Writing takes time, but more importantly it requires some risk — risk of being wrong, risk of looking stupid, risk of offending, and risk of nobody reading it. But it’s worth it.
Like many things that are good for you, writing can be painful, and the results — if they ever come — don’t come quickly. It’s not reasonable to look yourself in the mirror after your first workout in 6 months and expect to have been transformed into The Rock. Likewise, don’t expect your first story to turn you into a thought leader.
If anyone does happen to read your story — and that’s a pretty big if — do you know what their reaction will probably be?
They won’t care. They won’t recommend it; they won’t comment on it. You’ll wish somebody would even write a comment disagreeing with you. You’ll stare at your stats page, chipping away at your self esteem with each click of the refresh button.
Let’s put all that rejection and despair aside for a moment. It turns out there are benefits of writing, and some of these benefits — perhaps the most valuable benefits — exist even if you can’t find one single reader. So before you delete your Medium account, consider these benefits of writing:
Research shows that explaining something improves your understanding
Quite a few studies have shown that explaining a topic can help improve your level of understanding on that topic. This holds true even if you are explaining it to yourself. It’s even true if you are told to prepare to explain a topic to somebody, but you don’t ever actually explain it. The reason is that as you think over a topic in preparation for explaining it, your mind is working hard to organize your knowledge and identify areas that somebody else might not easily understand.
Writing about a topic involves the same mental process as preparing to explain. As you write about a topic, you’ll be more likely to uncover gaps in your own thinking, or beliefs that aren’t well-supported by evidence. You’ll be left with a better-organized set of thoughts, which will serve you well into the future.
If you’d like to read more about the learning benefits of explaining, check out this book chapter, Learning by Explaining to Oneself and to Others from Ploetzner, Dillenbourg, Preier, and Traum.
Writing helps keep you focused on other people
It might seem that writing is a selfish act. “Why should I expect people to care about what I think?” What you quickly learn is that it’s not about you. Writing for others forces you to consider what others want to read.
Yes, you want to gain readers and followers, and that is self-serving, but just like businesses succeed by serving their customers well, writers succeed by giving readers something of value.
The trick is to find out what unique value you bring. The good news is that it’s a big world out there. You might need to work at it, but eventually you’ll find your unique angle.
Whenever you put yourself out there — in a musical performance, a presentation, or publishing an article — you naturally want to do your best. Whether you’re worried you’ll write something that ends up being wrong (like that hasn’t ever happened before) or you’re determined to be the smartest person in the room, you’ll find that extra drive to dig deeper and put out your best work.
So set a writing schedule and stick to it. You’ll push yourself to find clarity among your ideas, and you’ll find yourself reflecting more on your work, which is a great thing.
Final thought: Don’t do it for the fame
If your primary reason for writing is to become famous, or even just “internet famous,” you probably won’t stick with it. You’ll fail.
“Fail” sounds harsh, but think about it: The only way to fail at writing is to quit writing.
Honest successful people say all the time that their “overnight success” took years and years of hard work without anyone noticing.