I’ve got a Markdown file in my Dropbox that’s called “Write every day”. I created this file on April 22, 2014. Today, five months later, that document contains 40.164 words.
If you do the math, you’ll know I would’ve had to write at least 250 words a day since starting back in April. And that’s exactly what I did. I wrote. Every single day.
By now writing daily has become a habit of mine – one that I’ve formed by commitment and discipline, and also one that I’m proud of. More prolific writers might find my word count laughable. But I don’t care. Everybody has to start somewhere.
I truly believe that getting into the habit of writing consistently was one of the best decisions I’ve made this year. This post explores the reasons why I care about writing and keep doing it every day. I hope it inspires you to write (more) too.
Communicating with peers
I’m a software engineer. I write software for a living. The two jobs of an engineer are to grasp complex topics and to clearly communicate about them. It’s no secret that effective written communication is essential to the success of engineering teams (and whole businesses), even more so when they’re distributed.
As software developers, we use a number of different channels to convey information of one kind or another to coworkers and open source collaborators. There’s the source code itself, READMEs, commit messages, GitHub pull requests and issues, Wiki pages, email, team chat, and probably more. What do all of these have in common? Words. Written words.
Let me quote one passage from Getting Real that says it best:
Effective, concise writing and editing leads to effective, concise code, design, emails, instant messages, and more.
That’s because being a good writer is about more than words. Good writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They know what to omit. They think clearly. And those are the qualities you need.
If written communication is that important to my work – and the same applies to open source development – I better make sure to invest in my writing skills.
Connecting with people
I admire good writing. The more of it I consume, the more interested I get in writing myself. I read a lot of books and blog posts on my Kindle. And sometimes, but not too often, an author manages to connect with me – be it through a touching personal story, by turning a complex topic into simple words, or by making me laugh out loud. It’s that ability to connect with an audience that I find fascinating and worthwhile at the same time.
As Matt Gemmell stated in one of his superb essays, reaching (more) readers is a great reason for writing in the first place.
I’m convinced that writing is the best medium for spreading ideas in the depth they deserve. I would always choose reading a book over watching a 15-minute TED talk. For example, go ahead and read Where good ideas come from (but please finish my piece first), then watch the corresponding talk. You will know what I mean.
I like being close to my thoughts and ideas (full disclosure: I’m an introvert and talking to people – especially strangers – is hard for me). While reading other people’s work makes me think and inspires me, writing allows me to capture my own ideas and feelings, which in turn might inspire you.
Which brings me to the last and most important reason to write.
I just keep writing. The more I write, the more likely it is that my writing will provide value to the people that read it. – Paul Jarvis
Paul has become one of my favorite writers. That’s not because Paul has the best prose out there. No. It’s rather because he keeps on publishing valuable content, week after week. Even though he has only been writing professionally for a couple years now, he has already self-published a handful of bestselling books on business, creativity, writing, and vegan cooking.
If you pay attention to his work, you can see how Paul’s writing has been gradually improving over time. His secret? He is consistent with writing every day to improve his skills. Without a doubt, he inspired me to do the same.
Providing value to your readers is also key when it comes to building your own audience. Done right, you can even make a living of it. I’m far away from earning anything, but I wholeheartedly recommend Nathan Barry’s book Authority, which contains everything you need to know about making money from your writing.
After reading this, I hope you understand my motivation for showing up every day to do the work. Yet you might be wondering where you can find the actual results of my daily writing sessions. Well, this is where my problem lies.
Writing itself is hard. Coming up with valuable content and putting it out there is even harder. While I’ve written enough words to fill an entire book, I didn’t ship any of it. This is in part because most of my writing is just for me (or at least that’s what I keep telling myself).
The biggest problem I face, though, is that I’m a perfectionist. I have a hard time writing shitty first drafts and postponing editing until after getting something down on paper first. Instead, I often try to get it “right” the first time, thereby making the writing process unnecessarily painful. The number of blog posts I’ve published this year is evidence enough of my struggle.
While it’s obvious that I need to keep working on the publishing part (with this post being a first step in the right direction), I’m convinced that consistent writing is important for any of the reasons I presented in this blog post.
If you, dear reader of this blog, care about writing as much as I do, please share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below. I’d really appreciate it.
Update: This post managed to get to the top of Hacker News, where also a lot of comments have been posted.
Update #2: There’s now a Japanese translation.
Update #3: I wrote a follow-up post in which I reflect on my writing goals.