In 2020 I set myself the target of writing (almost) every day. Conservatively, this has produced at least 150,000 words – approaching three books’ worth.
The rule I developed was that every day I had to write at least 500 words, or for 20 minutes – whichever came first. Often I’d go for longer because I could, but sometimes I’d just be grudgingly typing near-nonsense and using the “word count” feature every few words.
The goal was to do this for 300 days of the year. Writing this today is number 327.
Almost without exception, I made this the first activity of my day – early in the morning before there could be any demands on my time. On the rare occasions where I couldn’t write early or found an excuse not to, I’d have to fit it in later – and the quality was far, far lower.
So, was it worth it?
Writing builds muscle (not literally)
I followed a running programme this year that involved running every day, but mostly slowly at a low heart rate. You wouldn’t expect this to help with shorter, fast-paced efforts like a 5k race – but it did. Something about the act of running frequently helped with fluidity, regardless of pace or effort.
It also helped eliminate the niggles and aches I previously had for the first mile or so before I was properly warmed up. After a couple of months of running every day, I could just put my shoes on and get going at a decent pace – without any complaints from my knees or hips.
Writing is similar. By writing every day, it’s become easier to just start without agonising about how to start, then get into the flow quickly. I’ve not timed it, but I’m sure my “1,000 word article” race time has come down significantly.
This is helpful, because my career involves writing but produces lots of other demands on my time that prevent me from having multi-hour blocks to sit staring at a blank screen. Now, even if I’ve only got a 15-minute gap, I’m now able to bash out something halfway decent – whereas it might have taken me a morning previously.
Writing doesn’t generate ideas
My hypothesis was that writing every day would naturally generate more ideas for what to write about. This was wrong.
Or at least, semi-wrong. I have a list of at least 50 ideas in my queue, and over the year I’ve got better at spotting thoughts throughout the day and thinking “huh, that might make for a good article”.
But then by the time I sit down to write, the inspiration has faded. I’m stuck staring at titles like “The age of the introvert” and “What to do instead of going to University”, where I pretty much know what I meant when I captured the thought but don’t feel equipped to flesh it out into a meaningful article.
There must be a solution for this, but I haven’t come up with it yet. Perhaps it’s making fuller notes when I capture the idea – such as a few possible sub-topics, or the main insight I want people to come away with.
Writing for the fun of it is…fun
The best thing about writing for this site is I really don’t care if anyone reads it, so I don’t have to write articles that are optimised for people to discover.
Most of my articles aren’t about topics that anyone would deliberately be looking for. Approximately nobody is searching for articles about why I take a photo every day or how to be right about everything. This puts me under no pressure to apply “SEO” to them, or research the best articles that already exist on those subjects so I can write something more comprehensive.
Because I’m not writing to please Google’s algorithm, I can use SEO-nightmare titles like The 100 Hour Rule and You’re an egomaniac, I’m an egomaniac – which would be a disaster for getting discovered, but do a better job of pulling people into the articles once they’ve found the site through some other means.
I’m also not trying to stay focused on a particular topic. So while productivity bloggers are dressing up “how to have a killer morning routine” for the millionth time, I’m happily skipping from parenting to veganism to dodgy downloads.
If I was a proper blogger, this is the point where I’d show you a Google Analytics screenshot of my traffic going “up and to the right”. But as we’ve established, I’m not a proper blogger: I’m focused on process rather than results.
Among the 150,000 words I’ve written this year, I’ve got one-and-a-half bad first drafts of new books written. There’s a long way to go until they’re ready for publication (if they ever are), I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to get a book sort-of written in 20 minutes per day for a year if I hadn’t tried it. I’m not pretending it’s the ideal way to write a book, but it’s possible.
I’ve also published 50 articles. Most of them are average in the extreme. There are a few I really like though, such as:
- Investing, Saving, Earning
- 3 observations from 2 years of parenthood
- How being a jack of all trades can make you master of all
- How I use Trello to stay effortlessly organised
- Why renting a home is better than owning it
- My 10 financial principles
So overall, has developing the writing habit been worthwhile? Definitely yes, and I’ll be continuing it next year – so watch this space for even more average articles and half-finished book drafts.