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Lessons Learned In the First 4 Months
First steps always include missteps. Here are some things I’ve learned from my first few months of The Reflection Point.
It’s been 4 months since I took my first brave step into blog-dom. And now, after 11 articles and tens of views per article, it’s time to monetize.
Seriously though, as with any new endeavor, I went into The Reflection Point (TRP) with one set of assumptions and learned quickly which ones were wrong. If your internal autobiography resembles a freshly paved boulevard of unbroken green lights, you’re going to keep hitting the same potholes and covering them up. Understanding why you were right allows for continued optimism and courage to take new steps in the future. Understanding where you were wrong allows for better decisions going forward.
Below is a quick list of those wrongs and rights I’ve witnessed in the first 4 months.
Consistent Writing Allows for Great Writing
In mid-December I was on the monthly Zoom call for the listeners of the podcast Acquired. This is a group of business enthusiasts, operators, and investors. Smart crew. We were talking about first day IPO price pops and I piped in with a side comment about the IPOs we hear about vs the ones we don’t. There was a weird silence and so I filled it with a bit more color about how IPOs work. I kept it short given the 300 other people on the call and after it was over, I went about laying out for the internal slack channel how IPOs actually work based on my experience at Citi. The response was immediate and positive. I made a post of it on TRP and shared it on Linkedin. To date, it’s the most popular post I’ve had.
I was able to write it because I had written 7 other posts before it. Maybe 25 total people had read those posts. Thousands read the IPO post. But the act of contemplating, writing, and editing those first 7 allowed me to quickly and clearly craft a narrative on the mechanics of an event that is misunderstood by many. And by that point I enjoyed doing it. It took very little effort or hesitation to dive in and create the best article I’d written to date.
There will be another big one, and it will be to an even bigger audience next time - but only if I keep writing.
Tweets are not Articles
I held off on launching TRP until I had a backlog of 10 good ideas. I originally told myself I needed 5 finished articles, but once I had 2 I got impatient and went with the 10 ideas threshold. All my ideas are in my Notes app, allowing me to quickly and informally collect any idea, thought, or full paragraph monologue that comes to me.
In these first 4 months of writing, two things stand out:
Not all my ideas are good.
Not all my ideas are articles.
I currently have 5 finished, never-to-published articles that are a result of either or both of these concepts. The first one makes sense. I’ve learned that if I ever say to myself “oh that’s good”, it’s not good. Self-Satisfied = Self-Indulgent.
The second is a bit harder. As I started to take more notes, I started having more ideas. Some of them were pithy phrases that were worth writing down. Some of them were whole paragraphs I dictated to my phone. Sometimes that pithy phrase filled entire pages as I went to write. Sometimes those paragraphs ended right there, with nothing else to say.
What I’ve learned is that the ideas that create good articles are those that aren’t finished when I write them down. If I write down ideas as statements of fact, there’s nowhere to go. If I write them as opinions that feel right but I want to explore, that’s much better.
Now that I write this, “explore” is the key word. Whether it’s exploring a memory, a story, an opinion, or a debate, I can make the writing far more lively. I can dive into details of an afternoon in Washington Square Park. I can dive into devil’s advocate arguments and truly understand what I believe on an issue. And if the goal is to help others, laying out the different arguments also helps people reading understand how someone else could get to a very different view than their own.
Ride Inspiration When You Have It
Professional writers sit down every day, no matter how they are feeling, and they get words on the page. Day after day. I don’t have that burden, but if I choose Saturday morning to write, it’s not guaranteed that whatever I consider brilliance will emerge. When it’s not there, I force my way through it and I have to edit far more afterwards.
But when it is there, oh boy. Drop everything you’re doing and ride that unicorn. 10:15pm keeps surprising me with second winds and though my endurance at that time isn’t great, I can get some good stuff down. That’s on the energy and focus side.
On the clarity side, the timing of an idea and when I can write sometimes align. I wrote the Vignette for New York right after walking through Washington Square Park. I skipped every idea I’d already written down in my notes and banged out a vignette.
Other ideas like the skateboarding story I sat on for a few months. In that case, I hadn’t quite been able to make it personal. Then I got home from playing tennis and it all clicked - it’s about being unafraid of judgement. I sat down and wrote.
To throw it back to number 1, the more consistently I write, the more inspiration unicorns fly by. But it’s not common. I think Hemingway said to write drunk and edit sober. I tried that and fell asleep. But I have found that being slightly tired can cause that fatigue loopiness that makes the ideas and sentences more fun. Smiles in the writer, smiles in the reader.
Mandated Frequency Is a Battle I Still Don’t Know If I Want to Wage
Every time I post an article I breathe a sigh of relief because I get to restart the clock. This is a completely self-imposed pressure and it exists even though I never claimed I would publish at a dictated regularity. The battle is between a desire to publish consistently and the freedom of never having to force anything half-baked.
Ironically this article comes after the longest stretch of not writing since I started. My free time over the past month was focused on two specific goals and TRP fell down the priority list. The fact that it was always in the back of my mind means that I do feel an obligation to post, or maybe it’s a desire to make this consistent now that I’ve started it. But if something else is more important for a period of time, then so be it! It’s my own damn blog!
My gut says publishing every 2.5 weeks is a good goal. It creates healthy self-expectation without creating unhealthy, self-created stress. I’m basically requiring myself to do something I love and avoiding the negative externality of starting to hate it.
Overall, my goal has remained the same: for each article, at least one person beyond me should enjoy and benefit from it. Article 1,000 will be meaningfully better than article 20, but as long as each one along the way meets that standard, I’ll be on the right path.