Matthew Guay is a senior writer and editor on the Zapier team. He lives in Bangkok and writes app-focused content for the Zapier blog and Learning Center.
WHAT LED YOU TO START WORKING IN DIGITAL/MEDIA PUBLISHING?
Luck and desperation. I’d started my personal blog as a class project in university—hardly the most inspired start to writing. Once I’d made it, I figured I should keep the blog active, and began writing tech tutorials every now and then, documenting the standard IT problems I’d solve for family and friends. One post in particular about getting a specific HP printer to work with the 64-bit versions of Windows did quite well—and became the top Google result for that search query. That proved the value of writing on the internet—and of content that ranks well on Google.
Soon after, while looking for a job to help pay my university tuition, I saw a Tweet that Digital Inspiration was looking for writers, and began writing for that site. That led to stints at other blogs, copywriting gigs, an iOS magazine I ran for a few months, and most recently started working on the Zapier marketing team.
WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
I start my day checking email and Slack to see where teammates need help and which tasks need to be done first today. I’ll then prioritize tasks on my to-do list and typically try to do some simple tasks such as updating older posts or writing social media posts to share new content to get started for the day.
I then try to block out at least several hours in the afternoon for focused writing. And, depending on the day of the week, I’ll then work on other projects and tasks that aren’t as writing-centric.
WHAT’S YOUR WORK SETUP LOOK LIKE?
I write most of the time in iA Writer, a clean Markdown writing app, use Alfred to launch apps and expand text snippets to help me write faster and keep a paper to-do list that I update each day with what I need to do. Then on the Zapier team, we share our content in Google Docs to edit it, as its comment and collaboration features work best for us. And we organize our editorial calendar in an Airtable database, with Zapier automations to notify us about new posts and comments.
WHAT DO YOU DO OR GO TO GET INSPIRED?
Read. Reading is perhaps the most important part of writing, the counterpart to putting your own words on paper. Reading lets you see how others craft words and simplify ideas, something that typically puts me in the right mindset to write.
Longform content tends to be the best, especially a chapter of a book or an in-depth magazine article. I love detailed non-fiction pieces, and will typically be reading 2-3 books at any given time.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PIECE OF WRITING OR QUOTE?
The best quotes, so often, are ill-attributed, turning over time into cultural proverbs instead of a specific quote from one individual. One of those that comes to mind most often in my work is the following, often attributed to Mark Twain but most likely originally from Blaise Pascal—or so says the internet:
“I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” ~Blaise Pascal
Another quote that I think of more as a general lesson than the specific quote is one I read years ago in Rework, the book by the Basecamp founders:
“Instead of trying to outspend, outsell, or out sponsor competitors, try to out teach them.” ~Jason Fried and David H. Hansson, Rework
WHAT IS THE PASSIONATE PROBLEM YOU ARE TACKLING AT THE MOMENT?
Helping people find the best software for their needs. One thing I’ve learned in testing software for Zapier reviews is that the same app isn’t best for everyone. A shiny new app might fit my needs perfectly—but an older, the more corporate looking app might fit another business person’s needs better. So, in our app roundups and some new features we’re working on at Zapier, we’re trying to find new ways to help people find the perfect tool for their needs. That’s exciting.
IS THERE A PRODUCT, SOLUTION, OR TOOL THAT YOU THINK IS A GOOD MATCH FO YOUR DIGITAL PUBLISHING EFFORTS?
One tool that’s been very helpful in our publishing efforts is eBook publishing tool Leanpub. You write your content in Markdown, sync it with Dropbox, add your cover and book info in Leanpub’s app, then click Publish to turn your copy into ePub, MOBI, and PDF files that you can then release on the Kindle and iBooks stores. It’s the easiest tool we’ve found to publish eBooks, which we use as part of our content strategy to re-share blog posts as eBooks.
ANY ADVICE FOR AMBITIOUS DIGITAL PUBLISHING AND MEDIA PROFESSIONALS JUST STARTING OUT?
Write. You don’t need permission to write and publish your own content. Go start your own blog or Medium account, and write. Write about the topics that interest you, about the things you’re an expert in. Research something you wish you knew, and document what you learn. Tweak your content to improve its rankings in search results. And when you apply for freelance or full-time roles, write content to fit that publication’s audience—and share it with your application.
It takes time, but that’s the most effective way to build your portfolio, get noticed, and launch a writing career.