Experiment 01: Write Every Day

This site has seen a lot of action lately!  October encompassed 31 posts in all, one for every day of the month, bringing the total for the year to 80.  I'm not going to count the words for you, but it was quite a lot of them.

So, what was the point of this exercise?

This was Experiment 01: Write Every Day!

The result: overwhelming success.

my brainstorming-and-initial-drafting weapon of choice, believe it or not

Case Studies, Book Reviews, and Experiments

I didn't come up with the idea to do these myself; I noticed that other successful bloggers, such as Mr. Money Mustache, Jim Collins, and Raptitude's David Cain, have used them to good effect.  I'm sure some of these guys have paid good money on blogging web courses and how-to books and seminars, which is something I'm just not willing to do; instead, I'd rather shop around, figure out what seems to work, and adapt it to my own purposes.  The result: this site.

If you have a case study, book, or lifestyle experiment you'd like me to look into, shoot me an email.

Experimental Design

Now, about the Experiment itself!

The Hypothesis

Using the strategies espoused in How To Write A Lot (the subject of Book Review 02), I should be able to write an article of typical length and post it to this blog every single day of the month of October.

I have no personal experience with (and a little bit of automatic disdain for) word counts or other silly metrics, so I selected the article-a-day goal as a reasonable starting place.  In a Raptitude experiment of a similar sort, David lamented that his selected word count requirement was likely his undoing.

The pace stayed reasonably frantic, ensuring that I felt a constant pressure to write every single day in order to keep up.  I counted on my (sometimes disconcertingly high levels of) perfectionism for quality control—under no circumstances do I want to fill this site up with a bunch of filler garbage.

The Setup

I considered many possible options to further grease the Slide of Success: a rewards system (each week I am successful, reward myself with a nice craft beer beyond what I would typically spend); a punishment system (if I fail to complete the task, donate a non-negligible sum to a charitable organization that I don't agree with); various schemes for increasing my social accountability (telling a whole bunch of people and encouraging them to call me out in a very public way if I failed to deliver).  Those who've read some of Tim Ferriss' books (4 Hour Work Week, Body, Chef) will recognize these strategies as being among his favorites, and they sound like they should be effective.

However, my personal experience has shown that I am far more likely to do something when I focus on the desired outcome itself—the regular writing habit—and that artificial motivating factors are often much less successful than I anticipate (and short-lived even when they are).  In August, for example, I made a proclamation of intended accomplishments to friends and family on my personal blog... and then completely failed to deliver or even follow up.  I have a long history of this particular type of failure, and I've begun to suspect that telling lots of people what I plan to do somehow jinxes the proceedings.

As it turns out, this concern is backed up by experimental evidence in the academic field of psychology.  This point deserves is important enough to deserve its own article, so I won't dilute it by going into too much detail here.  Suffice it to say, I decided to avoid any public announcements and keep this goal to myself, only telling people about it if they specifically asked about my suddenly-increased post frequency.

The Results

So what did this experiment accomplish?  I finally wrote down lots of stuff I've been meaning to write down.  This will save me a significant amount of time, as I can forward people to my articles instead of answering the same questions over and over again.

This month's writing haul includes:

Article Series
Index Investing
The 529 Plan
Budget Throwdown
My Investments

Finance Basics
Correcting Roth IRA Overcontributions
Hooray, a Raise! DON'T BLOW IT.
Financial Advisors and Fiduciary Duty
The Debit Card Trap
Free Credit Scores
The Sky Is Falling!

Thrift Ideas
The $0 Phone Plan
The $0 Home Phone

And Higher Still Labs
Case Study 01: Dividing Household Expenses
Book Review 01: Happy Money
Book Review 02: How To Write A Lot

History and Current Events
The Citizen's Dividend

This experiment also provided a great opportunity to validate the principles in Book Review 02.

The Discussion

Posting every day this month required writing significantly more than I have ever written before.  I quickly found that, practically, it was just a matter of:

1) Keeping a big list of article ideas and draft snippets
I created a Google Doc for organizing my ideas, and carried notecards around with me so that I could capture article ideas that I had throughout the day.  This way, when it was Writing Time, I already had plenty of ideas to choose from (and sometimes even some links and a drafted paragraph or two!).  I collected far, far more ideas than I could write about in one month, so I will continue to use this list (and this approach) in future months.

2) Making it a habit to sit down and DO IT
The strategic core of How To Write A Lot was the de-magicalization of the writing process.  The writing process is more dependent on sustained hard work (akin to mowing the lawn or shoveling snow) than it is on flashes of brilliance and inspiration.  This is great news, because it means that anyone can write more simply by committing to write more—'writer's block' simply isn't a thing, and no magic is required to get the job done.

I definitely found this to be true.  By setting a regular deadline and committing myself to meet it... I succeeded!  Sometimes this meant hurriedly throwing together a typo-infested page or two on the way out the door to a concert, but I made it happen.  This skill will be invaluable in future writing projects (like, oh right, my PhD thesis).

If you want to write more, I definitely recommend checking out this book and trying its recommendations for yourself.

Future Work

This site has many new readers as a result of this project, and I've found posting these articles and watching the page hits count up to be highly addictive.  Most of the feedback I've received has been very positive, and it feels great to help people by sharing what I've learned.  If you have feedback for me, shoot me an email—I respond to all emails that aren't overly self-promotional.

This was a great experience, but the time investment was more than I will be able to stably maintain.  Going forward, I will continue to stoke my writing habit and commit to an average of three articles per week through the end of 2013.  That should cut the work roughly in half, and is well within my writing capacity for the weekend mornings.  I like the concept of regular postings, and I don't want to reduce article quality just to meet an overly-ambitious target.

If you have a topic request or a case study you'd like me to look into, send it my way!