Last week, I finally pulled the trigger and started this blog. My goals were to write publicly so that I refine my voice, share my work, and (hopefully) help others and build an audience. I also started a corresponding Twitter page.
Cue daydreams of subscribers and Twitter followers streaming in immediately, excited to hear what I have to say.
A week later, I found myself staring at yet another half-blank page, wondering what makes me qualified to put words out there that people would want to read.
If you're reading this piece, that means I finally finished my first blog post. Here are a few things I learned in my first week of trying to be a blogger.
Writing is hard
Instead of writing, I spent a lot of time this week reading about how people developed their writing habits. James Clear put together a nice collection of daily habits of 12 famous writers that's worth checking out.
The biggest takeaway: just write. Writing well is always going to be hard. The only way to get better is to treat writing like work and build the habit of doing it whether you feel like it or not. It's so much easier not to write, especially given all the other fun things we can do to distract ourselves. It's so much easier to procrastinate.
This is how did I finally broke through:
- Recognize that writing will always be hard
- Shut myself in a room with noise canceling headphones and close all the tabs on my computer
- Set a word count goal and not stopping regardless of whether or not I thought it was going well
Publishing changes the game
It's one thing to write privately in journals, never to share with anyone else. It's something else entirely when putting work into the world that more than one person will read (hi Mom!). Every phrase feels like it carries more weight. My inner critic was constantly considering what others may think about what I have to say. Which inevitably leads to wondering what others may think about me as a person.
In his book "The Practice," Seth Godin talks about how how creativity is a skill to be developed. That skill is developed through shipping work. Here's a quote from his blog:
"Our best work happens when we contribute something new, something generous, something that makes an improvement. And making a contribution isn’t possible until we ship the work... If it doesn't ship, it doesn't count."
Essentially, writing privately is fine but publishing makes it finally count. Publishing, or shipping writing, will force the best work out of us. Sharing my work feels uncomfortable because it's a new muscle, but that's also one of the reasons why I'm starting this blog.
Share the process
Once I was committed to putting words down, there came the small issue of figuring out what to write about. Contrary to a lot of advice out there, I started this blog without a defined niche. I was concerned about running out of content or getting bored with any one niche. Being generalist is one of the main reasons why I chose a blog format versus the popular newsletter format, but it also makes it harder to choose an initial topic to focus on.
The best advice I've come across for this is "share your process." Austin Kleon sums it well in his wonderful book, "Show Your Work":
"A lot of us go about our work and feel like we have nothing to show for it at the end of the day. But whatever the nature of your work, there is an art to what you do, and there are people who would be interested in that art, if only you presented it to them in the right way. In fact, sharing your process might actually be most valuable if the products of your work aren't easily shared, if you're still in the apprentice stage of your work, if you can't just slap a portfolio and call it a day, or if your process doesn't necessarily lead to tangible finished products."
That quote perfectly defines me and the work of this blog. I'm just starting out, in the "apprentice stage." I don't have a portfolio of clips to show. The most valuable thing I have is to share what I'm doing right now and how I'm doing it. Hence, this super-meta article about starting out as a new blogger.
Perfectionism is the enemy
They say that "perfect is the enemy of good." It turns out that perfect is also the enemy of shipping creative work like writing. For the first few days, I found myself starting and stopping so many times that I had a folder full of new drafts. I was self-editing so much that I ended up with fewer words than the day before. I was nowhere close to a finish product of anything.
The trick seems to be to refrain from editing until you've finished writing, so that writing process is easily segmented into 1) write, and then 2) edit. That way, editing, which is essentially aiming for perfection, would no longer get in the way of actually writing. For this article, I simply set a word count target and promised myself not to reread anything until that goal has been hit (to be honest, I still couldn't help myself, but the intention helped).
So there you have it. Three small learnings from my first week of my new blog. Hopefully this is the first article of many. But for now, this will do just fine.
I've also started on Twitter. Please follow me there!