7 Life Lessons That Writing Taught Me
Writing did not come naturally to me. In fact, I dreaded writing when I was in school and college. Interestingly, what made me incline towards writing was; Reading.
I developed a love for reading a decade or so ago, which intensified over the last few years. I started with fiction and gradually slipped into non-fiction and then stayed there.
When you read a lot, you start getting a ton of ideas and thoughts. Every book gives you food for thought. Some of these ideas were so brilliant that I had to share them with others to remember them. I started sharing and discussing ideas with my friends and family, noting them down in my notebooks to keep them close to me and remember them when needed.
Slowly, my notebook started overflowing, and my discussions with friends became more frequent. I almost felt like I couldn’t hold these ideas with me anymore and had to share them with others, and that’s when I contemplated writing. After contemplating (read procrastinating) it for a while and some initial missteps, I decided to go for it and chose Medium as the platform.
The initial few months were a disaster. I could almost hear the audience tell me that none of them really cared about what I had to say and write. I could feel my Medium stint coming to a quick end.
However, I stayed with it. I realized that blog writing helped me get better at my work communication (I am in sales, so that is a huge deal for me) so if nothing, I would at least see my work results improve and I dragged along. I write about behavior, psychology, self-improvement, productivity, and sales. I consider myself a keen human observer and have read many books on these topics. Writing in these areas came naturally to me.
Fast forward to today, I haven’t had major success with Medium as such. Yes, I have had a couple of articles go crazy viral, but a vast majority haven’t passed through more than a thousand eyeballs. However, in my defense, most of these articles have been curated by Medium curators and added to the recommended stories. I guess that does mean that I’m not getting it all wrong.
Irrespective of my medium success (or the lack of it), blogging or writing regularly has changed me as a person. I have been a blogger for a year now and fallen in love with the art of writing. If they look at a writer's brains under the microscope and compare it with non-writers, I am sure they’ll find some visible differences (Turns out there is some research to support this).
Writing is quite reflective of life in a way. Both need proper care and attention to flourish, both get better under pressure up to a point beyond which they deteriorate and to be successful at both, you need you to show up every day, no matter how your previous day has been.
The parallels between writing and enjoying life go way beyond that. Over the last year or so, I have learned some important life lessons from regular writing and blogging
#1 Beautiful outcomes have a messy execution
What looks like a perfect blog article to the audience is a sum total of multiple messy drafts for the author.
When I start drafting a new blog post, my enthusiasm levels are very high. A para or two into the first draft, and they start going down. Midway into the article, they are languishing at the bottom.
It can be difficult to break that mid-draft barrier and continue writing. Even today, I have many articles sitting there in the draft mode, and I hope to get to them at some point. However, once you cross that barrier and approach the end, your enthusiasm soars again.
The final outcome that looks beautiful from the outside has had its journey through this messy execution. It made me realize that when we spot ‘overnight success’ in life, it is prudent to note that they, in all probability, have had to go through years of hidden messy execution (and overcome languishing motivation levels) to get there.
#2 It always takes longer than you think
I saw planning fallacy on full display when I started writing. I overestimated my speed of writing. It took me a while to realize that I should multiply my estimates by 2 to arrive at an accurate timeline.
The planning fallacy is pervasive across our lives. We are, what I’d like to call, optimistic suckers. We underestimate the time it takes for us to complete a task, as well as the costs and risks associated with that task. The reason we do that is that it makes us feel good in the present. We see ourselves navigating the task and getting out at the other end quickly and safely, and that is a happy visual
Unfortunately, that’s not the reality. Only when we start working on the task do realize the flaws with that plan and the optimism.
To overcome that, plan for the unknown and keep a buffer.
#3 Be You
When I started writing, I studied many writers, their writing styles, their topics, and their patterns. I looked at all their articles and tried to understand what gave them success and what didn’t.
I did that analysis to replicate some of it in my writing. I started following their styles and their tips, and those helped. However, I quickly realized that my content started losing its authenticity. It didn’t reflect my voice and my thought process. It didn’t feel genuine.
So I pivoted and started writing about things that I liked and in the way that I liked to express them. Some of my best articles are a reflection of me. It is like me having a conversation with my friends.
Don’t get me wrong here. There are successful people whom you could learn from and grow in life. However, what worked for them may not work for you. So while you use their experience as a guiding light, don’t let it become your crutch.
Be yourself. Nobody knows you better than you do. Do some self-analysis and understand what interests you and what bores you, figure out your writing and reading style, and the feedback you’ve received over the years.
This will help you get to your niche or your zone. You can have more than one zones, and that’s completely alright as long as they reflect you.
In life, as in writing, authenticity trumps inspired motivation.
#4 Flexibility is the real MVP
There have been so many times that I started with an interesting idea in mind and realized that I wasn’t going anywhere while putting it on paper. It looked very different from what I’d wanted it to be.
Earlier, this would have discouraged me, and I would’ve dropped the post altogether. However, I figured out that I need not abandon the idea completely but tweak it somewhat and get to a different outcome than I had originally started with.
For example, I would start writing about networking for introverts and end up with my grandfather’s networking advice. Tweaking and being open to this flexibility has helped me get better and improve my execution.
In life, when we plan for certain events, it is impossible to have complete knowledge of the circumstances and potential impediments that we may face along the way. It is very much like a game of poker. You may think that your pocket pair of aces will help you win the pot only to realize later that someone’s potential flush makes your strong position not so strong anymore.
Rather than folding and losing everything you’ve bet so far, you may want to tweak your strategy along the way and try winning the game. Being okay with that ambiguity is the key to a fulfilled life.
#5 Time management is everything
It has never been more important to manage (protect) our time than right now.
We are being pulled in a thousand different directions by a thousand different apps, notifications, and meetings. The only way we can get anything substantial done is by time blocking.
Time blocking is the only reason that I’ve been able to dish out all this content.
If you want to see your output double or even triple, just do these two things.
- Figure out your high impact tasks and
- Create time blocks to work on those tasks. Remove any distractions whatsoever. No one disturbs you unless there is a life and death situation or if your house is on fire.
#6 Compounding is powerful
We’ve heard and read about compounding. A single action committed today doubles tomorrow, quadruples the day after, and so on. This happens with money, with habits, and even vices. Every decision you take has a long term impact.
I knew all that but never saw it in action the way I did with my writing. As I write these words today, one of my articles written 6 months back is probably being shared on some social network somewhere and helping me get noticed.
When you create content, you create an asset that continues to get you viewers and fans. Some of these assets die down initially only to resurface later, like a phoenix.
What you do today can have major implications for your future self.
#7 Grab on to decisions with limited downside and unlimited upside
It took me 6–8 months to decide that I should finally start writing. In these months, I kept vacillating and kept thinking. What if it doesn’t work out the way I foresee it? What if no one reads what I write? What if people judge me?
I discussed this with my wife and explained to her my fears. She asked me a simple question: “What’s the worse that can happen? Maybe no one reads what you write, or maybe some of these readers end up writing nasty comments on your post. So what? That doesn’t change anything. You’ll always get critics. If anything, they’ll help you improve your writing. So what are you worried about?”
She was basically trying to make me understand that blog writing had a minimal downside compared to the potentially huge upside. If done well, it could end up being my best decision. If not, I at least would have tried.
In life, you’re faced with many decisions. This framework comes in extremely handy to help you decide. I’ve used it on multiple occasions when I’ve had to make a big decision (or even a small one).
When making a decision, ask yourself this question — What is the worst that can happen? The answer can go a long way in changing your trajectory.