Some Notes on Writing Frequently

Since I am about 15 posts into this blog, I want to step back and review what helps me write regularly and offer some advice to others looking to start a blog. I see plenty of advice on how to write well or maintain a blog long-term, but I want to provide assistance to someone who is starting a blog and trying to develop the habit of writing something regularly, even if it is not of high quality.

I don’t have insight on how to write well, or obtain international acclaim, or to gather a following, but I can cover what has kept me motivated so far. Consider this approach as a way to bridge from “not writing at all” to writing something (anything!) once a week. Hopefully, once you have a habit of writing, you (and I) can move to producing better writing.

Lets dive in.

Essentially, you want to have a pipeline of good ideas that you develop into posts depending on your moment-to-moment interests. You should have several things at each stage to avoid boredom. I have 4 levels of writing development:

  1. A messy list of things you might want to write about. Add to this list immediately any time you have a new idea for something to write. I use a technique I have detailed before to make this as effortless as possible.
  2. An organized list of important posts that you definitely want to write about. These might be sequences on a particular topic which you have planned out or independent posts which you haven’t gotten around to writing. Oftentimes these are rough ideas from stage 1 which, after considering for a while move to this “to do” list.
  3. Messy outlines and drafts. This could simply start as a list of items in your outline, a summary, or a handful of good sentences that you thought up. I try to have 1-3 of these at any one time.
  4. Drafts which you are editing. These are much more complete, but still have sections to fill out. I typically have ~2 of these at any one time.

The main idea with this pipeline is to be able to work on any level of the hierarchy whenever you feel like it. You might have a couple great ideas for posts: write them down! You might feel like editing a particular paragraph: go for it! The key is to have several things running in parallel so you can work on what momentarily interests you. Inspiration in writing is so fickle that it is important to use your effort when you are feeling productive rather than forcing yourself to write. This way, writing becomes a rewarding task you keep coming back to; this is essential to forming a habit.

Like the hierarchy of writing stages, it is also important to have several different things to work on within each stage. This way, even if you are tired of looking at a particular post, you have plenty of other pieces to put your momentary energy into.

When it comes to transforming items from #3 to #4 it is important to write shitty first drafts. Don’t fret over a bad paragraph and to skip sections you don’t feel like writing; it is more important to produce a volume of work now and refine it later.

Shouldn’t there be a “Stage 5” where you spend time editing a post to make it perfect? No! This kind of perfectionism can prevent you from posting often and forming a habit. The main goal here is to make writing second-nature to you, and, once that happens, you can work on other writing skills.

The corollary to this is that you should focus on getting several posts published at the beginning even if they are bad. In other words, if you write nothing and post nothing, you will have nothing to work with, if you write crap and post crap, you will at least have something to refine and you will have developed a habit of writing. This is much better than a few really good posts.

Some other notes:

  • Even if I am not feeling like it in-the-moment, I try to at least visit my writing setup regularly. On several occasions, I have not felt like writing, opened a draft anyways, noticed a flaw, fixed it, added a sentence, lost track of time, and suddenly the post is done! Since writing productivity changes so often, it is important to give yourself many opportunities to be productive.
  • Set really small goals like “start an outline” or “write one sentence”. Just like the practice of visiting your writing regularly, achieving a small goal can give you the motivation to do a lot more writing. You might start writing a single sentence for a post and then find yourself writing an outline for another post, for example.
  • Subtract, don’t add. Cutting out paragraphs makes editing easier, and smaller posts are easier to finish. Delete drafts and outlines you are not happy with to avoid working on pieces that bore you. Like before, it is more important to build a habit and stay motivated to write, rather than make sure you have been comprehensive.

Hopefully this approach will help someone else start a blog, but remember that there is a lot of other writing advice out there. Make sure to try different approaches and see what works for you.

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