It’s a bit of a milestone, no?

Today is a special day, as it marks the last day of three months of my daily writing challenge. This post is also my 100th blog post. (I already had a couple of older longer format posts on here from over the years, if you wonder why the maths don’t match up)

I started this challenge out of the sheer frustration I felt that my academic job often left me so overwhelmed with teaching, supervision of students, and a lot of administrative crap, that running experiments, statistical analysis, and writing up – all the stuff I actually signed up for – sometimes disappeared into the background. Running and maintaining my experiments obviously gets my priority, as it is the most important step to ensure that analysis and writing are obvious follow-up activities. With running experiments and statistical analysis, I feel like it is fairly straightforward to pick up again, after you haven’t done it for a couple of weeks or months. For most experiments you can use previous protocols and your memory may help, too. I’ve learned that it is pretty hard to lose the really practical skills. I think my green thumbs will stay with me for life. For analysis, well, you may have previous coding that will help you refresh your memory, and soon your back to the level you had when you closed your previous session months ago. With writing? Not so much. Writing is a skill, almost like a muscle, that will deteriorate rapidly if you don’t use it. Knowing this to be very true for myself, you can imagine that I got frustrated that the most dominant writing form was the series of quick ‘n dirty e-mails I compose on a daily basis. I had to do something about it.

So that’s what I did. I did something about it. I decided to push myself into a somewhat sloppy writing adventure, with no clear goal in mind, except to churn out some words in the form of a daily little story. I had no target audience – or if any, the target audience would be me. However, I did think it would be a good idea to post my daily work on social media, first of all because it would help me overcome the horrible feeling I always felt when I ‘Hit Submit‘ whenever I upload a manuscript to a journal. I chose a forced format that would consist of daily posts of exactly 200 words. The idea was that this would force me to think within certain boundaries, as this is often expected in my job as well (think word limits for abstracts, proposals, etc.). However, quite soon I found myself get annoyed with the daily writing. The 200 words often resulted in stories that felt lame to me. The word limit felt like a creative limit, too. That was never my intention. The intention was to train my writing, to improve my storytelling. So the word limit was ditched after a couple of weeks. Feel free to complain – I make the rules here.

And so I kept going! I thought it would be a good moment to share some numbers, and maybe some lessons learned.

In the past three months – excluding this post – I have written a respectable 48.020 words, divided over 89 posts, counting an average of 540 words per post. (But keep in mind that the first two weeks or so were 200 per day) People apparently were reading my posts, as I saw an average of 37 people per day visit this place in February and March. In April, people must have been enjoying the spring weather, or they did not like posts about flowers as much, as this number dropped to 31 per day. Several readers showed some love by hitting the WordPress ‘Like’ button 253 times, or an average of 3 likes per post. I have little reference to compare this number to, but an appreciation by 10% of the readers feels reasonable. I assume that several others liked it as well, as they told me to my face, and I find this a strange thing to lie about. My best day, March 30th, yielded 104 readers in one day. That day I wrote this post, which remarkably did not get so many reads. I have gained 70 followers on WordPress, which I think does not mean much. Most of them seem to be online marketers waiting for a follow-back. However, one notable entomology professor and fellow blogger came to read and decided to stay and become a regular. Hi! I appreciate you taking the time to drop by so often and spread the word. It means a lot.

So, three months in. Did I learn anything?

  • I was right about the writing muscle. The first posts were hard. Probably the first month was the absolute hardest to fulfill my daily duty here. However, as the days went by, I noticed that it became easier and easier to write down stories. I’m not saying they are always interesting, but the words started to flow much more naturally after some time. Now, after three months, I have no issues. I can fill pages without problems. Sorry if I rant a lot. I hope the storytelling or structuring of posts still keeps improving. I have by no means reached a final station yet. (Is that possible?)
  • Content subject does not relate to reads. Sometimes I write stuff that I find funny, interesting, or beautiful, but that does not mean that it’ll get read. I have only observed that the most clickbaity titles work best, and more prominently so if you infuse them with negativity. Be better, audience, there is so much beauty in this world, you just know where to look (as I’ve tried to share in some of my posts on stupid lovely flowers) I don’t care much about reads. Most writers will tell you that readers will come if you stick to writing long enough. Who am I to argue with them?
  • I have started to appreciate other writers more. Writing is an art form that is inherently made up of bits and pieces of language that have been used countless times by others. I still feel that my English vocabulary is fairly limited, as I’m not a native speaker. This could be just me, but sometimes I read other people’s blogs, books, or hear people speak on podcasts and am just amazed by the proze they use. I have started listening to podcasts again (something I had somehow forgotten about for a year or more) and especially liked interviews with successful writers. I enjoy listening to Tim Ferriss, who has a very accessible approach to picking the minds of successful entrepeneurs and artists. For instance, yesterday I listened to this one, with Chuck Palahniuk, who wrote Fight Club, and many other works.
  • Writing calms the mind. Even when it may not always look like it over here, my daily rants help me structure some of my thinking. My mind can be chaos sometimes, and often all it needs is some structure. Writing helps me with this. Similarly, I find the daily writing to be a good outlet for things that bother me, personally. I find myself in constant battle to maintain my mental health in order. Some problems I can literally write off. Writing serves as a form of journaling, which is recommended by many mental health experts to keep the mind at ease. Of course it’s not for everyone to share whatever crosses their minds with the world. (I personally don’t give a shit, I’m not ashamed of who I am) It may still work to use writing or journaling without sharing it publicly. I can highly recommend.

These were some of the main lessons learned in this relatively short time. I hope they may be useful to others, or convince you to start writing, too. We all have stories to tell! (Let me know where I can read your work) I have no plans to quit anytime soon, so hopefully in another three, six or nine months, I can return with yet another post in which I’ll revisit these lessons, and add to them.

That’s it for today! Thanks to all 37 or 31 of you that will read this today. Know that I appreciate you devoting your time to my writing. I hope you enjoyed some of it.

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of one but almost two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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