I started writing in 2019. I was excited about a technique to run retrospectives I developed and wanted to share it. I knew getting developers engaged in a retrospective is difficult and wanted to share with other scrum masters the success I had.
So I wrote my first post… and I liked it.
At the time I had just been put over a development team to explore how to take our division in the company to the cloud. I had a lot to write about. We were learning new things every day and I wanted to share.
So I wrote more.
I published 16 articles that first year. Not bad for a newbie. In 2020, I wrote 34. I was hooked.
In December of 2020, I challenged myself to write 50 in a year. But in 2021, life got in the way. I didn’t make it a priority and disregarded my challenge. I also was a bit preoccupied with a production release of an app I was managing. Despite my best efforts, I was only able to publish 22 articles that year.
But I am nothing if not persistent. In December of 2021, I committed to pushing myself and doing the challenge I had failed at the first time. 50 blog posts in a year. That’s one a week with two “free passes”.
And on December 7th, this happened.
I set a New Year's resolution to write 50 blog posts this year. Yesterday I reached that goal. Thank you to all of you that have followed me along the way ❤️ pic.twitter.com/mzP7IX6ym8— Allen Helton (@AllenHeltonDev) December 8, 2022
It was no small feat, and I learned so much along the way. I wanted to share some of the lessons I learned.
I published an article every week in 2022. That included holiday weeks and when I was on vacation.
It would have been easy to sleep in and push writing off to the side, but I was determined to get this done. At some point I started wondering if it was determination or stubbornness driving me.
There were many days that I probably should have slept in, like the week of AWS re:Invent. I’d go to bed at 2am only to wake up at 6 to get my blog post done.
I had a little bit of self-realization when I was groggily typing away about the importance of observability in serverless environments as I nursed a hangover while on 4 hours of sleep. I wasn’t doing this because of a challenge, I was doing this because I am stubborn.
I committed to doing something and there was no stopping me from doing it. I’m still trying to decide if that’s a good or a bad thing :)
At the beginning of 2022, I was publishing articles as soon as they were done. This means I was releasing posts any random day of the week. In years past, I was releasing even more sporadically. Sometimes I’d release two in a week then not publish another one for two months.
The inconsistency made for a slow-growing reader base. In my first three years of writing, I had a little over 2,000 followers on Medium. I would get anywhere from 10 to 50 new followers a month.
But when I started posting consistently every Wednesday, my reader base exploded. I went from 50 a month to over 100 every day.
Follower counts comparing 2021 with 2022
This was something I read over and over online but had generally refused to believe. Consistency is key is a message you see everywhere with content creation. But it wasn’t until March of this year when I started publishing articles every Wednesday instead of on random days where I started to see it come true.
I’m sure frequency has something to do with the success this past year, but I believe the consistent schedule to be the most important part in building your following.
I’ll be honest, at the beginning of the year I struggled to push out content every week.
I didn’t have a rhythm down. I would scramble to consolidate my thoughts and get things moving. It was a very inconsistent workflow that made things harder than they should have been.
But eventually I fell into a routine that helped dramatically.
I set aside the same time every day to dedicate as my “writing hour”. It became part of my morning routine that helped me get in the right headspace for content creation.
I am a morning person. I find my mental sharpness is best before 10am. So I adopted this morning routine:
This is what I do Monday through Friday. It helps with my mental preparedness and provides a dedicated writing time that doesn’t compete with other priorities.
To take it a step further, I have a day-by-day routine. For those of you who don’t know, I also publish a newsletter every week. So I have to set aside time to consolidate content for that in addition to writing my blog post. My daily routine is:
The structure and routine of knowing exactly what I am supposed to work on and when elevated my productivity and helped me never miss a self-imposed deadline.
It took me years of writing before I landed on serverless and APIs as the general focus of my blogs. When I started out in early 2019, I would write about anything that came to mind - leadership principles, early-stage startup practices, app modernization, etc.. It was good for me as a writer to have so much content to explore, but it delayed the progress of my brand for a couple of reasons.
I’ve already mentioned how consistency was crucial in building a following. But taking it a bit deeper, not only is it important to be consistent with your schedule but so is being consistent about your content. The followers of my content like serverless and they like APIs. Some of them like leadership principles and others like early-stage startup advice, but all of them like serverless and APIs.
So when I publish content in my niche, I’m connecting with everybody. I still occasionally write about other topics but I’ve come to learn that engagement drops a bit when I veer out of the niche.
The other benefit I’ve come to realize is how deep your knowledge becomes when you focus on one thing. For me, that one thing is serverless.
I’ve built relationships with and learned directly from some of the best people in the industry. I learned to dive deep and figured out how to approach hard topics like cold starts and when serverless is more expensive than containers.
Sticking to your niche builds your expertise in a way unlike any other I’ve come across. The focus enables you to explore uncommon topics and builds your confidence and credibility. Heck, it might even be the reason I was named an AWS serverless hero.
Publishing a blog post every week for a year was exhausting. But it taught me so much about myself and helped me build relationships with people I would never have met otherwise.
2022 has been my biggest learning year since college (maybe ever). I learned how to learn and discovered the many benefits of writing as a developer.
Will I go for 50 again in 2023? Probably not.
I pushed a little too hard this year and need to actually take time off when I go on vacation. That said, you can still expect to see a plethora of content from me, just maybe not 50.
Would I change anything if I was to do it all again? Absolutely not.
I couldn’t be happier with how the year turned out. It was a great challenge and the outcome far exceeds anything I ever imagined. If you decide to take something like this on, let me know! I’d be happy to offer some specific pointers or feature you in my newsletter.
Thank you to everyone