Looking back

Almost there. Just one more post after today and that will be the end for the 30-Day Learning Challenge. in which I commited to writing a post on this blog for every day of the month June. Unfortunately, I did miss one day because I was sick, but I have managed to write something all other days. Here are the takeaways for me: 

Writing something is easy.

But, writing something good is hard. Yesterday's post was obviously done quickly. But, posts like "How losing €53k made me happy" and "How to become a serial killer" have taken a lot more time to write.

Having to write can be a big struggle as opposed to writing when you feel like it

There were days that it turned out to be very hard to write something decent. Even though I felt like writing, cleared out some time in the day to sit down and do it, it just would not come to me. Somewhere in week 1 this happened for the first time and that is when I started keeping notes/draft posts whenever I did get an idea but was not able to start writing about it. Having a list of ideas present to go back to, really helped to jumpstart a post on some days. 

Writing is a really general term. Writing tutorials, fiction, or other stories are all very different activities.

It may come as no surprise to those who have been writing for a while, but to me writing was always writing. Just writing. But, during this month I found out that there are big differences when writing different kinds of things. Writing fiction was very hard when I figured I "had to write fiction". But, once I had an idea, my fingers just touched the keyboard and it all just came out. Writing a tutorial-like post, was much more methodical. There is a subject to write about, now just go do it. A lot less creativity. No, thats not the right way to say it: it is just another way of writing. But to me it meant less creative, as you write about facts and things that are already existing. Also, no opinion is required most of the time which made the writing process easier for me.

Whatever was written, it can always be improved

Not one post was completely 'perfect' in my mind. No matter how happy I was with it, or how much time was put in, everytime I read one back, I find something that could be improved. A sentence that ccan be rewritten, shorter, wittier, better. The reason for that is two-fold I think. First: When IO write something, you dive deep into it. Losing sight of the bigger picture. Once you zoom out, you can reread it and find things to improve. Secondly, I'd like to think my writing slowly improves over time, meaning that there should be some things to improve on older posts. The lesson I learned here is that at some point you should just hit the 'publish' button, knowing that it is good enough. Just get it out there and if something really bothers you later, you can always go back to change it. 

Writing has turned into a love/hate activity

This is closely related to the second point. Writing felt very liberating whenever I had the luxury to spend some time on it, an idea on what to write about and the quiet environment required. Those moments where great and to be honest in the first two weeks, I wrote a lot more than what was published here, but it was an amazing trip to be on. When writing had to be rushed between dinner and an appointment or at times I woke up earlier to write, or string together something over a few days, in lunchbreaks, and before going to bed, it was not much fun and felt like a chore. I find that especially the quiet time and focus was of great influence on how much I enjoyed writing. 

Could not get into a ritual for writing

In various places have I read that it is best to have a fixed moment in the day to do all writing acitivities. Unfortunately, that has not worked out so well for me. There are a few occassions where I set the alarm earlier than normal, to get out of bed and write. And I did once or twice, but more often then not was that time lost in the startup ritual of the rest of the family. Or I would hit the snooze button and continue sleeping for a bit. During lunchbreaks or after work was not great because at work I cannot focus on much else than that, plus I have a habit to take a walk, which I did not want to give up. After work worked one day, but didn't the next. We all come home, sometimes we need to rush a bit because of one of us needs to go out again quickly and we want to eat together. That stuff. ALthough I did manage to find time here and there, I was unable to get it into a ritual or habit. 

Not having a ritual made it sometimes a challenge to get something finished in time. Usually I would be ahead one day, so I have written today's post already, but need to start on tomorrow's post. But, between work, family and hobbies, I underestimated the effort it would take to write something every day. Having said that, the fact that I made the commitment to myself, and the accountability I felt because I would publish a post every day (as opposed to 'just' writing something for myself) have made me stick to it and actually write. That is a lesson I need to keep in mind for future habit changes: go public with your change, or find somebody who will keep you accountable. This maybe your partner/spouse/husband/wife, but is not required. Your relationship with him or her may not be one where he or she will point out that you haven't written anything yet. So, for you it may be a friend, co-worker, or someone else entirely.

Writing is a great tool for self-reflection The true value in this writing exercise was not the fact that I wrote something on this blog everyday. It was in the self-reflection. I am not sure why it works the way it does, but as you write about something, your thoughts will show themselves to you. I know this sounds like I have smoked some strange substance, but it is true. This was especially true for the 'non tutorial' posts. Somehow, it brings clarity in my head and I need to consciously make decisions about those thoughts. Should I put them on paper or not, what words to use. How do I feel about this, that and the other thing? It is a great way to explore your own mind.

These past 4+ weeks have not made me a great writer. But, it has made me realize that it is something that you can learn. And one of the best ways to learn is to read what others have written. Now that i have a very limited experience in writing, I start to notice how other people write and what I like or dislike about it. That eventually will find its way into my writing as well.

Views and statistics suck

Every blog has a way to gather statistics about the amount of visitors your blog gets. In my case I can see a lot about the amount and origin of visitors to this site. Since I have announced several posts on LinkedIn and Twitter, I see increased traffic after the post was announced on those networks. The problem for me came when the post "How losing €53k made me happy" got more attention than the posts before (and since). All posts after that caused me to think about ways to actually top that amount of visitors I had that day. Completely impossible and unreasonable. No athlete will improve on his personal best everytime he practises or performs. But, that fact that it is easy to get insight made for a mind-numbing pressure to write something as popular or better again later. Eventually it wore off enough that it did not bother me anymore, but I am very aware of the (un)success of most posts. 

Listen to your gut

 

Finally, whenever I had a hunch, or a gut feeling about what direction a posts should go, it was always a good idea to follow that feeling. Some posts just pop up and are then easily and quickly typed. Those occassions are pretty rare though. Most of the time a post required very deliberate construction. So, whenever I do have a gut feeling again, I will allow myself to explore the idea. 

Tomorrow will be the last post in this series. One more night will I spend thinking about what to write and how to write it.