Establishing a Writing and Publishing Habit
I've written off and on for ages, and it always seems to fizzle, never fully developing into a hard and fast habit. As I write this, I've been writing daily for 270 days straight. I think I've finally found the right approach for me. It may or may not work for everyone, but I wanted to share my thoughts on what is working for me now so it might benefit others.
This might seem obvious to a lot of folks but consistency is key in building a habit. I used to get excited by an idea or a plan that involved regularly publishing content and I would go with that motivation. Then the motivation would fade and I'd stop writing.
Motivation is fleeting, you can't rely on it to be there when you need it. The solution to this is to focus on discipline rather than motivation. I set out to write something every day.
Do I write something good every day? Hell no!
Some days I literally go through the motions. I open up my daily note and write something just to check off the box. Some days, I work on bits and pieces of content. Some days I write about how I'm feeling and what is on my agenda for the day or I do a random brain dump to clear my head. Some of this writing is useful but not publishable, some ends up being words I can publish, and some days I'm just typing to keep the streak alive.
It's okay for the quality and quantity of the writing to ebb and flow, just don't skip days. Some of my days start off with going through the motions and then something shakes loose and I find myself writing in a far more productive way than I anticipated. Some days, I meet my own low expectations and that's okay too.
One of the keys to making this happen is trying to remove distractions. I try to do my writing in the morning before my family is awake. If I don't get to it early enough, I've also established that this is a thing I need to do every day and that I need some time and space to get it done. They have been very supportive and understanding about my need to focus on this, even on the weekends.
The tools you use are a major factor in how much friction you content with. I’ve written recently about my love for Obsidian. Using simple but powerful tools is key.
You want tools that are easy to use, and just powerful enough to help you without becoming the focus of your time. Tools with too many bells and whistles are not the best. Those are the tools where instead of using them, you end up endlessly configuring them. Maybe your middle ground tool is something else, it just happens to be Obsidian for me.
If you haven't read Just F#*!ing Ship by Amy Hoy, you really should! This book was the thing that finally pushed me from "I want to get into screen casting but I have a bunch of excuses for why I'm not ready" to publishing some YouTube videos and eventually to becoming an egghead.io instructor. It applies here as well, if you want to write, do it!
Feeling like you'll be judged, called out for mistakes, etc. is normal, but as paralyzing as they may feel, they are all overblown concerns.
If you don't share anything, you won't have an audience to judge you. If you're just getting started, you likely don't have an audience right now. What’s the harm in putting your stuff out there when nobody will see it yet?
Most people want you to succeed and appreciate the effort you put in. The internet seems really shitty at times (and it certainly can be), but there are far more people who will support you, even if they aren't as loud as the shitty ones. I've had more people point out typos and mistakes in a helpful way than I've had negative. These are people who were engaged enough to catch a mistake and willing to take the time to help you out. These are the people to focus on!
As for the people who just want to prove they're smarter than you and don't want you to succeed? Fuck 'em! They're not your audience, they're not on your side and they're not worth your time or energy. Negative feedback will happen eventually (but hey, that means you have people who are paying attention) and you just need to remember that you're not writing for them.
In the past, I've written and published in one of two modes. In lackluster, "guy with a blog" mode, I have a blog and I publish something once a year or less 😬. In writing machine mode, I get really motivated and publish a handful of posts in a short time period and then I get distracted, busy, and it just fizzles.
I finally found a sweet spot where I don’t pressure myself or stress out about publishing and I don't agonize over making things "perfect". I write every day, but publish once a week. Not everything I write will be published. Not everything I publish will be the greatest thing I've ever written. That's okay! I have multiple future articles in the works and chip away at them as new thoughts pop into my head. If I have to miss a week, it’s not the end of the world and I’m not going to beat myself up about it.
I've set myself up with plenty of opportunity to make slow, steady progress. I keep a maintainable schedule for publishing, and allowing myself the room to slip. I have calmed the inner critic enough that I publish and share more freely. By doing all of this, I have made writing a sustainable habit and I publish far more consistently than ever before. All of this without creating any undue stress for myself.
Some days, it can be hard to figure out what to write about. This comes in two very different forms for me. There is the issue of too many things flying around in my head where I can’t focus on any one thing. Then there are times where I draw a blank.
When there are too many ideas in my head, I do my best to capture a bunch of things with quick notes to get them captured. I will create a note for each major idea, throw some bullet points in the file and then create a note for the next major idea. Some days, this is what my “writing” looks like. Now I can go back into each when my mind is a bit calmer to expand on the ideas and formulate coherent thoughts from my mishmash of bullet points.
These partial notes are there for me on days where I draw a blank, so I will open one that seems interesting and try to expand on it. In this way, I’m never fully lacking for subjects and I can build up to an article over time.
These tips are based on a lot of trial and error over many years. What works for me might not work for you so take the ideas that make sense, discard anything that doesn’t and add in things that do work for you. If you want to share your thoughts and it hasn’t worked for you in the past you just need to adjust your approach, tools, and maybe your mindset and eventually you’ll settle into something that works for you.
If any of these tips end up helping you publish, I’d love to read whatever you end up creating. Shoot me a link with the twitter link below 🙂.