Ten weeks in a row

About three months ago I set out to write a post every week. This marks the tenth week of posting in a row. I did this as part of an online version of Iron Blogger together with a bunch of other Hacker Schoolers. What follows are lessons I learned, as well as some general thoughts on it.

What went well
So far I haven't missed a single week, and posting weekly has been a positive feedback loop for me. The more I write the more I think about other things to write, and the more I post the more likely I am to keep posting. Writing also works as a tool for thinking, it has allowed me to flesh out some thoughts I've had on particular subjects. I've also had some interesting conversations about the contents of some posts.

The posts that were most successful were the ones which (a) I had put some thought and efforts into (b) were personal, relating to things I did or observed personally.

What went less well
I think most of my posts are quite bad - unoriginal, sloppy, and not tremendously useful. This doesn't come as a surprise, given that I usually end up start writing the post at the very last minute. There's no time for any deep reflection or feedback. In some cases I've thought about what to write a couple of days in advance, which allow me to zoom into the more important parts, or think about the structure, but even so the iterative process has generally been lacking.

Posting is sometimes a mental burden, something I have to do, but this has gotten better with time. I'm also sometimes worried about being self-promotional when I tweet about a post even if I don't think it's particularly good. My rationalization is that it's better to put it out there to get exposure and feedback, rather than keep it in a private text file.

Overall, it has been way more positive than negative. The cost is fixed and small and the "revenue" is in a sense unlimited or unknown, which in general is a good property.

Advice to myself for the future
Following advice is always hard, but here's what I would do if I were me.

1. Clarify your audience. It's much easier to write if you have a clear audience. Right now the audience is, "someone technical and curious", but it's still kind of vague. My posts are all over the place, and most of them aren't that personal so there's no real focal point. This is why you are currently lacking engagement. It also helps if you have a person in mind when you are writing something.

2. Ask for feedback. This is connected to me starting late. If you ask for feedback midweek, that would substantially increase the quality of your posts.

3. Build a buffer and start early. If you always have four or so posts in the pipeline, you can spend more time thinking about each, asking for feedback etc, before posting. This probably requires a separate goal, like "keep a minimum of three posts in the pipeline at all times", since I am unlikely to accidentally do this, given my history of last minute posting.

Advice to someone else who wants to do this
Before I started this it had been one year since my last post, incidentally when I was doing my last batch at Hacker School. I've thought about starting a blog many times, and I've done it a few times, for various audiences. Here are some tips I would give to someone who's looking to get started.

1. Think quantity over quality. Make weekly publishing a goal in itself. If you don't do this, you are more likely to think about that perfect post on X. If you do this, you are more likely to think about how you can do better next week. Quality will (eventually, hopefully) follow.

2. Find a community. Do it together with a group of (dedicated) people. Iron Blogger was really helpful in that regard. It was suddenly "a thing" I was doing. This could coincide with your audience, for example a subreddit, work friends or something else. The motivation should be internal, but external pressure is really helpful.

3. Make sure you have an audience. The more people reads it, the more likely you are to continue. Once again, Hacker School was really helpful in this regard, as well as Twitter. Lacking those structures, your local community or friends over email works just fine. Try to get to stage where people hold you accountable for what you write, and to have intelligent readers you can engage with. [I'm still working on this part].

PS Please let me know in the comments what advice I missed, or anything else you think is important :) DS

PSS ADDENDUM: Another advice for myself: Be useful. Each post should be of use for a specific someone, allowing them to do or think something they couldn't do before. I have no pretension of writing literature here, so we might as well go right down the utilitarian path, unless you have something particularly existential to say. Conjecture: the domain where the post is useful largely determines the audience. DSS