While I didn’t publish 31 articles for each day in January, I consider the pledge in my 2020 review fulfilled.
My goal wasn’t to start a daily journal or jot down my stream of consciousness, although many folks I know find the practice to be meditative and useful in comprehending, processing, and focusing. Instead, I wanted to put down well-formed thoughts on interesting subjects and stories that had either been floating in my head or were particularly topical.
Over the course of 24 articles that took up to two hours each on average — not including doggedly searching for the perfect photo or meme — I observed a thing or two about how I write and the art of writing itself:
- Inspiration: I’ve never been one to be struck by inspiration. The way I generate ideas is far more mundane. I dedicate a tab in my to-do list to jot down problems, inefficiencies, or interesting topics along with a couple bullets of what’s on my mind at the time. Over time, I revisit and refine those thoughts. So being forced to write about a new idea almost every day taught me how to shift the system into overdrive.
- Transitions: I struggle with transitions. Seamlessly connecting two oft-related but disparate ideas is one of my biggest growth opportunities as a writer. Bullet points are my crutch, and I’m not afraid to use them.
There appear to be only three principles of connections among ideas, namely Resemblance, Contiguity in time or place, and Cause or Effect.
- Critical reading: I started paying attention to stylistic and even grammatical nuances of the content I was reading. This author used occasional short sentences to drive emphasis — that author used the em dash instead of a colon. Reading is one of the best ways to become a better writer, but you don’t just improve by osmosis.
- Writing style: When folks ask me about my experience working at Amazon, I always describe the working environment as brutally efficient. Now I describe my writing style with those same words. While I do enjoy throwing in a flourish, synonyms (at least a dozen Thesaurus tabs are open at any given time), or a bad joke here and there, I always try to get to the point.
- Endings: In my opinion, writing an ending that both summarizes and stimulates is the ultimate skill. The ending is the most important transition of them all. Does it feel like a natural stopping point? What are the key takeaways? Do you sign off with a flurry or take it slow?
- Deep thinking: Writing allows me to think deeply and organize my thoughts in ways that back-and-forth verbal interactions do not. I call myself a “processor”, in that I need time to consider and synthesize new information. My brain tends to forge connections in a series of small steps, not large leaps. Writing helps me structure my thoughts as such.
- Anecdotes: Once I started brainstorming topics, I discovered there was no shortage of content. What wasn’t always so easy, however, was finding the right story to pair them with. Writing from personal experience amplifies your voice and credibility, and digging deep into the well of my own experience was one of the highlights throughout the month. One friend told me that reading my articles revealed a lot more about who I am as a person. I can’t think of a higher complement for anecdotes than that.
Narrative is the oldest and most compelling method of holding someone’s attention; everybody wants to be told a story. Always look for ways to convey your information in narrative form.
Finding the mental energy and discipline to write after a full day of work was ultimately the biggest obstacle to writing daily. Most days, it was the last thing I wanted to do after dinner. But when I sat down at my computer and forced myself to just start typing, I quickly found myself in a flow state as the hours flew by.
I love writing. It’s a medium that complements how I think: methodical, linear, iterative improvements. One of my favorite parts of being a product manager is producing a compelling document over many drafts that can lay out a clear picture of what we need to build. More than anything, I enjoy creating order from chaos.
Although I enjoyed publishing daily, two articles a month is a more sustainable and reasonable goal. I’m proud of what I wrote but I’d prefer to dive a couple layers deeper and add more polish. After all, putting time between your re-reads and relentlessly editing are two of a writer’s best tools.
For those who read this article or any others throughout January, I want to say thank you! I hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I did.