The start of a new year is a great time for new beginnings. A time with arbitrary meaning, the new year gives us a chance to reset, reflect and route-set (another way of saying ‘thinking about the future and goals’ while still keeping with the alliteration).
While some people at this time of the year use the dose of extra willpower to tell themselves they’re going to exercise more, eat healthier, read more, spend more time with family or start doing what it is that they truly want to do, I for one have decided to also tell myself all those same things. Oh yeah, and I’m starting this blog.
As with anything, we should start with the why. Why am I doing this? In certain online spheres, there is no need to convince anyone of the merits of writing online and in fact you would have to come up with a good reason for why you weren’t already doing so. Being an outsider to such spheres, I would previously never think about starting a blog - as Taimur Abdaal puts it, you would be as good off telling me to become a professional golfer. But through the power of the internet, I have found myself repeatedly exposed to the reasons for doing so by self-proclaimed F-list celebrity Ali Abdaal and through him the arguments made by the likes of Austin Kleon, Nat Eliason, David Perell, Tiago Forte and more.
Evidently, their arguments were pretty compelling and so my journey begins now with a breakdown of what brought me here.
I write this with a hope that firstly, it will remind me of the why behind this blog when the buzz of new year inspiration wears off and for further down the line when I end up wondering if this is all for nothing. Let this be a reminder to demoralised Dylan. I also have the long term hope that maybe someday this will bring value to at least one other person’s life in the same way that all those I mentioned before have brought value to me. To that person, let this be one of the repeated exposures that tips you over.
The Self and The Other
The positive effects of writing online as I see it fall into two buckets: 1) what it will help you achieve externally by leveraging the connectivity of the internet and 2) what it can do for you - your thoughts, ideas and beliefs - internally
In summary, this is what I have been convinced of:
- An online library of writing is your serendipity vehicle to attract opportunities and showcase what it is you can offer to others
- Putting yourself out there helps shape the social environment that is reflected back onto yourself
- Writing online invites discussions and new perspectives that strengthen your understandings
- Writing for an audience is a practice of recall and repetition and a source of meaning to help you remember more of what you consume
- Writing online builds confidence and exercises the putting yourself out there muscle
- Writing gives you clarity of thought, allowing you to arrive at solutions and better express ideas to others
- Writing is an enjoyable process in itself
These reasons are to do with seeing your writing as a tool for achieving goals and ‘success’ however you define it. Writing online, I have been convinced, supports success by providing three things: opportunities, a broader world view and a feedback loop for the refinement of thoughts.
David Perell in his “Ultimate Guide to Writing Online” describes how a blog can work as a serendipity vehicle: leveraging the interconnectivity of the digital-age, an online presence increases the chance of opportunities finding you.
“Day and night, your content searches the world for people and opportunities. Projects, mentors, speaking gigs, job offers, pitches, investment opportunities, interview requests, podcast appearances, and invitations to special events. It all starts with sharing ideas online.”
A library of online writing is a resume that speaks to your knowledge and, most importantly, the passion you have for different things. Passion is something shared by all those who achieve success and fulfilment. It attracts others and since others want to work with passionate people, it attracts opportunities. Talk is cheap - it's easy to say that you're passionate about something but proof comes through action.
The majority of people are not writing online. That gives you an advantage over others vying for the same opportunities and a chance to demonstrate your abilities not just as a thinker but also as an impassioned doer.
If you are adding value, your reach can spread quickly on the internet and with consistency, people will look to you as a source of recommendations, new ideas and advice. Perhaps your following will grow to the point where it provides a base to kickstart a business, opening a new set of opportunities that was previously closed off to you.
Putting your thoughts and ideas out into the world gives them the chance to passively connects you to others, complimenting the active process of you seeking out opportunities.
Expanding Your Bubble
The internet that now allows for anyone anywhere to connect with anyone else anywhere else gives you the chance to expand your bubble. The common saying goes "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with." but I would extend that to say that you are a product of the bubble - or social environment - that you place yourself in. The people you surround yourself with are the ones you discuss ideas with, whose actions, lifestyle and habits influence your own and whose admirable qualities become the qualities you aspire to develop.
Most importantly, exposing yourself to more and different people shapes your idea of what is possible. An all time favourite quote of mine comes from Trevor Noah who says in his autobiography Born a Crime:
"We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.”
Your writing has the power to expand your bubble and surround yourself with the kinds of people that not only encourage, challenge and inspire you, but also stretch your imagination. Starting a business, taking a year off to travel or even starting a blog may seem like far flung ideas to one with a small bubble but when everyone you are surrounded by is doing those same things, they become just another option as viable as the traditional life scripts one is ordinarily exposed to.
Growing Your Ideas
Putting yourself out there opens the door to feedback:
“Writing initiates the ultimate positive feedback loop. Online writers are rewarded with instant feedback, and fast feedback loops are the best way to accelerate your learning.” - David Perell in 'Why You Should Write'
It also creates accountability and a public eye that encourages us to refine our ideas:
“If you wish you would take something more seriously, do it publicly… Social pressure forces you to up your game.” - James Clear in 'Atomic Habits'
Furthermore, putting your ideas into the world brings much needed discussion that allows your ideas to grow in a way that they cannot through one perspective alone. Those who agree with you offer supporting evidence, provide anecdotes and shed light on overlooked points - ways to better your understanding and explore more of what you're interested in. Sharing also gives you the chance to crowdsource solutions to questions you are struggling to answer alone. You certainly do not know everything and gaining access to what others know helps to supplement and fill the gaps in your understanding. Sharing knowledge, work and cognitive loads is what society is built off of after all.
On the flip side, by meeting people who disagree with you - and due to the statistical odds given by a population of seven billion, the internet is abundant with those people - you are forced to have a better understanding of your beliefs and ask yourself what truth there is in what others are saying. Maybe you will be convinced to change your stance or maybe you will have a stronger conviction about what you originally believed.
"Learn how to learn from those you disagree with, or even offend you. See if you can find the truth in what they believe." - Kevin Kelly, '68 bits of unsolicited advice'
Growth is Slow and Not Guaranteed
While these external benefits are made possible through writing online, you cannot expect to feel them immediately. Growth compounds over time. It starts off slow and remains that way for a long time. The effects of it are unnoticeable and fail to meet your expectations until consistent incremental changes triggers a point where things take off. As James Clear puts it in Atomic Habits, there is a Plateau of Latent Potential - the considerable amount of time before the take off point where your consistent efforts yields no noticeable results - to overcome.
Furthermore, this growth is not guaranteed. It requires consistency and persistence that can be hard to maintain when expecting to receive these external benefits alone.
It is because of this that you should also see writing online as a tool to better yourself and promote qualities you aspire to have. These are the benefits that come out of the act of just writing and sharing alone. A way to find enjoyment in the process, commit to the long term and remind yourself of the fact that even if this ends up as a huge failure - no one reads this and it just becomes more junk to pollute the web with - it wouldn't have all been for nothing. I do hope that somebody else reads this though.
Remembering and Understanding More of What You Consume
We are so inundated with information but how much of what we actually read, watch and listen to is committed to memory? Existing in isolation where they are not engaged with or put to use, the new ideas that we chance upon and which make us nod our heads on the subway fade out of existence. There are three reasons why writing helps us remember more:
1) Writing is a perfect tool to give ideas that resonate with us a purpose. Having an audience - no matter how real - gives you a reason to write down and remember that novel insight you came across so you can share it later. Intention motivates us to remember and writing leads to research and introspection over how these ideas can be applied to the live of yourself and others.
2) Research has shown us that one of the best way to commit things to memory is through active recall and spaced repetition (for more information see Barbara Oakley’s 'A Mind for Numbers' or Benedict Carey’s 'How We Learn'). Thinking about what to write also inevitably leads to considering and revisiting what you have been recently exposing yourself to, giving you cause for reflection and recollection.
3) One of the best ways to test your understanding of a concept is to explain it to someone else. I often found when studying for exams that when I was confident I understood something and somebody asked me to teach it to them, my explanations came with ‘um’s, ‘you know’s and ‘what’s it called’s that gave me reason to reconsider what I thought I knew. Explaining things to others helps you to fill the gaps in your understanding, helping you to know what you don’t know. In that same way, writing about an insight that you hope to draw valuable lessons from causes you to question how much of that idea you have internalised.
By sharing and providing your own take on interesting insights from books, podcasts, articles, experiences and more, you avoid having things that resonated with you in the moment fade out of your brain. Just writing this, I have been forced to go down some Google rabbit holes and search through my notes on articles, books and podcasts which has helped me to remember, relearn and reflect on the ideas I drew from them. Putting ideas to use helps us remember more of what we consume.
Confidence and Exercising the ‘Putting Yourself Out There’ Muscle
In ‘The Magic of Thinking Big’, David Schwartz writes “Speak up. It’s a confidence-building vitamin.” and I have found that to be true. Viewing our personality as a rigid thing that we can hide behind - “I’m not an outgoing person so I won’t speak up” - can cause us to shy away from the things that cause us discomfort but which are ultimately good for us.
Few would argue with the notion that confidence is something we should all aspire to have but many fail to see that it is the behaviour which shapes your identity as much as it is your identity that shapes the behaviour.
Becoming more confident can be achieved through adopting the behaviour of a ‘confident person’ and studies show us that just telling yourself to act like an extrovert brings the same short-term benefits that extroverts experience. Making the conscious decision to raise your hand in class or share your work online - despite the momentary discomfort you may feel - makes you more receptive to performing these actions again and with repetition, your mind will realise the fear is unjustified. These actions of confidence also serve as proof to yourself that you are a confident person. As Ali Abdaal puts it, the key to overcoming self-doubt is to “Exercise your ‘Putting Yourself Out there’ muscle” whenever you can.
“Speak up. It’s a confidence-building vitamin.” - David Schwartz, 'The Magic of Thinking Big'
Choosing to ‘put yourself out there’ more - ie. through publishing your ideas online - is a step towards changing your beliefs about yourself and ‘becoming’ confident.
“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become” - James Clear, 'Atomic Habits'
Clarity of Thought and Ideas
“Re-writing is re-thinking. It’s the single best way to sharpen your ideas.” - David Perell, 'Why You Should Write'
Many great writers express that they think through writing: that writing is not just simply getting their thoughts down on the page but rather a way of arriving at those thoughts in the first place.
I'm sure others can relate to the experience of unhelpful overthinking. Even despite the good efforts of my brain's thought factory - a hard working operation that starts with the sound of the alarm and ends whenever the neurones get tired of keeping me up - thoughts don’t always take shape in the most coherent ways. I often find myself returning to the same issues with no solutions and keeping everything in my head just makes these issues run around in circles continuously. It can become even more of a mess when trying to explain ideas to others. I find myself frustrated at not being able to articulate what seems so clear to me, giving me that feeling of "if only they were inside my brain and could know and feel all the things I know and feel."
I have come to recognise that that the inability to articulate can often come from an insufficient understanding of our own thoughts.
After experimenting with writing out my ideas through journalling and daily reflections, I found my thoughts to be more coherent - rooting themselves in solid ground and feeling like less of an unsolvable mess. Writing forces structure, organisation and clear expression. There is clarity to be gained from writing things down and pulling ideas out of the soupy mess in your head. It has allowed me to arrive at solutions to doubts and worries and freed up my mind for more enjoyment.
Writing gives clarity, allowing you to arrive at solutions and better express ideas to others
Finding Joy in the Process
I've found deep enjoyment in writing - that feeling of focus, flow and calm as you get things out of your head and untangle the mess inside. I won’t waste too much time trying to make a case for something that is a subjective experience but I think you’ll find that the more you write, the more you enjoy it in a similar way to how many find enjoyment in exercise after committing to it for a long time. Joy can come out of the process even if the process is just a means of achieving an end where your true desires lie.
Closing Remarks: Creating Value
I would like to make one last closing remark about the value we create from writing online. I strongly believe there is value in, well, creating value. Austin Kleon in 'Show Your Work' says that “even if what you have to say is going to be useful to at least one person in the world, then that is a strong indication for putting it out there”. If all it takes is a computer, a bit of research to set things up and some discipline and willpower to keep things going, why would you not want to try and bring values to others' lives. I have definitely found value in the content others are producing from YouTube, podcasts, articles and more and aspire to create that same value for at least one, but hopefully more.
But you might be asking what value can I bring to others? What new insights do I have? What can I say that hasn’t already been said? As a response to those sorts of questions, Ali Abdaal loves the line:
“There are no unique messages only unique messengers.”
Devon Zuegel echos the same sentiment even going on to say that it is optimal for curation and sharing ‘evergreen ideas’ to be an ideal starting place for writing online.
“Writing falls into three buckets: (1) trivial things that everybody knows, (2) things that everybody knows, [but nobody around you knows], and you have a unique perspective on, and (3) stuff that nobody knows so you have to do tons of research. Direct your energy towards the second bucket.”
We shouldn’t be afraid of saying things that have already been said. It is useful to think of curative pieces like this one as productive BuzzFeed lists or insightful WatchMojo top 10 countdowns whichever you fancy. Value can be added by bringing in your own perspective to the ideas you are exposed to. Even just curating can spread exposure to insights that may be familiar to you but completely novel to others.
To show my commitment to this idea, here is some curation to cap things off - links to four pieces of further reading you might want to explore if this in any way resonated with you:
- "Why You Should Write" - David Perell
- "Getting over the fear of personal blogging" - Ali Abdaal
- "The Ultimate Guide to Writing Online" - David Perell
- "How to Start a Blog that Changes Your Life" - Nat Eliason
Have a good day,