70,000 words

A year of writing

Today marks a personal achievement of mine. A year ago, on May 18th 2019, I published the first post in a year-long chain of weekly content.

The decision to put something out every week was motivated in part by the words of Scott Hanselman, who says the most important thing is regularity. It doesn't matter if it's not stellar every time, as long as you're regular. As long as people can expect new content from you at regular intervals, you'll build a following.

Another important factor was this: if you force yourself to create and release content every week for a year, you will get better at it. Not only will you get better at writing and expressing yourself, but you will also learn to accept that things are never perfect and that you can (and must) release something nonetheless. You can't hold on to something until it is perfect, because it never will be. Learning to accept this is a key part of being a creator.

The ups and downs

As with everything else, committing to a weekly writing schedule has its share upsides and downsides. While finding a topic to write about every week is surprisingly easy, doing the research and putting words on the page is surprisingly hard and time-consuming.

The Good

The most obvious positive is that I've gotten a lot of writing practice. I've also gained some exposure within certain programming communities, and I've learned a lot about a wide variety of topics.

The most valuable thing, however, may be that I now have a body of work available on the internet. It may sound silly, but the satisfaction I get from looking back at how far I've come and how much I've produced is not to be understated.

The Bad

Time. Writing takes time. Writing takes a lot of time. Writing takes even more time when you are a bit of perfectionist and want to make sure everything is just right ™.

I estimate that I've spent, on average, about a work day on each post. That makes over four hundred hours in the past year and is equivalent to a little over 10 weeks worth of work, assuming a work week of about 40 hours.

This is a pretty serious cost. I can't remember the last time I had full weekend off. Sometimes you just want to relax, but you can't because you know you have to write that next post. It hasn't always been fun. I haven't always wanted to do this, but I've pushed through.

I've also set myself an increasingly high bar and specialized in a few key areas. I've created a system where it feels as if every post has to be of a certain length and about a certain topic. This has kept me from writing shorter posts and from exploring other topics, such as CSS and the .NET ecosystem, for instance.

Tangible outcomes

What do you get out of pouring all these hours and all this effort into a blog like this? Personal satisfaction and a feeling of accomplishment is one thing, but have I gotten anything tangible in return for my efforts?

Let's see:

Newsletters and reading lists
I've had posts featured on a number of weekly newsletters, including This Week in Rust, Haskell Weekly, and NixOS Weekly. As an avid reader of all of these, it's been a joy to see my name on the lists. I've also often seen links from other reading lists, such as Read Rust.
Rust release notes
And speaking of Rust, my post on advanced slice patterns got a special mention in the release notes for 1.42. Big, proud crab moment 🦀
Freelancer agreements
Off the back of the post mentioned above, I was recently contacted by (and subsequently signed a contract with) an external company to write content for their blog. By definition, I'm now a professional writer.
Being able to look up my own knowledge
More than a few times, I've found myself trying to recall how to use a specific git command or just how awk's syntax works. At times like these, knowing I've written about it previously makes it very easy to quickly find what I've forgotten. This also matches how I've often heard other content creators say that they end up finding their own content when looking up how to do something.
Conference talks
I'm speaking at NDC Oslo this year. I don't know whether the blog played any part in me landing the spot or not, but I like to think that it might have. At the very least, I don't think it hurt.

Stats

In addition to the outcomes mentioned above, I thought it'd be interesting to present some statistics on what I've published so far (before this post).

Total number of published words
71,554
Total number of posts
53
Average word count
1,350
Longest post
Let's Read Haskell Programming from First Principles, part IV: Basic data types (2,866 words)
Shortest post
Rebasing off a repo root (277 words)
Number of unique tags
34
Most used tags
  1. Haskell (15 posts)
  2. Git (10 posts)
  3. Rust (7 posts)
Time spent
400+ hours

Traffic generators

I use Netlify's analytics to get a rough overview over how many page views I get and to see what content gets the most traffic. Based entirely on anecdotal experience from checking my numbers every now and then, I can tell you that Rust is far and away what generates the most views on my blog. At the time of writing, the four most visited blog posts are all Rust posts.

The post on Magit Forge also performed very well and got some pretty good circulation (in relative terms) on Twitter.

Now what?

Now that I've reached my goal and completed the year of blogging, what's next for the blog? Do I just drop it? Do I keep it up? Do I put even more time into it?

I have no intentions of letting the blog go any time soon. However, I do intend to change up the format a bit. I'd like experiment more with shorter posts and different kinds of content.

I also expect not to write much in the next month, as I'd like to focus much more on the talk I'll be giving at NDC Oslo in June. I'd say a little time off is well deserved.

Was it worth it?

Chris Coyier has said that the best way to create a name for yourself online is to write. Write, write, and then write some more. Content is valuable, and you can always offer something new and unique.

Words like these motivate me, and when I look back upon what I've written so far, I'm even more motivated to keep going. I've got so much more to learn and so much more to say.

So yes, it was worth it.

Now excuse me while I go play some video games.



Thomas Heartman is a developer, writer, speaker, and one of those odd people who enjoy lifting heavy things and putting them back down again. Preferably with others. Doing his best to gain and share as much knowledge as possible.