My Last Three Months Blogging Under Fear

I was in a bar with Rob Dodson three months ago discussing all manner of topics. About two drinks in, the conversation turned to Rob’s last big spurt of blogging. He knew just how hard it is to keep a writing routine, so he made a deal with himself—he would blog for 60 days straight or he had to give $500 to a politician he was not fond of. This sounded like a great idea, especially after two stiff drinks. I decided to do the same, with slightly different parameters.

Blogging under fear

Fear is a powerful motivator. My Grandmother often spoke about how a little booze everyday was good for you. I feel the same way about fear. Not paralyzing dread, but a nagging anxiety—something which maintains a sense of urgency. I never had that sense of urgency with blogging. It was always something I did, or didn’t do. There were no consequences if I didn’t publish. So I would delay, fiddle, get distracted or bored—all of which would result in delay. My self-imposed deadline removed all that. Optimal circumstances didn’t matter. A blog post would be written each week, period. Fear made that happen.

In the first few weeks, failure meant having to drop a grand and deal with the fallout it would cause. At the end of the three months, failure meant not blogging. For most of my time blogging, traffic was a significant priority. I’ve now let that go. Writing has always helped my thinking. It’s the way I try to organize disparate, disorganized thoughts into something comprehendible. Writing more frequently meant that I was forced to crystalize my thoughts more often. I’m not a good writer, but doing this has made me a better one. Writing consistently has been like keeping my muscles in shape. This should have been a consistent activity for the last five years, but better late than never.

What I’ve learned

Getting to the first draft has always been my highest hurdle. Writing with hard deadlines has helped me through this. Over the course of a couple weeks, a process began to take shape. This is how it usually worked.

Once I determine what I’ll be writing about, I take a day to let my thoughts settle. I write my notes throughout that day and at the end of it, I edit, consolidate, remove and organize all of those notes into a basic structure. The next day, I convert those structured notes into a first draft. I try to force myself not to do anything else until that first draft is complete. I call this sophisticated process the “shut up and just do it method”. I’ve observed beer enhances this process.

I hack my first draft together. If I can’t think of the right way to say something or an appropriate word I will add brackets around the problem area to review later. If something is holding me up, I simply move on. I then go back through all the bracketed sections and clean them up one by one. Without exception, those sections which once seemed difficult weren’t so after I came back to them.

Once the first draft is complete, I try to read through it a few times to see if I can condense the writing and clarify my points. I’m lucky to be married to someone with a Master’s degree in English so I rarely let anything out of the door without her reading it. I’m noticing as the years go by that I can impersonate her editing style, which is slowly removing that need. Once I’m happy with the writing, I go back and add imagery if/when it’s necessary. If you read my posts, that ends up being infrequently.

Perhaps the most important step is that once the blog post is published, I get started on the next post quickly. I try to get the ball rolling the day I publish or the day after. Writing used to be such a monumental effort that I would need a breather afterwards. Making the process faster removes the need for the followup break.

It’s worth it

This is not a perfect solution, but it’s how I’m getting myself to write more. I’m less-than-certain that more people are reading my writing, but it’s having a positive impact on me and that’s all that matters. Some people are naturally focused or capable of following a regimen on their own. Others need a little fear to jump start the process. No matter your job or interest, improving your writing can only make you better at what you do. If you’re willing to put yourself through a little anxiety, I suggest you try this out. It will be worth a few stressful days and late nights.

6 thoughts on “My Last Three Months Blogging Under Fear”

  1. PJ, Great post man. I am actually in the process of starting my own blog, from lessons learned from Webbynode and our work at Gistia. From all the books i’ve been reading in preparation for this I have learned that consistency is key. Not to try to do something you can’t sustain in the long run.

    As I prepare to get the blogs going, its two by the way, one for Webbynode and one for Gistia, they’re very different audiences. I am blocking 2 hours per day to write. I am waking up at 5AM to write from 5 to 7AM, then go for a 1 hour run. When I come back, I’m reviewing the work. In these 2 hours, I am coming up with at least 2 drafts to work from.

    I know it takes time, but I am finding that just free-writing helps a lot when you’re in that mental blocked state. Just write, sometimes about the first thing you see, just write make up a story if you must. Its like the warmup. Anyways, I love your posts, I’ll have to hit you up to see if you can give me a hand with my learning process.

    Carlos from Webbynode

  2. When it comes to writing, discipline is the most crucial thing. So I am definitely going to try your anxiety method to make myself write more often! Thanks.

  3. Aw yeah! Glad you made it through and it wasn’t a gut wrenching experience 🙂 And sorry for not leaving a comment sooner!

    On the subject of consistency, one of the things I’ve been thinking about is getting into link blogging, similar to what Daring Fireball and Marco Arment are doing. CSS-Tricks has started doing this as well. I feel like we briefly discussed this at one point but I don’t recall if either of us had any strong opinions at the time. Now that I’m going to be getting back into serious writing I think this is a great way to add stuff to your blog so there’s some nice content in between larger posts. It’s also better than just retweeting a link and trying to fit in 10 characters of commentary. I don’t know how many time’s I’ve quoted a tweet and only been able to say “Nice!”. That’s silly. I should link blog that stuff and help boost my blog stats!

    1. @Rob, I went about this process a few years back but it just felt like I wasn’t providing that much value for readers. More power to people to blog in this way, but I think we need more people writing long-form, in-depth content.

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