Thoughts from 200 days of blogs

Today I hit 200 days straight of writing and publishing this blog. I was inspired to do the challenge by a Seth Godin interview on Modern Wisdom, Chris Williamson’s podcast, where they talked about the importance of process in your work. For 200 days, I have sat for an hour at my laptop each evening and shared my thoughts in 500 words.   

Here are the lessons I have learnt: 

1, Just write what you are thinking – the beauty of focusing on the process and the daily deadline is you remove the need for the work to be perfect before you publish. I sit down at the end of the day and write what is on my mind. I was always terrible at writing at school, from special 1:1 English lessons with learning support at primary school to poor marks on essays during GCSEs – I could do maths and science, and I could talk for England, I just did not get writing. It took me years and a lot of work before it clicked, but I still feel self-conscious about producing extended writing for work. The beauty of writing for its own sake is you have space to learn and develop a style – and connect your thoughts with the words you put on the page.

2, Consume with intention – A side effect of writing what is on your mind at the end of each day is that you start to look out for things that make you think, challenge your assumptions, or inspire you. Life becomes a little richer because you pay more attention. My mum instilled a habit of reading through example, constant trips to the public library, periods of no TV growing up, and paying for my first-years subscription to the Economist when I started at the LSE. With a constant flow of input, producing a daily output becomes easy. 

3, Challenge your thinking and make connections – If I got my reading habit from my mum, I inherited my memory from my Dad. I am not a fast reader; I like to read, reread, and spent time deep in thought when something strikes a chord. My wife often catches me in these deep contemplative moments where I stare out the window vacantly, making random connections from something I learned six years ago. When she asks what I am thinking about, as a running joke, I tend to reply ‘football’ (apparently the second most common thought for an Englishman) or, if that fails ‘The tension between utilitarianism and free will’ (an essay question from my ‘Modern political thought’ module at uni). These periods of contemplation allow me to pull up related memories of something I heard on an audible book while shopping in Tescos, from a random article, or a conversation over coffee many years ago. I try to capture these connections in my writing, spending a bit of time finding the source of the memory and adding it to the essay.

4, turn comments off and write your authentic thoughts – I decided that I was writing for the process and not the outcome at the start of this journey. I would be lying if I said I did not care if anyone reads my posts, I have an ego like anyone else, and I am humbled that 184 people worldwide follow my blog and get 20-30 views per day from every corner of the world. It is unbelievably satisfying when someone in a conversation mentions they have read the blog or that something in a post connected with them. However, in the podcast that started my practice, Seth says that he turns comments off so that the anticipation of people’s reactions will not colour what he writes. I wanted my writing to be authentic, so I turned them off too. I have the link to my social media at the top of each page, so I know if there is a fact check, something accidentally offensive, or someone wants to connect, they can; it is just not directly accessibly under my writing. The Economist famously does not include bylines on their articles for a similar reason, and I think it is a great way to remove some of the fear of putting your thoughts out into the ether. 

5, Technology is incredible – Grammarly might just be the best invention since the printing press for writers who lack confidence. I use Grammarly with the assistant turned off as my word processor, then turn the assistant on for edits. Grammarly has a clean interface, the editing tools in the premium version make a substantial difference, and the immediate feedback is teaching me to be a better writer. We do, however, disagree on the use of the Oxford comma, but no technology is perfect. I publish using WordPress.com as its reader tool provides an instant audience. I save articles to Instapaper to read later and highlight key ideas, and I link it to Readwise to automatically save the highlights and send me collections of these daily. I do most of my book reading with a Kindle for the same reason. I link Readwise to Roam Research which allows me to find anything I have ever highlighted with a particular word to supplement my memory making connections. I automatically post links to everything I write to my Twitter account, link to my blog via my Instagram, and post a link to anything I write related to Learning Design to my Linkedin profile.

My life now

I drove down to the south coast a few days ago, and my wife put on a podcast with Alan De Botton, who made a brief comment on how religions all seem to understand that the effectiveness of learning is highly related to the architectural environment where you learn. That observation got me thinking, while driving, about learning spaces and the vast investment universities make in beautiful campuses. The seed was watered today when I visited the Canterbury Cathedral – how much easier it must have been in 1000 AD to understand the idea of an all-powerful God when you were sat in an incredible, gigantic, and ornately decorated space. The idea will continue to percolate while I stare out of our Margate Airbnb’s third-floor window overlooking the sea. Tomorrow I will find the podcast again and listen to the clip to note it down accurately before searching out some research on how our learning is connected to the environmental context. I will then sit down in front of the sea-facing window and write 500 words on the importance of learning spaces.

I have blogged every day for 100 days; this is what I’m learning

I started my daily blog after reading Attempts by Dan John and listening to a podcast with Seth Godin about this new book, The Process. I have always loved the idea of being an essayist, developing ideas about things, being informed, coming to my conclusions on something I feel is important, and sharing them with anyone that might find value in it. I had also just finished Percy Cerutty’s biography, written primarily using Cerutty’s writings, found in his study after he died. There seems to be a connection between great thinkers and a habit of writing. Dan John and Seth Godin’s books kicked me into committing to this practise of daily writing.  

If you know you have to write a blog post tomorrow, something in writing, something that will be around six months from now, about something in the world, you will start looking for something in the world to write about. You will seek to notice something interesting and to say something creative about it. Well, isn’t that all we’re looking for? The best practice of generously sharing what you notice about the world is exactly the antidote for your fear.

Seth Godin

Like many people, I consume a lot of content:

  • I read The Economist weekly paper
  • I get at least one audiobook a month with a subscription to Audible 
  • I read books on Kindle 
  • I view the Kindle and Audible daily deals and pick up more books than I can read
  • I watch a little too much YouTube
  • I always have an online course on the go

I wasted a lot of this content, doing little or nothing with the ideas I found. I relied on my memory to trigger some relevant reading when I wanted to discuss things or solve a problem at work. Regular writing solves this issue; the stuff I write pulls together the things I am reading and my thoughts. Each post is filed away to be searched when needed and used, and the active recall in writing aids in assimilating the ideas into what I already know.

My daily blogging goals are to develop beautiful writing, build a habit for delivering that writing every day, and improve my thinking, mainly related to my work, by putting it out into the world.  

What I did not realise is that people would read it. Today I have one hundred and seven people on my email subscription list and get around twenty unique views per day. WordPress.com’s reader is the main place I get new traffic from via the keywords I add before publishing. I also use the WordPress Twitter integration to tweet links to each post and add two relevant hashtags to help people find the tweet.

I use Grammarly as my word processor to improve my writing. My spelling at school was terrible, and that psychologically stopped me from learning to write well. Using Grammarly premium for the last few years, initially to check my papers at work, and then later for everything I write on my laptop has fixed this. I am still really self-conscious about my writing ability, but the app gives me the confidence I need to communicate my ideas, and the continued use has significantly improved my work. 

My Process

  1. Read a lot to find trigger material
  2. Use the dictionary, Wikipedia and other sources to learn more
  3. Collect my research in Readwise through Instapaper and Adobe Acrobat Online 
  4. Draft an outline in Grammarly
  5. Go back to the source material to filling gaps and details
  6. Copy into WordPress.com and format
  7. Publish with keywords and share via Twitter using two hashtags

Seth Godin suggests committing to 200 days of writing every day to develop the practice as a habit. I have learned a lot, and I am only halfway through. Each post takes me between an hour and two hours in the evening to generate around 500-700 words. For the next 50 days or so, I will start adding some audio recordings of some of my posts and then move to video for my most-read posts in the final 50 days. 

If you like my blog, get in touch with me on Twitter.