5 things I learned from blogging a whole year (#169)

It’s been a whole year since I started this blog. And what a long way I’ve come since then. Before starting out, I’d been writing for a book (which is still in the works). Since starting the blog I also started a podcast. I started tweeting significantly. And I developed more than a few meaningful relationships with complete strangers I met online in addition to relations created with people I actually admire and am a fan of.

A lot of the progress for me in the past year stemmed from that decision of starting a blog. So this post is about what I’ve learned (and still am learning) from blogging a whole year.

With that, here is the tentative list of my learnings:

1. The people are where it’s at

The first few weeks from launch (that seemed an eternity long) no one would read my blog posts. Even my family gave up on reading after the first few days. I had made a deal with myself that I would publish 100 blog posts in the first 100 days of starting the blog. So that’s what I did. I posted a blog post every single day for the first 100 days from launching my blog. And not many people read those posts. I didn’t realize this until quite late that the people are where it’s at. I’d simply keep publishing blog posts every day that no one would read (or even know existed) and I’d expect to be “noticed”.

But then I got some advice. “Start publishing where people actually read stuff”. Twitter is the social media for words, I thought. So I started tweeting. Not much really happened then as well as any usual newbie would know how hard it is to grow on Twitter. But then things started to happen. I got invited to a 30-day online boot camp where I got to connect with like-minded people in the community. It was I who took agency and reached out to them actually. Due to sheer luck, I got access to around 75 email addresses of all people in the community. (This happened because one of the emails sent by the organizers was CC’d to everyone in the community.) Since most of us were like-minded and craved improvement, I thought people would find a lot of value in my writings and newsletter. So I wrote to them all:

“Since we do have this desire to improve among us in common, I wanted to share something valuable with you…”

Then I described my newsletter, apologized for cold emailing like so, then I asked them to simply reply to the email with a “yes” to be manually added to the list of my newsletter subscribers or ignore the email if they weren’t interested, promising they’ll never hear from me regarding the newsletter again. I got 8 yeses of the 75 people I sent the email to and I was ecstatic!

I am very good friends with two of those eight people even today and am extremely grateful for those relationships.

(Fun fact: I conjured up the idea of sending the cold emails during a school exam. I made a rough draft of my email on the backside of my question paper! Great things happen when you get bored.)

Backed by the confidence gained with those eight new subscribers I learned that I needed to connect with people. So I started cold DMing interesting and potentially interested people on Twitter, sometimes straight up tweeting @ them. Slowly, I built relationships with people I got to learn from and have fascinating conversations with.

Now I’ve learned that the people are where it’s at. Not just for them to subscribe to your newsletter or for you to have “connections”. People are important because you can learn from them. You can ask to speak to them nicely and they will agree and you can gain new perspectives and encouraging feedback. People can inspire you to try out new things or work harder. They can criticize your ideas which helps you to improve. [1]

2. Consistency includes improvement

So here’s the thing. Many people who tell me they want to start a blog (because they think they “should” start a blog) almost never do. And those who do, they quit after a couple published posts or are extremely irregular at posting.

Without consistency, there’s very little chance to cultivate a habit of writing and publishing things. In the beginning, quantity matters more than quality. So if you’re a “perfectionist”, you should perhaps consider dropping that identity and start caring about publishing one blog post a day until you are comfortable with the art of showing your work. [2]

Almost always, consistency includes improvement. I can see my posts mature through the days. And I cringe at some of my earlier posts—even avoiding reading them for this very reason. But with regularity, there almost automatically comes improvement. It’s untraceable improvement in the days, but recognizable progress in the weeks, months and years. I get a little bummed out not to have learned the importance of people in the beginning and this perhaps made my writing and publishing every single day a little foolish. But when I look at it from this lens, I think it very good to have gone through those early days publishing each day. With people, I may have given up on writing reliably had I failed to make an explicit impact. The thing with cultivating a habit is we almost always do it for a particular result. But when you can make the habit a particular result you want in itself (writing one post a day, for example) then it gets way simpler to stick with it. It doesn’t really matter if people noticed me or not, I recognized the improvement through being consistent in an extreme manner. I do think extreme consistency makes sense in the beginning.

3. Linearity isn’t where it’s at

It’s going to be bad (at first). At first, I remember not knowing what I was doing, absolutely cringing on a blog post I had published just last week, and knowing this was an ugly post before hitting publish. I didn’t know who I was writing for because there was no one reading. I would be asked “how many newsletter subscribers do you have?” and I would answer with pride, the true low number to the person asking but inside of me feel the giant embarrassment that came with the understanding of the fact of that answer.

But all this happened at first. Sure, it was a pretty long time. (At least it felt like it was.) But then something unusual happens. A spike pops out in the graph that always seemed to remain horizontal. Some weeks nobody reads your blog posts, next thing one of your posts gets featured in a famous newsletter and you get a thousand viewers to your blog in two days.

Progress, improvement and noticeability aren’t linear factors. They build up through good consistent work. You turn the tap on and first get a little bit of dirty water flowing into the glass. But smoothly, clearer water starts to flow from the tap and your glass overflows and all the bad stuff gets replaced by the good, pure water. This is how it works here too. You get better and better the more time and deliberate practice you allocate here. When you quit or stop being consistent, it is equivalent to turning the tap off just when you see the bad water gushing out. You don’t wait long enough for the good stuff to show!

It’s hard to have conviction in your work if your monkey mind does not see any increase in numbers as you put out the work. But a giant spike is right around the corner whenever someone decides to quit (given good work is consistently put out).

Though we tend to expect linear, certain progress—it’s much of a fool’s errand. Things are non-linear.

4. Criticism is at the root of all improvement

Criticism is the best thing you can do for an idea. It’s popular to think criticism is bad. Which perhaps stems from not wanting to hurt the feelings of the person being criticized. But try to understand, it is NOT the person being criticized. It is the idea that person has. And that kind of criticism is at the root of all improvement for that individual person and human civilization at large.

People can criticize your ideas explicitly and implicitly. People can tell you that so-and-so idea is reasoned faultily, for example. This is explicit criticism. You can also get implicit criticism if you don’t get a lot of interaction in a post you made or when people hint in the comments that they didn’t understand the main point of your post (they may not say “I did not understand” but their comment might signify a lack of understanding of your post—this is implicit criticism for you, you need to be more clear or understand why people don’t understand your post). YouTube can tell you at what time of your video you start losing viewers. This should make you rewatch that part of the video and guess what might have turned your viewers off. You learn from that.

This can be hard to understand for your emotional human side that averts from any kind of personal criticism. We tend to keep our beliefs and ideas tied up to our own identity. But once we start to recognize there exists a boundary between the idea we hold and the people we are, we start wanting our ideas to be criticized and care more about actually understanding rather than clinging to our own beliefs.

Sometimes, you implicitly learn too. Let’s say you get a sign that something is not working. An idea of yours is being criticized. And perhaps you might not have the time to go through explicitly why that happened or what you are being criticized for. But your mind might be performing one of its many mysterious actions in the background. It might be picking up implicitly, what works and what doesn’t. Next time then you might be averted to doing something the same way. Curiously, you might then start to wonder why you did that. It may have been implicit learning at play. The next point is all about this.

5. So much implicit learning!

Now that I have a podcast and everything, and it’s been a year since writing these blog posts: I’m starting to realize the amount of significant implicit learning that’s happening in my mind through doing these things.

For example, while recording a podcast I have to keep three things in mind:

  • The guest’s happiness
  • The audience’s happiness
  • My happiness

I have to make sure that I ask questions and create something that appeals to the satisfaction of all those stated above. And this requires a bit of thinking. You can conjure up how this might extend to other fields such as entrepreneurship or just general creativity.

In preparation for writing this blog post was when I realized that I was actually striving for all these ideals while recording a podcast. Now, there must be so much learning happening implicitly. Things I’m picking up that I’m totally unaware of but actually know about. This implicit learning might also be the reason for why consistency includes improvement. Explicit learning like reading books or studying seems to be of smaller significance than the enormous amount of implicit learning that must be going on in our lives due to the product of our environment and other choices.

I know I wouldn’t have advanced so much had I not decided to start a blog a year ago. This choice has impacted my life tremendously. And I’ll be forever grateful for it.

Thank you for reading.


For the record, my first blog anniversary is tomorrow. It isn’t yet a complete whole year.

Footnotes

[1] People can also have an unintended affect. Some can lead to comparison and jealousy. Another thing I learned.

[2] This depends, actually. You might aim or perfection and take a month or a blog post and many people might read it even if it were one of your firsts. This is one of the reasons why I hate even hinting at advice. It is not supposed to be the same for you as it were for me. Or anyone else.

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