I wrote 30 essays in 30 days.
Here's what I learned.
Thirty days ago, I started a challenge to publish a 250 word essay every day for 30 days.
Today, I celebrate the publishing of the 30th essay. I didn’t think I’d make it here, so I indulge myself with a little pat on my back.
In this post, I aim to tell you the story of this journey, what I’ve learned along the way, and what comes afterwards.
First, a few highlights.
Twitter Analytics screenshots, before and after:
August 12, 2021:
September 12, 2021 (today!):
The crowd favorite (best performing essay at 3,683 impressions):
My personal favorite (one of my worst performing essays at 90 impressions and zero likes, lol)
Essay that generated the most IRL conversation with friends:
Essay I referenced most in day to day conversation:
Okay, so why did I do this?
Late one night, I forked over $450 for this course that some guy whose newsletter I’d subscribed to was selling to me.
(looks around nervously, then leans in and whispers: Honestly, I wasn’t feeling that great about myself and I was hoping to spend my way out of feeling purposeless and incapable)
The minute I confirmed the payment, I knew I wouldn’t actually get thirty days done. I’ve tried similar challenges before (for other things like health, fitness, etc) and had never made it.
Because I knew I’d probably fail, I didn’t tell anyone. Why? So that when I fail, I didn’t have to look anyone in the eye and see disappointment looking back at me.
But hey, at least I’d start. The next week, I showed up to the onboarding sessions and did my best to connect with the some of the other few hundred people who were doing this with me.
Then the magic started to happen.
A Surprisingly Successful Beginning
I wrote my first essay on August 14th, 2021:
…and it earned 10 likes and 1600 engagements right off the bat. Damn.
This might not seem like much, but at the time, I had 77 followers and hadn’t written anything with more than a tenth of the impressions or likes.
To be sure, I had beginner’s energy; specifically, the energy to comment and like other ship30for30 members’ posts, which in turn generated more clicks to my profile and essay.
Yet it motivated me like nothing else. So I was off to the races.
Days 2-7: Settling In
Each morning, I woke up before work and spent an hour writing, editing, and publishing my essay to my Twitter account.
On Day 3, I wrote “Thinking Modes and When to Use Them,” the crowd favorite from above, and felt a huge surge of dopamine as the impression count flew up and up and up.
At this point, I knew I’d get to Day 10 at least. I had a ton of ideas, I had a morning routine for my essays, and I was getting a lot of engagement.
But as the days went by, I started to lose my energy to keep liking and commenting on others’ posts. Often, I felt fake because I wasn’t interacting with others out of interest, but out of self-interest.
As my engagement with others wound down, so did my posts’ performance. There’s a steep dropoff in engagement growth where I gained 25 followers in three days, and then 25 more in the twenty seven days afterwards.
The funny thing was that by that time, I didn’t care. My motivation had completely changed.
Days 7-25: A Hesitant Hope Becomes A Powerful Certainty
At this point, I realized that I was actually sticking to this habit pretty well. I was actually enjoying it. It began to dawn on me that I might actually be able to finish all 30 days of the challenge. Somewhere around Day 15, I actually realized that I was going to do every day of the challenge.
Something fundamentally changed during this time, where a hesitant hope I’d finish became a near certainty (I almost didn’t want to believe it - I didn’t want to let myself down even harder. So I kept myself at an 80% certainty through Day 25ish)
At this point, my motivation changed. I no longer cared about improving my writing, and nor about growing my online audience (literally the only two things they promise you’ll learn at the beginning) - I began to care about proving to myself, once and for all, that I’m not an impotent loser who can’t do what he says. That drove me to publish through sickness, a three day trip to Chicago, and late at night after severe sleep deprivation.
Content: Understanding My Audience
So far, my best performing posts had been on self-improvement, but I didn’t feel enamored with that category. I didn’t have much to say and felt like the Internet was inundated with morning routine ideas and its ilk.
Instead, I wanted to start writing more posts about technology. On Day 19, I wrote this essay about the redefining our conventional understanding of ergonomics that I was really proud of:
aaand it got 2 likes, one of which was from someone I mentioned this essay to in real life (shoutout to Mo, you the realest). Yeah. My technology posts weren’t doing well, and they never did during the challenge.
In hindsight, this was because
I had grown my audience the most by interacting with others’ content
Most of that content had to do with self-improvement, not technology
So the tiny audience I had started with cared far more about self-improvement than technology. D’oh!
Day 25-30: Victory Lap
At this point, I was 100% certain I was going to finish. I had ideas for all of the rest of my essays, and I had no planned interruptions. I was telling people left and right about my essay challenge, reveling in their validation.
I actually had already started looking ahead, discussing with others what I had learned and what I planned to do next. Which is a great segue to the next section.
Looking back, what did I learn?
The biggest, most important takeaway for me is actually pretty simple:
I'm actually capable of doing hard things.
Each of my prior failures in trying to set habits, do thirty day challenges, or stop negative behaviors had reinforced this key negative core belief:
"I'm not capable of doing the things I set out to do."
I saw people getting fit, starting business, and achieving success while just feeling sorry for myself. Over time, I had started to believe I couldn’t do anything I deeply care about or wanted. So I had stopped trying.
I’d like to say that signing up for this course was my hero’s journey moment where I reached deep within my soul for a final rage against the tyranny of life.
Honestly, it was just a reflexive, last minute attempt to spend my way out of my emotional problems. I’m honestly lucky it went the way it did; failing at this challenge would not only have reinforced the negative core belief, but robbed my of $450 to do it!
But now, for the first time in years, I have a response to the negative core belief. One in which I feel utterly confident, because it’s backed by evidence.
"Hmm, not sure about that. Remember, I said I'd publish 30 essays in 30 days, and I did."
What contributed to my success?
Simple. I didn't have to follow a complicated morning routine or adhere to variable requirements. "Publish 250 words a day" is as simple as it gets.
Public. Each day, I posted my results on Twitter and Instagram. Even if no one online would see it, my friends did. This kept me accountable and connected to others.
Rewarding. Each day was its own reward. Some days, my essay would spark a deep conversation with a friend - others, conversations with others online.
Ego on the line. I didn’t tell anyone about the challenge at first. This prevented me from getting the reward of being seen as someone who would attempt a 30 day challenge before I had done anything. Over time, I began telling more and more people so that the expectations started mounting. It became a motivator that others’ would see my failure should I fail to write an essay that day.
Deep down, I badly wanted to change this negative core belief about my lack of potential. This wasn’t about writing, money, or status - I needed, deep down inside, to prove to myself and to others that I wasn’t the impotent mess I believed myself to be.
This is an emotional moment for me. I celebrated today by exercising a lot, playing Minecraft, and writing this self-indulgent post to you, my reader (Btw, thanks for indulging me).
This next week, I'm taking a break while I continue to process this victory. I’m already bursting with ideas for what I could transmute this momentum into - namely, new challenges or sprints for the future - but I’m not ready to talk about it yet.
All I know is that whatever it is, I’ll be posting about it publicly, so go follow me on Twitter if you want to follow along.
lets goooooo this is really motivating. it's pretty tough to stay consistent on easy things like eating healthy and staying creative, props for doing one of the hardest things regularly for a month.