)
  • Search engine optimization
  • Creating effective graphics
  • Graphic design, page design, or web design
  • Presentation design
  • Presenting what you write in public — giving talks
  • Writing books
  • Indexing
  • Marketing your own capabilities effectively
  • Working with the aid of large language model generative AI

I’m not saying you have to master all of that. Nobody could be good at all those skills at once.

I’m saying that given the chance, you should eagerly find ways to expand your writing skill set with skills like this. A writer with aspirations to be full-stack will take every possible chance to learn. If you know environmental science, learn physics and politics. If you know Google Docs and Microsoft Word, learn Scrivener and ChatGPT prompting. If you can write a research report, learn what it would take to write a book.

My entire career has been a long exercise in learning about different topics, different tools, different formats, and different skills. I’ve edited memoirs, books for financial advisors, and papers about the energy industry. I’ve written blog posts, research reports, software documentation, books, and marketing copy. I’m as close to a full-stack writer as I can get . . . and now, in my 60s, I’m still learning.

This makes me valuable to clients who need a lot of different skills.

It makes me better able to get different kinds of work when the market is soft.

But most importantly, it is way more fun that just doing the same thing over and over.

What are you doing to add to your stack of skills?

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One Comment

  1. Hi Josh

    This comment has nothing to do with today’s post but I didn’t know of any other way to write to you.

    Since you switched over from WOBS to your new blog name something has bothered me about it. Today it finally hit me. I don’t like reading text in the new font you’re using.

    I’ve read for years that sans serif fonts are considered more readable online than serif fonts. And, for me at least, I find it to be true wrt your new blog versus your old one.

    Text in your new font is just harder for me to grasp easily; there seems to be too much going on. I know this is a vague description but I don’t know how to describe my problem any better.

    As a test I copied a paragraph from one of your posts and pasted it into a Google Docs document using both Ariel and Merriweather. Adjusting the font size so that characters in both paragraphs were of equal visual size, I found the Ariel much easier to read.

    I know you must’ve had a good reason to change fonts, but I hope you might take another look at this issue. I wonder if other faithful readers have opinions on this change or have even noticed it.

    Regardless of the font you use I will continue to read every one of your posts. It’s a highlight of my day.

    Thanks for what you do so well.