Writing in 2020 and 2021

Towards the beginning of 2020, before a worldwide pandemic became a thing, I set a goal to write 50 blog posts in 2020.

I’m here to tell you: I did it! Not only 50, but 65 to be exact. Excuse me while I pat myself on the back for a moment.

👋 🖐 👋

Screenshot of the home page post count widget for blog.jim-nielsen.com at the end of 2020.

[Site note: silly me, I didn't even design a “success” state for that widget. When 2021 rolled around, it looked like I was still just “on pace” — I went ahead and filed a bug with myself for that.]

Screenshot of the newly-designed “success” state for the home page post count widget for blog.jim-nielsen.com.

You’ll note that I aimed for 50 and hit 65. I’m a bit unsure exactly how to evaluate that against any kind of expectation, given what the year looked like. Maybe I surpassed my goal because of 2020 — writing as an outlet for stress? If hanger = hunger + anger, then it’s possible what I did was a whole lot of stwriting (stress + writing).

Anyhow, I liked how setting this goal publicly made me feel accountable–peer pressure FTW—so I’m going to go ahead and set another goal for 2021 publicly.

Goal for 2021

First off, let’s get one thing straight: I’m not aiming for hockey stick growth here. A $1bn unicorn valuation for my blog, though surely practical and within reach, is not my aim.

This year gave me a good pulse for how much writing is practical, but I’d also like to feel pushed a bit more. I like feeling pushed to sit down and write because I do actually enjoy it quite a bit (I’m enjoying just writing this paragraph right now, so sue me). I like the way the goal orients my brain to be conjuring up ideas to explain and notes to share.

So given that, plus the fact that I like to shoot low and pleasantly surprise myself, I’m going to aim for 72 posts this year. Why 72? Honestly, it’s just nice math. Last year was 50, which meant (roughly) one post per week. I wanted to bump up the quantity this year (from 65 last year) and 72 divided by 12 is a nice even 6 posts per month, so I’ll go with that.

How do I feel about that goal? Honestly, I don’t think I’ll hit it. My aim in writing is not to constantly share anything. Quantity is a goal, but not the goal. That said, setting a quantitative goal feels like the push I need to be constantly mindful of writing. I have a lot of things that cross my mind and make me think, “I should write that up...” Being able to follow that thought up with “well, I do need to write x number of posts this year” is the impulse I need to start writing. So if I don’t hit 72, I’ll be ok with that. But it does feel like a goal that’s going to propel me to writing when I might normally circumvent the opportunity.

A Few Notes from Writing in 2020

For me, I feel like writing begets writing. The more I write, the more I want to write. The less I write, the more I want to do other things, like peck around at code and never ship anything. Short term, it feels easier and more fun to sit down and write code for machines than to sit down and write prose for humans. However, the more I write, the more I want to write. I suppose it’s kind of like exercise. As someone who struggles on and off with exercising, I actually do really enjoy it when I do it. And when I get in the habit of doing it, I like it more. But when I don’t do it for a while, it’s so hard to start back up. When you get in the groove, everything else flows much easier. That’s how writing is for me. Not that that’s really some kind of keen insight, as I’m basically saying “hey practice at something and you’ll get better at it and want to do it more because it gets easier and you feel good at it.”

I found a nice workflow this year for moving blog posts from ideas to notes to drafts to published articles. I rarely found myself thinking “what should I write about?” Instead, I often had to choose what not to write about, selectively saying “No” to some of the ideas in my queue. Setting a goal brought writing to the forefront of my mind, I even began seeing my tweets as blog posts in seedling form. As @davatron5000 told me “Tweets are blog todos!”

Lastly, it felt good to see my posts find some resonance in the community. I really only know about other folks interest in my posts because A) their links showed up as being popular in my analytics, or B) I follow them myself online and noticed their writings giving my writing a nod (I really need to get webmentions setup on my blog this year). I’ll end with a few examples: