Two years ago, I used to stress for 25 hours to write a short 500 words piece. Each time it was the same struggle, and no matter what I tried, it didn’t get any easier. I almost gave up on writing.
But today, ~100,000 words later, I can write 500 words in an hour. There’s no stress, too. I find it quite pleasant.
What happened? I realized I’ve been making these three mistakes:
I tried to please people and avoid their judgment
I was so afraid people would judge me that I spent a lot of time rewriting everything in a “safer” way.
I kept things general, stuck with acceptable facts, and used my
boring professional voice. I prefaced my opinions with “I think”, backed every claim with sources, and fleshed out every. single. nuance.
The result? No one ever judged – everyone just fell asleep two sentences in.
Paradoxically, people-pleasing made my writing unpleasant. People respond to personal stories, strong opinions, surprising insights, and playful language – all the things I removed out of fear.
The truth is, if no one hates your writing, then no one truly loves it.
So these days I write for a specific person. It tells me what to focus on, how many details to include, and how personal I should get. And when that person likes it, I know I did well. So what if someone else out there doesn’t like it?
I tried to just sit down and write an article
The school taught me writing is when you sit for 45 minutes to put 250 words on a page. You start with the first word, then comes the second one, and then your page is eventually full. It’s similar to how printers work:
I couldn’t do it back then, and I thought I was stupid. Today, I know writing is not about words. It’s about thinking.
Writing means reaching the clarity of thoughts. It’s when you go for a walk to reflect, share an exciting idea with a friend, or find a weird and surprising connection between two concepts. It’s getting from blurry to crisp:
There’s not much to say about that first picture, but entire books are written about the last one. Seeing it clearly is 95% of the work. Typing the words is the last 5%.
I avoided publishing bad writing
Imagine a faucet connected to a very long pipe. The pipe is filled with poop for the first mile, but then it’s all crystal-clear water. The only way to get to that water is to let all the poop out first. That pipe is your writing.
I thought I could just write a piece and polish it until was good. I couldn’t. The good essays only came out after I got enough bad ones out there. There’s no shortcut. You have to get through the poop.
Once I realized that, I just started writing more and stopped spending time on editing. Good stuff, bad stuff, it didn’t matter — just more repetitions for more writing muscles. Eventually, and with feedback, it became easier.
Everyone who’s good today was terrible at first. That’s fine. Accept it, go out there, and publish some lousy writing.