5 Lessons from Writing for 6 Months
Updated: Jul 6
Six months ago I began an experiment: I started my own blog and dedicated to posting an original article every week for the next three months. I had two goals in mind: (1) practice my writing; and (2) become comfortable with publicly sharing my work. I committed to three months so I could get into the flow of writing habitually. I allowed myself the option to quit after my three months were up, if I didn't want to keep up with the practice.
Instead I began to enjoy the act of writing. After the first few weeks I began to relish the process of putting my thoughts and ideas into something tangible. As right now I've written over 30 blog posts so far and I don't see myself stopping anytime soon.
In this article will be diving into the 5 lessons I've learned from writing consistently these past 6 months. If you would like to skip to the actual lessons I've learned from writing for 6 months click here.
Now you may be asking why am I publishing advice on writing? Well it's because I'm not an expert but I am a relative beginner. I currently volunteer for the animal shelter as a lead volunteer, a volunteer who handles the adoption process for animals when we're offsite at an event. A while ago I had someone shadow me to learn about pet adoptions. Later I asked our Offsite Coordinator why they put the new person with me because I've only been a lead for a few months. She said it's because new leads are the best teachers, we remember what it's like in the beginning. New lead volunteers don't have the "expertise bias" like those with more experience. As a note when they train leads they shadow a variety of volunteers from those with years of experience to new ones like me.
Usually with masters, or those who have attained a high level of skill or knowledge in a particular domain have the "curse of knowledge". They typically have trouble teaching others because don't understand why someone else isn't getting it. They have too much knowledge on the subject matter, and they don't remember what it's like being a beginner. Or you might've heard this as the "expertise bias" as explained in this article: The Expertise Bias, Why you sometimes feel that everyone is stupid except you by Nate Kornell Ph. D. Essentially once you become an expert in a subject everything that seems obvious to you may not be obvious to someone else, your bias prevents you from seeing that it's not obvious at all, to new learners. Unless you devote yourself to teaching, which is a skill itself, you will have a difficult time explaining your knowledge to others.
In this article I'm trying to negate this expertise bias, by not being an expert.
5 Lesson Series
I'm creating a new "series" on my blog called 5 Lessons from Learning (view list of my lessons so far here), where I dive into the five lessons I've learned from a skill I've been practicing for the last 6 months. I've decided to do 6 months to work on my new habit because it gives me time to get into the "groove" of the habit and it's more sustainable for my goals and lifestyles. This "5 Lessons" format, will let me synthesize my knowledge and reflect on my experiment and share with others what I've learned through trial and error.
I will occasionally include lessons from skills I've practiced for more than 6 months, similar to my post 5 Lessons from Learning About Productivity, which is a skill I've been practicing for many years. I will also be writing "beginning" or "introductory" posts before I begin my 6 month practice like I did with my creating my blog and creating my own newsletter. This will allow me to not only record my goals but I will be able to reflect on how I did.
My experiment is similar to Matt D'Avella's 1 year challenge where he committed to doing 12, 30 day experiments during 2019, as he says "an entire year filled with self development practices". The goal wasn't to have 12 new habits to stick to but to try new things and push himself to do things he hadn't done before. A few of these were: quitting sugar, taking cold showers, meditation. He talks about this in his video: 12 Habits That Changed My Life. My favorite advice is "just starting it" and not "overthinking". D'Avella notes this challenge allows himself to fail, he's trying new things and calling them "experiments" because sometimes experiments fail but that's the nature of experiments, what matters is what you learn from them.
If you would like to keep up with my journey please subscribe to my newsletter, Kelly's Bytes, where I not only share my latest blog posts but I also share bite-sized resources that week with topics like data science, writing, or self-development. You can subscribe here.
Now onto the 5 lessons.
5 Lessons from Writing:
For each lesson it is broken down into two parts: (1) how I learned the lesson; and (2) my advice to you.
Lesson 1 - Your first draft is going to suck.
I used to think when writing my article I thought the first draft had to be perfect or near perfect the first time, it had to be almost ready-to-post. By holding onto this belief I hesitated to write, I was burdened by perfectionism. I was scrambling to even finish one article a week. But after deciding to simply write and forget about perfect, I accepted my first draft was likely going to be terrible. And the only way to actually produce a decent piece is to edit. And edit frequently.
You can't expect to create the perfect piece in your first write-up. It takes time to create a finished product. Don't be stuck by the perfectionism trap, accept your first draft isn't going to be brilliant and get on writing from there. Your draft will have several edits and revisions before your final product. Don't be afraid to remove sentences, change words, or redo your work entirely.
Lesson 2 - Start off small
I've always enjoyed reading online articles, my favorite articles are ones with an estimated reading time of 5-8 minutes (or generally 1200-2200 words). When I began writing my blog posts I tried to mirror that, I wanted my posts to be just as long. But if you look back most of them are in the 3-5 minute reading range time. By aiming for this goal, I put impossible standards on myself. Standards which I couldn't live up to and I felt discouraged in the beginning since I was constantly failing to produce longer articles. After a few weeks I decided to change my goal, I instead decided my articles had to be at least 800 words or roughly 3 minutes of reading time. Once I accepted a smaller goal, I became more confident with my writing skill and over time I was able to reach 5 minutes or 1200-1500 words. But I had to start off small.
When you first start writing, understand that you may only be able to write a 300-500 word piece and that's okay. Your writing sessions might also be short. You might hear of authors writing for an hour straight or more but when you're just starting out accept that your writing, or your works will be smaller. It's more important to write consistently small pieces than write inconsistently big pieces. Start off with a smaller goal, one you can achieve easily and once you begin surpassing your goal you can increase the length of your works.
Lesson 3 - Write consistently.
As I discussed in my article, "Want to Improve Specific Skills? Produce Consistently", I never saw myself as a writer. I thought that title was reserved for published authors. But as James Clear said in his book, Atomic Habits, "Your identity emerges out of your habits. Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become", in other words, every time your write you're one step closer to being a writer. I decided the only way I could become a writer was by writing consistently.
Regardless of how you feel that day, whether or not you think you have anything to write. Write daily or every weekday, you need have a schedule and a practice and stick to it. If you need advice on building a ritual you should check out Atomic Habits (you can view my book notes here). If you would like other resources on building a writing ritual you can check out: "How to Create a Writing Routine" by Jessica Brody or "How to Develop a Daily Writing Habit: 10 Daily Writing Tips" from Masterclass.
Lesson 4 - Don't copy others.
I'm not talking about plagiarism, that's an obvious no, I am talking about writing style. As an avid reader I have quite a few favorite author's like Stephen King, Ken Follett, and Cal Newport. I am not only drawn to their stories but I am drawn to their style of writing: their sentence structure, how they describe characters and scenes, their choice of words. I wanted to emulate their writing, but when I tried implementing some of their styles into my own my writing became choppy and difficult to read. I realized one of the reason why these author's were so successful was because they had their own unique style that drew readers like me, into their work. So I ditched trying to emulate other famous author's and decided to write how I want to.
If you find an author whose style and writing you enjoy like Stephen King, by all means read his work and take inspiration on how he writes. Take pieces of techniques or styles from other author's and experiment with it. But you shouldn't try to mirror their writing. You should write in a way that's comfortable for you, don't try to copy others. Develop your own style. This may take a while but you will stand out from other writers.
Lesson 5 - Have an easy system for capturing ideas.
While this lesson doesn't necessarily involve the writing process specifically, it is something I've learned is important for generating and keeping ideas. When I first decided to write I remember I came up with topics for blog posts at seemingly random times: when I was out walking the dog, in the shower, or in the drive-thru line waiting for my Starbucks. There have been studies that we generate some of our best ideas when we're out doing something else. When I came up with these ideas I promised myself I'd remember and write it down later because it was inconvenient to take out my phone make a note. But like many of us who've had brilliant ideas in the shower, once when we get out we forget. So early on I decided to create a simple way of capturing an idea so I wouldn't forget it that was doable for me to do when I was in the shower. For me, if I have an idea while I'm not in a writing session I add it as a task in Todoist. And I review these when it's convenient. If I'm out where I can't type on my phone like driving I use Google Assistant to dictate the task for me.
I suggest to any new writers to develop a system to quickly capture ideas, this way you won't loose all of your ideas. You can use a water proof notepad and pen if you want to write ideas in the shower. You could also record voice memos if that's easier for you. Your system can be anything, it just has to be easy to capture ideas and convenient for you.
As a quick review, the five lessons I've learned from writing consistently for 6 months are:
Accept that you're first draft is going to suck;
Start off small with your writing pieces;
To improve on writing, you must have a consistent practice of writing;
Don't copy others' writing style, take inspiration but develop your own style; and
Have a system for easily capturing writing ideas.
What are some writing lessons/tips do you have? If you have your own blog please share your favorite post it with me on Twitter, you can find me there at @KellyjAdamz.
See you next week!