You can’t hide mediocrity behind quantity
Recently I embarked on an experiment where I challenged myself to write and publish something everyday. I wrote quite a few articles during that time. Some were trite and navel-gazey but a few others tried to tackle more substantive ideas.
Like any good experiment, I definitely learned something.
Publishing everyday isn’t the skill I need to develop. Writing everyday is.
Trying to publish everyday was certainly challenging and it pushed me to sit down and spend more time in front of the keyboard than I probably would have otherwise. I got a little bit better at quickly identifying something to write about and cranking out something coherent. Being able to write clearly and cogently is definitely a useful skill, but it’s also one that is squarely in my comfort zone. It seems like I’ve always been able to write quicker and at greater length than most people (I remember all the dirty looks my friends gave me during in-class essay tests in high school).
Unfortunately, when it comes to writing, quickness is not a particularly distinguishing characteristic. I’m not trying to write breaking news or get something published under a tight deadline so the fact that I can crank out a couple hundred words without thinking twice isn’t super useful. What is useful, however, is writing something so impactful and insightful that people share it with their friends or are compelled to reach out to me or change how they think about a tricky subject — all characteristics that are unrelated to how quickly I created it.
This experiment in daily writing actually coincided with another event that really helped me understand my own approach to work. At The Ready we work in duos and we try to be very deliberate about retrospecting and learning from the work we do and how we do it. For the last 6 months I’ve been partnered with Spencer Pitman and a few weeks ago we had our last retrospective. If you know Spencer you know that everything he does oozes with quality. All you need to do is spend a couple minutes checking out his writing or his decks — the dude makes incredibly impressive stuff.
I know he never said these words but I remember walking away from our meeting with the stark realization, “I compensate with feeling creatively or professionally vulnerable with sheer quantity of output.” My combined affinity for perfecting my own personal productivity and my natural gift for being able to work quickly tend to create a strategy of overwhelming people with okay content.
Spencer takes the opposite approach. He doesn’t create a ton but everything he does make causes people to stop in their tracks and say, “Woah.”
I, on the other hand, seem to be operating with some version of this in my head:
“I don’t know if what I’m doing is any good, or if I’m even capable of doing something excellent, so instead I’m going to create more ‘pretty good’ stuff than you think is even possible for one person to create and you will probably be impressed.”
This approach to creative work is a way for me to hide from the uncomfortable reality that doing great work requires skills I’ve yet to master — patience, editing, and taste, to name a few. My experiment of writing and publishing everyday was helping me develop skills I already had while letting me ignore skills I find uncomfortable.
“I can’t edit this piece for clarity or impact! I told myself that I’d publish something everyday! I can’t tackle a trickier idea because I don’t have the time to really tackle it the right way!”
With this new understanding still settling into my brain I’ve decided to embark on a new experiment. I’m still aiming to write everyday but I will no longer expect to publish something everyday. I’m hesitant to put an official interval on my publishing efforts, but I’m shooting for publishing something roughly every week or so. I want to give myself time to step away from a first draft, revisit with fresh eyes, rewrite and edit as needed, and put something into the world that I can be proud of on its own and not just because I wrote it quickly. I want to take the time to write articles that take me more than one session to draft because they require more careful thinking and care.
I’ve been sitting on some ideas that need more than a rushed evening writing session to bring to fruition. Removing my arbitrary daily publishing deadline has given me the space, and the motivation, to try to tackle these. Therefore, you’ll definitely be seeing my writing less frequently. The world doesn’t need another mediocre Medium author peddling half-baked (or even three-quarter baked) ideas so I’m taking myself out of the kitchen — for now.
I’ll be back when I have some fully baked bread, and better metaphors, to share.