Lessons learned from 30 days of writing
In the middle of January 2021, I decided to start a habit of writing.
I was inspired by the #ship30for30 community I'd seen on Twitter. The hashtags were appearing daily and I thought a writing habit would be good to start and could be a useful tool to clarify my thinking.
Here are some of the lessons I learned after my 30 days of writing experiment was over.
It took more than 30 days
My original plan was take the #ship30for30 hashtag literally and write 30 articles in 30 days. The Ship 30 community revolves around making much smaller articles than I ended up writing. Their idea is to write an "atomic essay" of approximately 250 to 500 words to summarise a topic.
I initially attempted to keep the posts small but I struggled to articulate what I wanted to say in so few words. Anyone that knows me will tell you that I can talk a lot and my writing style matches this. I tried to get better at editing but even then, most articles ended up being between 500 and 1500 words.
In the end, my 30-day writing challenge took 55 days. I'm still incredibly proud of what I achieved, but it didn't happen as quickly as I initially thought it would.
I enjoy writing
I've always struggled with thinking that I was more mathematically-minded and "wasn't a great writer". Part of this experiment was me trying to dispel the myth that I'd built up in my own head.
I knew that I wasn't bad at technical writing. In my day job, I wrote a lot and I could be clear and succinct when I needed to be. Writing a new article every couple of days really helped me to exercise my writing muscle and I found out that I actually enjoyed writing regularly.
People enjoyed reading the articles
Having a website where you share personal views is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you worry that nobody is going to read what you write. On the other hand, you worry that everyone will see what you write, especially if you make it more personal.
Every time I wrote a new article, I shared it on Twitter and on Linked In. While the aim was never to attempt to go viral, I found that people enjoyed reading the articles. Twitter wasn't the biggest driver of traffic but as I ended up writing more articles around team cultures, Linked In became a great place for a discussion. I found that my writing resonated with people and they commented on each article I shared.
I talked about sharing your network and learning in public in one of my articles and I found that sharing my work expanded my own network. I talked to a few recruiters who had "heard of me" from my articles. It also allowed me to have great conversations with new people. I especially enjoyed a Zoom chat I had with Duncan Skelton about leadership and coaching. Writing has really opened up my network to more opportunities.
Finding my cadence
I mentioned that I didn't manage to write 30 articles in 30 days but I did manage to find a cadence that worked for me. My wife is currently a teacher and also tutors some students for a couple of hours on Monday to Wednesday from around 6.30 pm. I found that attempting to write at this time gave me a chance to focus for 2 hours on writing. Sometimes I'd be helping my children with homework, but most of the time, this routine worked well.
Trying to write on Thursday and Friday evenings was much harder as my wife wasn't tutoring and I was involved more with the family. I'm an early riser and often wake up early at the weekends. I found that trying to write for an hour on Saturday or Sunday morning worked well too. I'd often finished a new article before the rest of the family were out of bed.
Ideas didn't always flow
Some evenings I really struggled with what to write about. I wrote an article about creating an idea habit and even then I sometimes couldn't focus on a single idea. I hadn't prepared a list of ideas in advance and so this is why it took much longer than 30 days.
Ideas often came from great conversations I had with my team in their 1:1 meetings, or when I caught up with colleagues. I wrote down these ideas as soon as I could and with them, I was able to more easily outline the article. In future I need to ensure I keep a list of article ideas so that I can just pick from them and start writing.
Taking notes makes writing easy
While sometimes I lacked ideas, the articles I found the most easy to write were those where I'd previously written a bunch of notes in Obsidian. It wasn't just a single idea. It was a collection of ideas around a single topic which I'd often outlined into key points. Being able to pick one of these notes made it easy to write an article and I could often finish a 1000 word article within a couple of hours.
Technical articles take a long time
I wasn't sure of the intial direction that my 30-day writing challenge was going to take. As an Engineering Manager, I tend to write less code in my day job. However, that means I'm often spending my evenings reading about new languages or frameworks and wanting to try them out.
I decided to write a few technical articles as part of my writing challenge but I found they were much harder. When I write a technical post, I care that the reader is getting a learning experience. That means I spent a lot of time ensuring that I'd captured every step in writing the code for the article. This slowed down the writing process and meant that a technical article often took 4 or 5 hours to write.
Whilst I really enjoy writing technical articles, the time taken meant I wrote fewer of those. Writing one per week would be much easier and I'll look to do that in the future.
Would I do it again?
I very much enjoyed the challenge and I think its made me a better writer. My website readership has increased and I'm starting to rank for various keywords now too. I don't think I'd attempt to write every day again as this was difficult at times. However, writing a new article weekly is what I want to do from now on.
You should try a 30-day writing challenge if you haven't.
I promise that it'll change the way you think.
I'm Marc Littlemore. I’m a Software Engineering Manager who loves to help developers to build quality software.
I can help you to learn more about software testing and automating your business with chatbots.