Lessons Learned from Writing Every Day for a Year

November 05, 2019

Writing every day has had a huge impact on my life over the last year. I made my first Monthly-Recurring Revenue from making digital products. I wrote a book and sold some copies. I obtained my first freelance gig as a guest writer. All the people I met during this journey inspired me, one way or another, and made me a different man. A better man, I think.

I. How I Started Writing

I’d be really interested to hear the fuller story here - exactly the sort of writing you did, and when, and how it helped you to do those things you mentioned. Cheers. — @jas_hothi

Coming from a software engineering background, I’ve never been much of a writer.

I always loved writing though. As a child, I used to write fiction stories featuring my favorite video game characters. Around 12, I started spending time in play-by-post role-playing games, which eventually led me to learn programming to mess around with phpbb forums.

At 14, I stopped this gamified deliberate writing practice to focus on my studies. Writing stories wasn’t particularly popular in middle school, I didn’t want to stand out.

I went through high school with top grades and joined an engineering school in Lyon, France to study Telecom engineering. I didn’t write a thing on my own throughout this whole time.

During my last year in college, I decided to launch a tech company with two friends. It was January 2018, we had been working for 6 months on our own legaltech service, and we wanted to make things official to join a startup incubator. Becoming an entrepreneur straight out of college is an uncommon thing in France. Among all the students going for high-paying jobs, I felt like a misfit. I was too much of an introvert to speak my feelings, so I decided to put them down on paper.

I explained why I made this choice and what I hoped to accomplish. Letting go of all the doubts and the frustration, writing was liberating. Unconsciously, it made aware of the powers of scribbling down words. I wanted to write more.

It took me 6 months to build a blog, which I gave up after two or three articles. I had no discipline. I was focusing too much on the tools and the brand I wanted to build, and not enough on delivering content.

In November 2018, the startup collapsed. Co-founder breakup. I needed to write. All those months of hard work, vanishing in an instant. I had learned so many things, and I knew I had to put them on paper as to not forget anything.

Learning from my past mistakes, I knew I had to stick to a strict writing schedule. I had to write daily, or else I would end up falling out of habit. My time was extremely limited though: I had to work with my cofounders to dissolve the company, and I still had to work on my own digital products as a solo founder to create new opportunities.

I had to decrease the resistance to the lowest level I could, so I decided to limit myself to 200 words a day. Just enough to write something meaningful, even during the busiest days. I then added a safety net by not simply writing, but also by publishing what I wrote on Medium and Twitter. This way I could leverage the mechanisms of public accountability to force myself to write. The 200 Words a Day challenge was born.

What was your goal ahead of doing the blogging year (e.g. views, revenue, etc.) and did you reach it? — @tagawa

Publishing one post every day was about developing a writing habit, it wasn’t for views or money. It’s only later I discovered it was a powerful way to connect with other people, but I didn’t have any ulterior motive. I did it because I loved the process and I wanted to be more consistent.

After a few days, I started acquiring momentum. It was getting easier. An unexpected consequence was that the challenge was inspiring people to write as well. I couldn’t find any nice looking platform to just receive feedback on my writings and improve, only forums and sub-reddits. 5 days later, the Product Hunt Makers Festival was announced. That’s when I decided to build a community product called 200 Words a Day, a website where people would write 200 words every day to develop a writing habit and improve together.

Two weeks later, 200 Words a Day was announced as the winner of the Product Hunt Makers Festival. Writing became less about me, and more about becoming better writers together. Writing became one of the recurring topics I love talking about, and my writing process improved a lot.

II. Writing Process

Writing is a full-body workout. It’s a complex process with many steps. There is the ideation phase where you find topics and outlines for your posts. Then you have to do some research: find good sources, take notes, read, and summarize. When you feel ready you can start free-writing, putting down on paper the main ideas without limiting your stream of consciousness. Then comes editing, and you finish with the distribution.

Each part of the process is different and comes with its own pain points. Everyone is different, so each person’s writing process will differ. Writing every day helped me identify the right workflow for me.

How do you pick your topics? — @anthilemoon
What did you write about? — @joshdance

I don’t limit myself, I write about what intrigues me on a given day. The following chart shows that I write a lot of random things, which is usually just me documenting my thoughts or specific events. I do have core topics though: writing, tech, making products, productivity, and traveling.

Topic distribution

Topic Distribution by number of articles

I usually let serendipity do its work. An idea pops out and I note it down. Sometimes I sit down at my desk or in a bar and I list down writing prompts. I only follow one criterion: the idea has to be interesting to me.

Instead of asking myself what I want to write about, I ask myself what I want to learn. There is always something I want to learn more about. The act of writing allows me to analyze an idea under a different angle, so even if a post of mine isn’t directly teaching anything, it’s a way to internalize an aspect of my life. Learning something is about making it yours.

How did you keep the motivation up? — @rayt

Public accountability was key. After ten days of publishing my content on Twitter, I didn’t want to break the streak. Also, instead of writing for an audience, I write for myself. This way it’s much easier to stay interested. I didn’t really have to spend much time on writing, just documenting my journey as a solo indie entrepreneur was enough to develop the habit and indirectly find an audience.

How did you make the time, specifically when real life got tough? — @haldenIng

The trick was simple: write less. I have a word limit of 200 words. Sometimes it gives me momentum to write more, sometimes I just call it a day as soon as I hit this threshold. According to my stats, I write 326 words on average, which is 61% more than my original objective. The power of momentum is real.

Word Count Distribution

Word Count Distribution

Did you ever write ahead to give yourself a backlog? — @haldenIng
Do you schedule posts or make a point to publish with any specific timing? — @briangreunke
Do you write one post per day, or do you write multiple posts some days and publish them on a daily basis? — @amng

If you’re really dedicated, you can always find the time to write at least 200 words. Even if it’s just free-writing something in 10 minutes, it triggers hidden mechanisms that will build your writing muscles.

I do try to write ahead sometimes. I have a notebook I carry with me all the time. Whenever an idea strikes, I write it down. I also like to sit down and just write whatever comes to mind. At this point, it’s more of a lifestyle than a strategy. I just write, and it eventually becomes material to publish.

I think I scheduled a post once or twice. In the end, it’s not particularly helpful to me because I take a lot of notes: ideas for my writings, books or articles I read, etc. I naturally accumulate material I can use later on. I think there is a way to do it no matter what, with a bit of preparation.

How many hours in total do you estimate you’ve been writing in the past year? — @anthilemoon

Hard to estimate but I’ll give it a try.

I can afford to spend an hour writing every day because I’m working full-time as an indie founder. The longest part is coming up with ideas and outlines, which can be batched once a week to leave more time for free-writing, editing, and researching.

I also wrote tweets and external articles on the side, it all adds up.

Writing is not a linear process, it’s more of a lifestyle where you constantly think about the craft, even unconsciously.

All things considered, I’d say one hour of deep work every day at the very least, so 365 hours of “deep writing” in the past year.

What blogging platform/tech did you use? Any SEO tips? — @juhaelee

Medium and Twitter at first, then I built 200 Words a Day. I also cross-post my content on my personal website using GatsbyJS and Markdown.

Except for the basics (unique metadata, server-rendered content), I didn’t give many thoughts into SEO. I write for myself first and foremost, I don’t want my creativity to be limited by SEO keywords. That’s also part of why I’m so consistent with the habit: I try to lower the barrier as much as possible.

III. Benefits

Milestones

How did you know it was working? — @joshdance

I write for myself, I just enjoy the process. I’m entirely focused on getting better at writing. Views, audience, and revenues were a by-product.

I made my first monthly-recurring revenue thanks to 200 Words a Day. I really want it to become a sustainable community, so I started monetizing it early on. 200 Words a Day has a freemium model. It’s free to join and free to use, but you can pay a monthly or yearly subscription to access new features.

I also wrote my first book by publishing 200 words every day. I wanted to see what it felt like to go through the process of self-publishing a book and how the 200 Words a Day philosophy could help with it. Writing 200 words a day for a year amounts to 73,000 words, which is enough to publish a novel.

Two weeks ago I also received my first offer as a freelancer. A company contacted me on Twitter to write a guest post for money and I agreed. I am currently working on the second draft. It’s another experience I needed to better understand how I can add value to my writing community.

More importantly, it proves that the power of the compound effect is real. I keep track of my writings. My stats reveal that I wrote 381 posts, which represent 135k words (!!!), or 541 pages if you divide by 250.

Word count evolution

Word count evolution

You can see the full spreadsheet here.

Connecting with others

As a founder, one of the biggest benefits of writing is how it helps your mental health. It’s easier to stay in control and feel in charge when your mind is clear, and writing gives you this clarity. It’s amazing how just expressing your fears and doubts liberates you.

More importantly, writing in public is going toward others, and there is no mental health without social bonds. The more you connect with others and the more your work resonates with like-minded people, the more purpose you create. A good life is a meaningful one.

Even if the size of your audience is a vanity metric, it’s important to give it some attention from time to time. I don’t think one should write for an audience, but it doesn’t mean we should not confront our ideas to reality. In this regard, effective writing is inherently social.

What was the effect on your website traffic (especially organic visits) between day 1 and day 365? — @gilgildner

Hard to say, I mainly distributed my content on Twitter and I didn’t bother measuring how well my content played in the eyes of others to drive traffic. I can just say I recorded 46k users and 400k page views on 200 Words a Day’s website over the last year. Writing definitely helped inspire others to do the same.

On Twitter, I had less than 20 followers before I started this challenge. Now I’m closer to 1k followers, with 1,5k profile visits per month in average and 1,370k impressions over the last year.

Where did most of your new twitter followers come from? — @joshdance

Product Hunt, Indie Hackers, and Makerlog. Everyone else by word of mouth or Twitter recommendation I guess.

Creativity and Writing Skills

Do you think this has made you a better writer? Has it made you better at communicating? Were there any unexpected benefits? — @ramy

Absolutely. I’m a non-native English speaker, and writing every day helped me a lot to improve. When I look at my first articles, I can clearly see grammar mistakes I’m not doing anymore. For example, I didn’t know how to use punctuation in English. Punctuation is handled differently in French.

Writing gives clarity, so it improved my communication skills as well. It gives structure to my thoughts. More importantly, good communication is proportional to quantity: the more you share, the easier it is for your ideas to spread. Quality is not enough because people easily forget or skim through what you write. Repetition is key.

Another benefit: I graduated and worked as a software engineer, and now I’m starting to make money writing articles as a freelancer because my habit has become an asset. Another income source, it was totally unexpected.

I also feel like my creativity and my observational skills improved a lot. It doesn’t take much effort anymore, it has become natural. Ideas come to me more easily.

I understand where you stand with “writing”, specifically the everyday consistency. What is your perspective on “reading”? How do you align those two? — @alperkemalkoc

Reading is fuel for writing, no doubt about it. I’m trying to read every day, mostly books. I want to grow this habit as well, which is why I co-launched Sipreads to make myself accountable.

If you want to write interesting things, you have to live an interesting life. It forces you to change the way you consume: read more books, watch more movies, meet more people… writing makes us aware that we are the sum of our experiences. It pushes us to dare and outgrow our comfort zone.

IV. Improvement points

Distribution

How to get your writing in front of people? — @anthilemoon
How did you distribute your writing? — @joshdance

If there is one thing I want to work on over the next year, it’s distribution.

I didn’t put much effort into it. I cross-posted on Indie Hackers (made it to the newsletter once) or Hacker News (made it to the front page once) 5 or 6 times. I mostly sticked with Twitter and my personal website. What I plan to do next is to create a newsletter, spend more time distributing in relevant channels than writing, and splice and dice the posts into more long-form content to increase my SEO rankings.

This year wasn’t about distribution. I could have written for an audience to get more views and increase my revenues, but I preferred considering it as a by-product rather than an end-goal. Getting into a consistent writing habit is hard enough. The next step is to learn how to distribute my writings more effectively.

Writing Alter-Nomad

I’m not satisfied with the current version of my book Alter-Nomad, so I stopped marketing it after the soft-launch in March 2018. One of my next objectives is to redesign it.

The problem is that I totally underestimated the editing phase. I churned out too many words in too little time, so I felt a little bit burnout toward the end and rushed it. I’ll take my time to write additional content and integrate it in the second version. I want to restructure the book to make it more actionable and improve the flow.

V. Concluding

Why did you keep going? — @joshdance

I attach more importance to the process, writing is the end-goal itself. I keep doing it because it feels good to create something I can come back to later on. I don’t have any external source of motivation and I intend on keeping it this way.

Do you intend to break your streak? — @deadcoder0904

Only two things could prevent me from keeping the streak going: 1) running out of things to learn or 2) encountering a serious mental breakdown because of personal or family health issues.

Both are unlikely, and nothing else can stop me. I’ll probably reconsider it later, but right now I’m in a period of my life where I want to work hard and experience more. Writing helps with that.

The benefits of daily writing completely outweigh the pain points. It’s like exercising: you know it’s good for your body, even when you don’t feel like it. Once you develop the habit, it’ll change your life for the better.

Writing is the ultimate meta-skill: it’s good for you, your career, and your closed ones. It’s both universal and proteiform. There is so much more to it than you might think if you’re not used to writing on your own.

Any advice for people who want to write but don’t know how to get started? — @anthilemoon

Starting small with what you have is the way to go. Always try to simplify the process and grow from there. Progressive overload is how you get better. Consistency comes first, then quantity. It’s only when you consistently deliver quantity that you can deliver quality. Waiting for perfection or inspiration is a dead end, so don’t keep things to yourself and hit the publish button already.

That’s all for now folks. Thank you for reading me. I’m especially grateful to the people who interacted with the stuff I made over the year. You are my inspiration and I grow thanks to you. I hope I’ve been useful to you too, and I won’t stop sharing till I am. See you in a couple of months!