Blogging everything you know

Two-rules-for-success

I came across this awesome and hilarious picture today on Twitter. After laughing a bit at the picture, I immediately began thinking about blogging.

Specifically, I was thinking about bloggers in the startup world. Is it possible that with the seemingly endless supply of startup-related blog posts, the best secrets to success are still unpublished? It makes some sense, right? If you have knowledge that puts you at a competitive advantage, why would you risk that advantage by revealing it in a blog post?

My guess is that for the most part, this isn’t true in the startup world.

Founders, entrepreneurs, and VCs could write everything they know, and it probably wouldn’t hurt their chances of success when compared to others. One, startups are all different; there is no recipe for success. Two, even with the best advisors/mentors, startups still seem to have a ridiculously high failure rate. Three, most startup advice isn’t 100% right or 100% wrong. There is a gray area, and they may apply in certain situations but not in others. Four, entrepreneurs tend to be the kind of people who forge their own path. They have their own ideas, vision, and strategy. Even if provided “perfect” advice, many probably wouldn’t follow it exactly.

There is probably more to say, but you get my point.

I’m not sure how to feel about this as a blogger. It means that no matter what I write, it probably won’t hurt my chances of success. But it also means that no matter what I write, there is no guarantee that the writing will be useful to others. Chances are, what I write is flat-out wrong, or wrong for many people.

I suppose that is OK.

Earlier, I wrote about my reasons for why I write. In retrospect, I still very much agree with it.

I write for myself. I can’t guarantee that what I say is right. And I can’t guarantee it is right for the reader. But I can guarantee that the thought process is useful to myself.

Wrong, stupid, boring writing

coffee-writing-flickr-HeatherHeatherHeather

Many people don’t write because they are afraid.

Even if they do write, they may not write as often as they could… because they are afraid.

They fear that they have nothing to say, that they may not write well, that they may make incorrect arguments, that they may end up sounding stupid, or that their writing may be boring.

I’ve certainly felt all of this before. I have always enjoyed writing. For years, I have toyed with the thought of starting a blog. But, I only started about two years ago. And once I started, I had a hard time writing more than once a week… or even once a month.

It was always these fears.. I don’t want to be wrong, stupid, boring, etc.

If there is one thing I am proud about from the 100-day blogging challenge, it is overcoming these fears. Looking back on it, there were two big things that contributed to getting over these fears.

  1. Just do it. A very effective way to get over the fear is force yourself to do it. And then continue forcing yourself to doing it. I actually went through the process of writing (and publishing!) each day for 100 days in a row. Yes, the first few days sucked. But surprisingly, it doesn’t take too long to hit a rhythm. If you aspire to write more, find a way to force yourself to write every day. You don’t have to publish, but I would suggest it because it forces you to do the next part.
  2.  Make your fears come true. Writing high quality stuff is really hard. If you publish often enough, you will quickly reach a point where you fears come true.  It is pretty easy to quickly publish something wrong, stupid, or boring. It didn’t take me long to look back at my previous posts, and find some that I just didn’t like very much. But you know what? It doesn’t really matter. That is the funny thing about making your fears come true: you find out that most of the time, the outcome isn’t that bad.

There is one more thought that has made writing considerably easier, and it is this.

Writing is simply a form of expression. And at its best, it shares the human condition. If we want our writing to be expressive and honest, perhaps it is good for it to represent all of our human experience. It can represent our awesome, profound, and insightful sides, and it can also represent those parts of us that aren’t as sexy: being wrong, stupid, boring, etc.

Now isn’t that a freeing thought?

I sure thing so. It makes writing a hell of a lot easier for me now.

(image credit: flickr/HeatherHeatherHeather)

New blogging goal: Be more open

comfort-zone

This blog as been up for nearly two years now, and I’ve gone through several stages of blogging.

The first stage: writing.

Writing alone is one thing. Unveiling your writing for the whole world to see is a whole different story. When I first started, it would take me weeks to publish a single post. I would think of an idea, start writing, think a little, write more, wait a day, think about it, and revise. Sometimes, after a few revisions, I’d scrap the post because I didn’t like it.

After many revisions, I would find myself sitting there staring at the publish button. At the moment, I would get a huge rush. And then I’d get nervous. The voices would start going in my head. What if I’m writing something stupid? What if people don’t like it?

This first stage was all about hitting the publish button. That was all. It was to get stuff out there in the world. Every few weeks (or few months), I did.

The first stage lasted a little under 18 months. During that time, wrote 14 blog posts, and my email subscriber list was around 60-70 people. Nothing big, but it was a start.

The second stage: writing more.

About four months ago, I began a 100-day blogging challenge. I had realized that I enjoyed writing, and wanted to write more. The challenge was the extra kick in the ass that I needed to write more.

When it comes to doing things, I’m typically an all-or-nothing guy. So I thought to myself: why not just commit to blogging every day?

I’m glad I did.

I won’t say that I wrote the best blog posts. The biggest lesson I learned is that if I sacrifice the desire to write the perfect blog post, I can publish more often. Looking back, some of the posts definitely aren’t very good. And some of them are clearly throw-away blog posts.

But you know what? I actually did blog every day. I hit the publish key.. over and over.. 100 times in 100 days in a row. That is something I’m pretty proud of.

These 100 posts brought me to a total of 114 blog posts, and an email subscriber list of ~1000. Even though I don’t do much to promote the subscriber list, it is really cool to see it grow. The 100 posts had a significant effect on the list!

This brings is to the third stage: being more open.

Lately, I have been reflecting on blogging, and what I want out of it.

Overall, I realized two things:

  1. Blogging is awesome. Seriously. It forces me to think about life and about work. It has helped me build connections, on the web and in the real world. I’ve been learning that if you put yourself on there in the world, good stuff tends to come back around your way.
  2. I’ve been fairly superficial. Most of my posts are about life in general. Or on startup trends in general. Generalities are fine, but the good stuff in life always lies beyond all the surface-level stuff.

I know I can do better with sharing more. I want to share more about my thought process, on life, and on my entrepreneurial journey.

This is the stuff that matters to me, and I’m fairly sure this is the stuff will be more useful and interesting to read. It just isn’t stuff I’m used to publishing for the world… until now 🙂

I thought I understood clickable headlines, and then I realized that I missed the most important thing

Last year I wrote a blog post on the 8 secrets that writers use to trick readers into clicking on their headlines. I shared the blog post on Medium a little later where the post went viral and got more than 20K views in the next few days.

Afterward, I felt proud of myself. Having a post go viral feels great. But beyond that, I thought I understood headlines .I thought I understood most of the important tricks writers used for clickbait headlines, and I felt informed enough not to be duped by bad headlines.

Recently, then I looked back at the post, thought of Upworthy (the master of clickbait headlines), and realized that I missed the most important thing about great clickable headlines.

For those that don’t know, Upworthy has built a business of finding shareable content, and making it go viral by creating great headlines. They have mastered the art and science of it. For each piece of content, they come up with 25 possible headlines, and then put them through a system that tests each of them to figure out which headline is the best.

And if you look at their headlines, one thing pops up over and over: they create a curiosity gap.

That means that after you read the post, you immediate ask a question, “what? how? what happened? who?”.

The curiosity gap, is all over Upworthy. Just check out the image below of today’s headlines.

UpworthyCuriosityGap-1.12.14

See, it is all over.

Totally missed the curiosity gap *facepalm*.

 

 

Blog updates: new domain and look!

I started this blog April 2012 with the intention of learning more about the web. I figured the web is a media for sharing and being open, so why not start a blog? The initial goals were to share my story as a first-time entrepreneur, and learn more about how publishing and web traffic works.

At the beginning, I had a tough time publishing. It isn’t easy hitting the publish button! Once the button is hit, my thoughts are no longer just my own. They are out there for the world. And what if there’s a typo? What is something is wrong? In the early days, I had a really tough time just hitting that publish button.

However, in the last 3 months with the 100-post challenge, I’ve started to gain my stride. I learned how to fit blogging into my routine, and learned that I could actually hit the publish button on a daily basis.

Awesome!

In celebration, I think it is time to make this blog more of a “real” blog. I’ve been pretty busy pivoting Soulmix lately (which I’ll probably write about soon), but I’ve updated two obvious things:

  1. A real domain: I have been sitting on this domain for a few months, but wasn’t sure if I wanted to commit the domain to the blog. Well, now it is done. This blog is now officially at alexshye.com 🙂
  2. A more real theme: I started out with the default WordPress theme. I thought it looked decent and it didn’t require any work, which is a good thing. But now that this blog is more “real”, it is time to get off the default. So here is another WordPress theme. I found it because a friend was using it, and I really like the simplicity of it.

So, here we go!

For the foreseeable future, I’m still committed to hitting the publish button on a daily basis.

I hope you’ll enjoy it. As always if you have any thoughts on the blog, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

See you tomorrow 🙂

The 140-day tweet challenge

With the 100-day blogging challenge is now over, it seems like a good time to focus on building a new habit.

This last weekend, a friend and I were talking about how Twitter has been awesome for us. We use it to discover content, keep our finger on the pulse of the startup world, and connect with interesting people out there in the Twitter-sphere. However, we both mainly consume content. We don’t create much new content, and both expressed a desire to do so. And right then during the conversation, it clicked: why not do a tweet challenge?

So with that, I’d like to announce my new challenge: the 140-day tweet challenge.

The rules are simple:

  1. I will post to Twitter at least once day.
  2. The tweet must be text from me to the world. This means it isn’t a link share, an image share, a quote, or a tweet at someone else.
  3. I’ll number each day in the first tweet of the day which satisfies rule #2.

The only real restriction is rule #2. It may be restricting, but I think it is important. I already make a habit of retweeting links and quotes that I like. However, retweeting means that I am simply re-broadcasting other thoughts on the web. Rule #2 ensures that I am sharing my own personal thoughts on Twitter also.

Blogging has been great, but not all thoughts warrant a blog post. If I can blog on a daily basis, surely I can micro-blog on a daily basis also, right?

So now it is on!

You can follow my tweets (as well as tweet at me) on Twitter @alexshye 🙂

Reflecting on 100 posts in 100 days

fountain_pen1

This is a big blog post for me: it is #100 a 100-day blogging challenge!

I started this challenge exactly 100 days ago, and have hit the publish button everyday since then. Along the way, I have had a great experience. I have built the blogging habit, learned about myself, and learned a few lessons on startups and entrepreneurship. I’d like to wrap up the challenge with a reflection on the process, how things went, and my plans moving forward.

Building the blogging habit.

I wrote earlier on building my blogging habit (#35).

Much of what I wrote in the earlier post remains the same. The only important part of it all has been to commit to publishing every day. That means that I have to hit the publish button before I go to sleep. If I haven’t published, I don’t sleep. It is now almost 3am California time and I can’t wait to publish this because then I get to sleep.

One thing that has helped me blog every day is to remove process and preparation. Before this blogging challenge, I used to brainstorm ideas to write about, create outlines, write, re-write, and re-write again. All of this process and preparation creates dependencies that requires much time and thought. When trying to blog every day as a side project, all of that time is just overhead. Instead, I removed all state from writing. I simply sit down, come up with a topic, write a bit about it, and then hit publish.

Is this the optimal way to write?

I’m pretty sure it isn’t, and I’ll get back to this later. But, I am sure it is the only way that I could publish every day.

The biggest benefit to writing every day.

I outlined most of my reasons for blogging in a prior post on why I write. In the post, I describe why I don’t write, and why I do write. For your reference, I’ve listed the reasons that I write below:

  • I write to understand life.
  • I write to share my thoughts.
  • I write to understand entrepreneurship
  • I write to figure out product
  • I write to make creating and shipping a way of life.
  • I write to motivate myself.

There is a common theme among these: writing forces me to create time to think.

We are all busy in some shape or form. Each day comes with its own challenges and problems, and it can be easy to lose perspective. Writing has forced me to back out at the end of each day, and think about the big picture. This is how I come up with my daily blog topic. I think about life. I think about the life I want. I think about what matters to me. I think about my work, and how things are going. I think about product. I think about strategy. I take the multiple moving parts within my life and work, and then synthesize them to determine how things are going. Along the way, I usually come with with a few interesting thoughts, which benefits my life, and leads me to my blog topic for the day.

External benefits of blogging every day.

I most blog for internal purposes, but there are clearly external benefits to blogging every day.

First, it gives me an online presence. I have met people offline who have stumbled across my blog posts and recognize me from them. I am not Internet-famous by any means, but it is cool to be recognized from my online work (although I suppose if I actually became Internet-famous one day, it wouldn’t be cool anymore).

Second, consistent writing has helped in increasing this blog’s following. I haven’t promoted this blog much, but there is a noticeable difference in traffic. Before the 100 day challenge, I had ~100 email subscribers. As of today, I there are just under ~1000 email subscribers. This isn’t a huge numbers, and I don’t know how many of them are fake WordPress/email accounts, but the increase in subscribers is a benefit, and something that I have definitely noticed through the last few months.

Is publishing every day optimal?

In the last 100 days, I’ve learned that blogging every day is definitely doable as long as you are OK with sacrificing one thing: quality.

I occasionally go back to old blog posts, and within a minute, I’ll find a typo or a grammatical error. Those are bad, but it can get much worse. Sometimes I find my old arguments pointless or potentially wrong. Sometimes I remember points that I should have added. These are all quality problems.

If I look at my blog, I’m fairly sure that none of my best posts are in the last 100 posts. Before the challenge, I rarely blogged, but I put more thought into each blog post.

If the goal is to produce quality material, publishing every day is not optimal. However, if the goal is to produce and ship a new creation each day, publishing every day is optimal. It really depends on the goal, and I need to figure out what I want in the long term.

An alternative is to write every day without committing to the publishing every day. It would provide me the benefit of writing everyday while allowing me the time to hone each work of writing. The downsides are that (1) I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t iterate through as many thoughts, and (2) without a strict target, I might get lazy. It may be possible to make word count a strict target, but I don’t believe that is a good target. Much of revising and improving writing involves reducing word count. It may be possible to use time as a strict target, but time doesn’t always equal productivity. I need to think a bit more about this, but it could be a good option.

Where to go from here.

To be honest, I’m not sure. But I would like to be. So here is a first cut at it:

  • I would definitely like to keep writing everyday. I’m not completely sold on publishing every day, but for the time being, I think I’ll try continuing the habit.
  • I’ll lose the signature below each post. During the 100-day challenge, I wanted a signature to keep track of the number for each blog post. I figured that along the way, I’d add my Twitter as well as the project I’m currently working on. Now that the 100-day challenge is over, I’ll lose the signature
  • I plan to write more about my startup journey. Looking back, I realize I’ve written a lot about life and startups in general, but haven’t written much on my specific journey. The biggest reason for this is that it is difficult. I find myself with more questions than answers. And I find myself failing and being wrong a lot. It is hard to write when you feel you are flailing about. However, it may also be interesting to the world, and help future founders who come across this blog.
  • I will probably be more promotional. I don’t like the idea of promoting and marketing, but the fact of the matter is that it is important. Beyond that, it will be tough to write specifically about my startup journey without writing about the startup. And on the Internet, any mention of something is promotion.

Overall, I’m glad that I did the 100-day blogging challenge. Thanks to David Spinks for kicking this thing off. I’ve learned a lot about myself and startups along the way, and it has given me good momentum that I don’t want to let up on just yet.

I hope to keep writing, and I hope that this blog will get better over time. If you have any thoughts or feedback on anything, especially from the last 100 days, I would love to hear from you in the comments!