100 Things I Learned from 100 Days of Writing
Starting on January 1st, I decided to take a leap of faith and write every day.
When I first started this project, I had no idea how it would turn out. But something inside told me that this is the right decision. 100 days later, I’m glad I did.
I’ve grown so much as a writer and a person through this project. I’ve been compiling all of my learnings for over a month now. And today, I want to share 100 Things I Learned From 100 Days of Writing.
The Craft of Writing
Writing isn’t easy. At first, I thought it was because I wasn’t good at it. No. Writing, especially good writing, is difficult for nearly everyone. Even many successful writers have a hard time writing.
Learn the fundamentals. Wax on, Wax off. Strunk and White’s, Elements of Style has pretty much everything you need to know.
The essence of writing is rewriting. The first draft is going to look like shit, but it’s meant to flesh out all your ideas. Then we begin to rewrite, and with every rewrite, it begins to take shape.
Speaking of first drafts, they’re meant to be a brain dump. Get all your ideas onto the page.
Writing is thinking. Writing remedies an unclear thinking process because it forces you to think about a topic in a structured way.
The word “essay” comes from the French verb “essayer” meaning to explore. Thus, if you want to explore a topic, write about it.
Every word, every sentence, must be intentional. This is how you write clearly. Not only write clearly but this has helped me talk more clearly as well. Eliminate anything with no use, and watch your writing—and your speech—declutter.
Less is more. This is how you write clearly and concisely.
Listening vs. acting on feedback. When asking for feedback from others it can be quite subjective. Listen to them, but know when to act on that feedback.
Ask for feedback early on. The purpose here is to confirm that you’re writing something worth reading. You don’t want to figure out that you’re writing a piece no one cares about after you’re almost finished.
Ask for feedback later on. Here, we want to catch logic leaps, grammar errors, unnecessary words, and sentences.
The best person to ask for feedback is yourself with the benefit of hindsight. As one of the final stages of editing put away your piece for a week. You’ll read your piece with fresh eyes and there are likely many things you want to change.
Give credit where credits due. Acknowledge those who spent their time to review your drafts and anyone else that helped you along the way.
Writing is analogous to running. Running sucks, it’s all kinds of painful, but once you endure that pain and hit runner’s high, it’s a feeling like no other. I find the same thing is true for writing.
Essays take a long time to write. I can only imagine how long a book takes.
Non-fiction writing is all about the idea and explaining that idea clearly.
As much as I enjoy writing, I can’t do it for long periods of time.
Surprisingly, I think writing everyday is easier than writing every week. When you write every day you optimize for quantity, when you write every week you optimize for quality.
Some think I’m fearless with my work. That can’t be farther from the truth. I’m scared every time I hit publish.
Don’t focus on trying to sound smart, focus on writing clearly and you’ll end up sounding smart.
Writing is learning by imitation. Paul Graham is my favorite writer and I studied his essays early on trying to figure out he wrote so clearly and persuasively.
When I first started writing, I would sit down, brainstorm on the spot and write whatever I’m feeling. I still do this from time to time, but now I learned the importance of having a proper note-taking system. Having a note-taking system is like having a “second brain”. Now, I’m not confined to the limits of my brain. Check out Tiago Forte’s work if you’re looking to improve your note-taking game.
One method I use when I’m stuck is to write in an email editor and send that email to myself.
When you write publicly, not only do you learn in the act of writing itself, but others will almost proof-read your work.
Write like you talk. It’ll sound more natural.
Writing every day for 100 days will give you a better sense of what you don’t want to write about.
Find a writing community whether it be a group or a writing partner. Trust me, it makes things so much easier. If you’re looking for a writing partner or someone to bounce ideas off of let me know!
Quantity creates quality. If you’re learning a craft, focus on quantity first and then you’ll improve rapidly. Then you’ll be able to focus on producing quality work.
Write for yourself. I write what I would read. I share content on my newsletter that I would like to see.
The Creative Process
Where does creativity come from? I believe it comes from a higher place, and to do creative work means to have a spiritual experience.
Writing or really any creative work is a transfer of energy between the artist and the audience.
If you want to write something that moves other people it has to move you first.
Whenever I feel creatively blocked for one project, I work on another. This way I keep the creative juices flowing.
We are all inherently creative. Just look at kids. Kids are curious, kids are ambitious, kids don’t judge. We just have to think more like a child.
Judgment is the enemy of creativity. This is how you get creatively blocked. Is it a dumb idea? Write it down anyway. Is it phrased awkwardly? Write it down anyway. What will others think? Write it down anyway.
Ebb and Flow. Sometimes you need a break to reach peak creativity.
If you write everyday, some pieces will be a bust but others are bound to be a hit. And people will only remember the hits.
Sleep is a powerful tool for creativity. As Thomas Edison said, “Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.”
Personally, I find my peak creative hours to be in the morning and late at night.
Hyperlinks are everywhere. Every article, every book, every conversation can generate new ideas.
Publishing anxiety is real. When I first started writing every day I was anxious every time I clicked publish. This still happens a hundred days later.
Interruption kills the imagination.
Inputs are closely tied to outputs. If I consume crap, I’ll produce crap and vice versa. Thus, it’s important to watch your information diet.
Ideas come from the unexpected. My best ideas are almost always unintentional. It’s as if I’m subconsciously brainstorming When they do come, I make sure to write them down or else I might forget them. This is how I brainstorm ideas to write about.
A prerequisite to writing everyday is curiosity. If you’re curious you can live for a million years and not run out of topics to write about.
Perfection is an asymptote. It’s easy to fall into the trap of editing over and over again. And every time I look at my pieces there’s something I want to change. Every single piece I wrote, I can re-read it and make it better, but I wouldn’t publish anything at that point. Figure out when it good enough, and at that point, ship it.
Changing your surroundings can help you break out of a creative rut. This is why traveling can be so stimulating.
Getting validation early on builds momentum. This is why writing every day can be such a strong feedback loop.
That feeling of hesitation before starting anything is called creative resistance. The War of Art is a must-read for anyone that struggles with this.
Ideas are like butterflies. They’ll appear randomly, and you’ll lose them if you don’t catch them. When an idea comes to mind, write it down.
Marketing, Distribution, and Newsletters
Personal newsletters are a lot of fun! I wish more of my friends have them.
I can’t expect readers to frequently visit my website and look for content organically, that’s not how distribution works. An email list gives me ownership over my distribution and a direct relationship with my readers.
Respect the inbox. If people decide to spend their attention to read something I wrote, I want it to be worth it. I take this very seriously.
A newsletter is a great way for me to keep in touch with friends and colleagues. I’ll meet someone and say, “Hey I started a newsletter, I’d love to get your thoughts on it.” And this is my way of keeping in touch.
Writing a newsletter is a scalable coffee chat. It’s a lot more intimate and it’s a two-way communication.
Growing a newsletter is like growing a startup. The same principles apply: What problem are you solving? How will you find subscribers? Who is your audience?
Fun tip: An underrated way of meeting new people is finding those with a personal newsletter and interacting with them. Only a small percentage of my audience interacts with me but when they do it’s exciting. I’m sure anyone else with a newsletter can relate.
Curating links is also a lot of fun! It also acts as a form of archiving my favorite content I read at that point in time.
This newsletter’s a journal of my gap semester. This will be something I can look back on fondly, a mental snapshot of how I thought at the time.
Create something. Then tell everyone. This is how you increase your luck surface area.
Marketing is just as important as building, or in my case writing.
Marketing is a part of the creative life. How else will people hear about your work?
I got my first cold email from someone I didn’t know almost 3 months after I started. That email meant everything to me. That was when I realized that I’m not writing into a vacuum.
Newsletters create a sense of accountability. I promised my audience that I’ll be writing about this and that at a weekly frequency. I don’t want to let them down.
The difference between success and failure can be as simple as keeping in touch. A newsletter allows me to stay top of mind. Dereks Sivers expands on why that’s important.
There were some amazing musicians whose music I loved, so I contacted them to tell them I’m a huge fan, and would love to help however I can. But if they didn’t keep in touch, they eventually fell out of my mind. It’s unfortunate, but that’s life. There were some good (but not amazing) musicians who were great at keeping in touch. So when opportunities came my way, guess who I thought of to recommend? Yep. That’s life.
Thinking Like an artist
Being an entrepreneur, a writer, or an artist is not a special title that one has to earn. If you build companies then you are an entrepreneur. If you write then you are a writer. If you create art then you are an artist.
Learning art is learning to see. Writing every day has changed how I view the world. It’s forced me to be more observant and curious. It’s helped me see the beauty and wisdom in even the simplest things.
What is it that you are scared to write about? That’s what you should write about.
Art isn’t pretty. Art isn’t painting. Art isn’t something you hang on the wall. Art is what we do when we’re truly alive.
Artists push society forward by challenging the status quo. They challenge us to think critically and inspire us to dream.
Art is the highest form of expression. To create art is to use a craft as a medium to express your essence.
To create art means to put yourself out there, to be vulnerable, naked, for other people to accept or reject. That’s never easy.
The artist learns that fear is not something to overcome, but rather it’s something you learn to dance with.
To be an artist means to take creative risks. You don’t know what works and what doesn’t work until you ship it.
Artists create when they are happy, when they are sad, in times of prosperity and especially in times of struggle.
If you create art for money or for any other reason than for yourself, it will show in the work.
The opposite of depression is expression. For me, writing is more than a creative endeavor but a lifeline, a powerful anti-depressant.
No matter if my audience is 3 or 3 million, I will always write with the same conviction.
Do not identify with your work. This will close you off to criticism.
Art is what it is to be human. Taking an artist away from their craft is to strip them of their humanity.
With every piece of work, you have to be determined to change the world even if nothing happens. That’s what it means to be an artist.
Where you start is irrelevant. It’s all about how good do you want to be and how much work are you willing to put in.
Writing attracts the people you want to attract. Writing is the most scalable form of networking as Andrew Chen puts it. I’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg in this regard. But so far my work has begun to attract people to me and it’s a way for me to connect with others.
This blog is my online identity, it’s an extension of me. When people search me up, I want my blog to be the first thing they see.
Writing, especially writing online creates a personal moat. With every post I write the moat gets wider and wider.
One of the best and most proven ways to get better at something is to do it every day.
“Recently, one of my favorite questions to bug people with has been, ‘What is it you do to train that is comparable to a pianist practicing scales?’ If you don’t know the answer to that one, maybe you are doing something wrong or not doing enough. Or maybe you are (optimally?) not very ambitious?” - Tyler Cowen. Writing every day is how I practice my scales.
Question assumptions. Always.
Art and Science/Engineering are like yin and yang. Art inspires us and pushes the limits of our imagination and science/engineering makes those ideas tangible.
Many things are more similar than they are different. I apply many principles from other parts of my life into writing and writing into many other parts of my life as well.
Writing every day has completely changed my relationship with fear.
To have the creative freedom to pursue whatever I like for my own sake is such a sweet feeling. Is this the feeling of freedom?
We learn by pushing ourselves, by testing our limits and finding out the outer reaches of our ability.
This quote from Aristotle has taken on a whole new meaning for me, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
The best way to learn is by doing. Not by reading, not by attending a workshop, but by doing the actual work.
Productivity and structure are important for getting things done, however, leaving room for serendipity is just as important. Serendipity is the magic that happens from spontaneity and openness.
There’s nothing more fulfilling than someone else being inspired by your work. This is what I call, Creator’s High.
The canvas never judges. Ever have a conversation and felt like you weren’t your best self? Happens to me all the time. Here, I can be myself, I can be my best self. For all to see.
Just Go. Many people’s advice for starting anything is you just have to go. It’s overplayed, it’s obvious, but it’s damn true.
Thank you for everybody that has supported me. It means everything to me.
This daily blog has truly been a life-changing habit.
And I don’t intend on stopping anytime soon.