Twelve months ago - in January 2021 - I started my attempt at the #100DaysToOffload challenge. I had set myself a new year’s resolution to try to write more and, around the same time, I noticed the hashtag for the challenge circulating on Mastodon. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to fulfil my resolution. The challenge is to post 100 times on a personal blog during the space of one year.
Whilst I had a blog (on this website) before starting the challenge, I only really wrote on it sporadically. In this post I'll talk a little about how I approached the challenge, and about how I came to be able to post more frequently during the year (and hopefully beyond!).
Interacting with other challengers
I began by visiting the challenge website to follow the feeds of other bloggers that had previously completed the challenge. I also searched the hashtag in the fediverse to discover people currently attempting it.
My aim was to follow and interact with others in order to gain inspiration and ideas for posts. However, I quickly realised that people wrote about things that meant something to them - a personal blog is exactly that: a series of posts about things the author is interested in or wants to share. This is the entire point of the challenge in the first place; it has to be completed on a personal blog.
Despite this, following other frequent bloggers certainly provided encouragement and motivation to get started and to keep going, which was in itself invaluable.
Planning "when" to write
As someone who typically blogged only a handful of times a year previously, I needed to plan an approach that would enable me to write more frequently.
To get 100 posts published in 2021, I’d need to write about two per week. I set myself a "Write blog post!" Reminder and configured it to repeat twice a week: on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I use the Sorted app, which made this easy, but any software that supports repeated "reminders" would work.
This way, even if I was unable to write my post on a particular Wednesday in which I was particularly busy, the reminder would still show as "todo" on the Thursday. This helped me to stay on track.
Planning "what" to write
Planning when to write is the easy part. The problem is then working out what to write about.
I always keep a "scratchpad" note on my notes app in which I keep random links, bookmarks, and other things to eventually think about, visit, or to filter through to a better record-keeping system.
I made a section at the top of this note called "Blog post ideas" and began to populate it with a handful of short bullet points for potential topics. I added sub-points to each topic in order to add extra context or ideas related to that topic that I could also include.
I use the Bear app, which meant I could easily note down ideas as they came to me when out and about, but any app that syncs well between devices would do the job.
To start with, the list contained some software dependency packages I’d recently discovered and found interesting. My intention was to write short posts to explain how to use the packages, describe their purpose, and some thoughts about why I had decided to use them.
I then began to think of my own life, and what was potentially noteworthy from that angle. I began to bullet about some interesting books I’d recently read, some podcasts I subscribe to, and the fact I had recently got a dog. I had also recently started exercising more, working from home, and had ideas about achieving balance in those areas.
Before too long, I had a bank of around 20 post ideas in my scratchpad note. This made the task seem much less daunting!
The ideas themselves weren’t very exciting, but I had angles I could use to make them interesting or useful to others whilst keeping them personal.
Getting over the inertia of writing & some learnings
I’m not a natural writer. One of the reasons I blogged so infrequently before 2021 was a fear and apprehension about others reading - and judging - what I write. This made it hard to initially put "pen to paper" and get started.
This fear also made the process long. Short posts that should take 20 minutes to draft, check, and publish would often take me hours. I’d proof-read again and again and try to take on additional viewpoints. This made the act of then physically posting the article even more difficult, and even after posting it I’d re-read it and continue to make post-publish edits.
The volume and frequency of writing required of the challenge meant I didn’t have time for all of this anymore. I still wanted a life and the ability to work on other things in my spare time (where it exists!), and so spending several hours twice a week on blog-writing just wouldn’t fit.
As such, I quickly learned to just start writing. After I was a few posts into the challenge I began to treat each one as if it were a more casual email or as if I were simply drafting a toot (or a tweet).
It was a new mental model that allowed me to write without fear, and I quickly began to look forward to Wednesdays and Saturdays and to getting down to writing and publishing a new post.
Before I knew it I was 10 days, then 20, and then 30 days into the challenge. I’d continue to add new ideas to the scratchpad to keep up the backlog, and the whole process began to take on a rhythm of its own.
I now feel much more confident in my writing. I know that not everyone will find my posts useful or interesting (far from it), but I’ve begun to enjoy writing simply for the sake of it. I also get a few comments from others who read and subscribe to my blog, which is nice.
I still maintain my "Blog post ideas" list, and continue to add to it. I hope to carry on working through these in 2022. I found I’ve re-learned my ability to explore the web and all it has to offer. I take the time to read about articles, posts, and new developments, and to form opinions and thoughts that - in turn - spark the ideas for new thought pieces of my own.
I’ve also loved reading and engaging with the posts published by others taking part in the challenge. It’s a great mix of personal content, technical reviews and tutorials, and lots more. My RSS feed is always full of interesting posts (which reminds me that I need to create a blog roll for my website soon...), and I feel that I learn a huge amount from getting involved.
Writing my blog also encouraged me to spend more time on my personal website. I wanted to make it more accessible, readable and engaging, whilst keeping things as simple as possible. I added new pages (such as a "notes" page), and tried to link to other projects and inspirations where possible.
As a result of the blog and the changes to my site I noticed a 20-30x increase in web traffic. Some posts got popular enough for them to get shared and boosted more widely, or even cross-shared by others to other websites and I’d receive 250x my usual pre-challenge daily traffic.
Whilst I won’t immediately take part in the challenge again at the start of 2022, I hope to certainly do so again in the future. Either way, I will be writing more frequently and with improved confidence.
The #100DaysToOffload challenge is certainly something that I can recommend to anyone who has a little time to spare a couple of times a week. Thank you to Kev for setting it up and for being so encouraging throughout!