A detailed guide to getting past a creative plateau and defining your next steps as a writer

Marta Brzosko
Aug 6 · 30 min read
All illustrations by the author.

As a committed writer, you probably know that creative growth rarely feels linear.

There are periods when you burst with inspiration and feel on top of the world as you write. But chances are that you have also experienced moments of stagnation, doubt and questioning your skills.

This article is designed to help you overcome creative plateau as a writer.

It is useful to remember that writing is a complex process of growth — and so, it’s natural to feel confused at times. Thinking of quitting or questioning your abilities are not signs of weakness — but rather, an understandable response to the challenges of the writer’s life.

In his popular book The Dip, Seth Godin recognizes that in the creative realm, it is common to experience crisis after the period of initial success. This is what he calls ‘the dip’ — or, “the rough patch you have to get through before achieving your big goal.”

If you are serious about your art — and I am quite confident that you are, since you clicked on this headline — there isn’t really a question of if you are going to overcome ‘the dip.’ The concern is merely about how to do it a way that boosts your creative growth for a long time to come.

The way I dealt with my last stagnation phase as a writer was by taking on a 30-day challenge. From May 20 to June 18, 2019, I wrote and published a Medium post every single day. In this article, I want to share with you how exactly I went about it — and in what ways it boosted my growth as a writer.

By the end of this post, you will be able to design your own, personalized challenge to help you get through a creative plateau in a productive and insightful way.

But before I say anything else, you must embrace a basic fact first:

If you want to overcome stagnation, you need a change.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You ThereA Boost in Quantity Inevitably Leads to Higher Quality4 Common Sources of Stagnation, and How Daily Writing Addresses Them
PROBLEM #1: I was addicted to external validation
PROBLEM #2: I didn’t know what needed improving and what needed reinforcing
PROBLEM #3: I experienced self-doubt often
PROBLEM #4: I wasn’t sure what kind of writer I wanted to be
Challenge Yourself in a Smart and Deliberate WayHow to Design Your Writing Challenge Step-by-Step
Decide on the Parameters
Decide on how much time you’ll spend daily—and when
Determine a target word count
Clarify your content and style goals
Set intentions for posting and promotion
Create a checklist
During Your Challenge Period
Measuring your results
Create an accountability support system
Evaluate your challenge regularly
How to Draw Conclusions From Your 30-Day Challenge
Step 1: Create a table with all the data
Step 2: Mark top views and engagement
Step 3: Mark curiosities and personal favorites
Step 4: Find the intersection of readers’ and my own preferences
Step 5: Analyze the content of the top 20%
Step 6: Formulate recommendations for the future

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

In his bestselling book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith explains how people often achieve success despite certain behaviors — not because of them.

The problem is that we often attribute our success to the precise traits and habits that are holding us back from further progress. Consequently, we think that in order to transcend our current level of performance, all we need is to do more of what we have been doing so far.

This message is quite prevalent in the writing community. When I first started looking for writing advice online, the general method others recommended felt like a ‘wash, rinse, repeat’ kind of recipe. You know — those prompts along the lines of “just keep writing consistently and the results are bound to appear.”

Over time, I have discovered that this is by no means enough.

Writing is NOT about setting up a process once and then following it for the rest of your life. Chances are that your process — the way you set it up as a beginner — is flawed. It works for a while despite those flaws — but then, you inevitably reach a plateau. Stagnation. The dip.

Which is great — because that’s a sign that you are ready for an upgrade.

To upgrade, you need to step back, evaluate, and make necessary tweaks to what you are doing. You need to design a change. Then, you apply this change consistently for another creative period after which you are bound to hit the plateau again. And the fun starts all over again.

Over time, your creative progress curve will look roughly like this:

For a while, I was trying to break through my creative stagnation by applying the same old process I knew, over and over. Then, it finally hit me. The good old Albert Einstein’s quote shed new light on the obviosity of what I needed to do next:

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

It became clear that to start producing new kind of writing, I needed to change the way I write. That sounded simpler than it was to implement, though. I had to first figure out what exactly needed changing. I also had to see what was actually working ­for my success — as opposed to what I thought was working.

To get out of my routine way of writing, I decided to do something radical, yet very simple.

The idea was to temporarily boost my writing output by subjecting myself to an experiment. I committed to writing and publishing a ~1,000-word article daily for 30 days. Then, I remained curious about what that process would reveal.

Now, you may be thinking that pushing for quantity is a sure way to bring the quality of your writing down. My experience, however, proved otherwise. And many successful writers confirm that, over time…


A Boost in Quantity Inevitably Leads to Higher Quality

“Quality of output is closely connected to sheer quantity, so that the single best creative product tends to appear at that point in the creative career when the creator is the most prolific overall.” — Dean Keith Simonton, Handbook of Creativity

I don’t know an online writer who hasn’t, at some point of their journey, experienced the ‘quality vs. quantity’ dilemma. In general, I see content creators advocate one of these two approaches.

One option is to bet on quantity and give yourself a lot of chances to hit the jackpot by publishing several times a week or even every day. The other is to invest in quality by researching and polishing fewer, but more in-depth articles.

These two approaches seem like an ‘either-or’ choice to most writers. We get so fixated on choosing one or the other that we stop seeing the possibility of combining both in our writing journey. To do that skillfully, we need to understand which approach serves what purpose.

The “quantity” and “quality” approaches can usually be matched with the two recurring phases of your writing journey that I introduced in the previous section.

As I see it, the quality-oriented approach works best when you know what you are doing and are in a period of stable growth. When you enter a phase of stagnation, it usually means that you need to learn something new to overcome your current limitations. Temporarily becoming more prolific turns out to be a great way to do that.

Popular self-development writer Scott Young shares how he switched between quantity- and quality-oriented strategies throughout different phases of growing his blog:

“When I started this blog, I used to write five times a week. (…)

Then, I began to notice something. I was posting too much. Readers weren’t able to keep up. I was persuaded that quality, not quantity, was really the thing to improve. So I cut down, I went from five to two posts, and then later to one post per week.

At first, quality did improve. But eventually it just settled at the same writing standard, just with lower amounts of writing.

Recently, I’ve switched back to my original 5x-weekly writing schedule.”

Scott points to the great value of being prolific, which is rapidly expanding the skill set and knowledge base to help you navigate your work later on. As you write and publish every day, a lot of skills become automatic to you over time. In Scott’s words again:

“When I started writing, it was hard to write good headlines, to decide when to start paragraphs and end them, to edit my documents and to revise my thoughts. Now, most of this happens automatically because I’ve drilled it so many times I don’t even think about it.”

A temporary focus on quantity can be a great way to expand your default writing ‘know-how’ that will enable you to increase quality effortlessly later on. From this perspective, intentionally boosting your creative output for a period of time is a sure way to break through your current limitations and improve in the long run.

With this in mind, I want to give you examples of how exactly daily writing addressed some of the main sources of my stagnation as a writer.


4 Common Sources of Stagnation, and How Daily Writing Addresses Them

I see stagnation as a symptom — while what we want to ‘treat’ here are the causes. It, therefore, helps to deconstruct the perceived feelings of stagnation to see where they actually come from.

In my case, there were four most prevalent causes of experiencing a creative plateau. Chances are, you will be able to relate to at least some, as I see most online writers struggle with them at certain points of their journey.

Below, I describe those struggles in more detail, as well as explain how daily writing helped me (and can help you) address them.

PROBLEM #1: I was addicted to external validation

After receiving first external recognition in the form of claps, flattering comments and getting some of my pieces curated on Medium, I developed a dependence on these kinds of rewards. Simultaneously, I discovered that when I wrote primarily for external praise, the quality of my writing and work satisfaction suffered. I needed to stop looking at my stats and focus on providing value instead.

How does daily writing and publishing address that?

As Scott Young put it, when you publish daily, “you get more chances for home runs.” Because you have more shots, the odds of hitting the nail on the head become statistically higher.

What’s even more important is the psychological effect of this. Writing and publishing daily forces you to take your focus away from trying too hard to achieve fixed, arbitrary outcomes (like reaching a certain number of claps). With a daily writing challenge, there’s hardly any time or energy left for fretting about stats. You are too absorbed with sticking to the challenge and moving forward one day at a time.

PROBLEM #2: I didn’t know what needed improving and what needed reinforcing

I certainly knew that my style could be improved, writing voice honed and topics I wrote about could be better selected. On the other hand, I was pretty sure that there were certain features of my writing readers already liked — and probably wanted more of. But this knowledge was way too general, so it paralyzed me rather than helped me move forward. I needed to better identify the strengths and weaknesses of my writing.

How does daily writing and publishing address that?

One word: experimentation. As you put out new content frequently, you get to test what resonates with people and what doesn’t. Experimentation worked like a charm for a popular vlogger, Nas Daily, who kept creating daily videos until he uncovered his audience’s preferences through trial and error. This allowed him to create more of what people wanted — and less of what was clearly a mishit.

Tom Kuegler commented on Nas’ publishing strategy in the following words:

“The audience will tell you what works and what doesn’t work. It’s a test. Every piece of content is a test to see what they like and don’t like. Your job is to figure out how to play the game.”

One way to figure that out is to create more content — if only as a temporary experiment.

PROBLEM #3: I experienced self-doubt often

Most writers aren’t free from this one, even after they achieve considerable success and receive recognition. I am no different — imposter syndrome and doubting whether I would be able to keep coming up with relevant ideas hit me regularly. I figured long ago that doubting myself doesn’t help my writing in any way. But how could I stop these doubts from arising?

How does daily writing and publishing address that?

Questioning your abilities may never fade completely — but you can certainly prepare yourself for the moments when self-doubt arises. As you progress through the 30 days of daily writing and publishing, you will start seeing yourself in a new light.

Being able to display this kind of consistency signals that you are a pro. Your self-image gets updated. You discover that you can write something even on your worst days. Then, as your initial sense of achievement fades after the challenge, you will forever have the memory of pulling it off.

This memory can become a handy point of reference for your abilities in the moments when you start doubting yourself again.

PROBLEM #4: I wasn’t sure what kind of writer I wanted to be

Since I started putting serious effort into writing on Medium, I have experimented with a lot of different forms, voices, and topics. Ultimately, the choices as to how to write and what to write about seemed so vast that I started feeling confused. I wasn’t sure which style of writing appealed to me the most — so my pieces were all over the place. It felt like I needed more direction in my free-flowing creativity.

How does daily writing and publishing address that?

As you write posts of similar length every day, you naturally get into a repetitive — monotonous, even — rhythm of daily writing. And that’s a great thing. By sticking to the same writing practice every day, you notice what you do and don’t appreciate about the very approach you are using.

In order to chart a new course for your writing, you first need to acknowledge your current position. It becomes infinitely easier to acknowledge it if you do the writing for 30 days straight. In this way, you will discover the kind of writer you are now.

Conclusions about what kind of writer you want—and don’t want—to be will follow naturally out of that discovery.


Challenge Yourself in a Smart and Deliberate Way

“Real success and learning occurs only when individuals choose and commit to their own standards and goals that are personally meaningful.” — Project Adventure

Before we dive into the practicalities of designing your 30-day experiment, we still need to discuss the psychological aspect of it. This is essential to get a feel for how challenging your challenge should be in order to bring you most benefits.

Self-improvement culture often encourages us to ‘challenge ourselves’ or ‘leave our comfort zones’ in order to learn and grow. The extent to which we praise the concept of challenge causes some people to push themselves just for the sake of experiencing discomfort. This is NOT what I encourage you to do. You need to recognize that in order for the 30-day writing challenge to be effective, you need to approach it very deliberately.

So, how can you tell a valuable challenge from one that’s a meaningless pursuit of merely making yourself uncomfortable?

Some good guidelines for how to leap beyond your comfort zone in a clever way were offered by Karl Rohnke. As a lifelong educator, facilitator of outdoor experiences and co-founder of Project Adventure, he developed a model of three zones of experience in which humans operate.

The first zone is one of comfort. That’s where you engage in familiar activities and routines and feel a sense of control. You need to spend some time in this zone in order to rest and process new experiences.

Then there is the stretch zone, in which most of the learning occurs. This is where you engage with the unfamiliar, extend your competencies and use your skills to the maximum in order to complete challenging tasks.

The third one is the panic zone, which you experience when you’re exposed to challenges and adversities that you are not yet equipped to deal with. Feelings of anxiety and stress arise, as you perceive tasks as overwhelming and out of control. This is the zone which should be, for the most part, avoided — or else, it negatively affects your health and well-being.

While designing and facilitating outdoor trainings, Karl Rohnke discovered that the optimal state for learning to occur is the stretch zone. This is when we leap out of our comfort zones — but only to a certain extent. The art of designing the writing challenge for yourself will revolve around this idea:

Discovering how to stretch yourself enough to leave your comfort zone — but not so much as to cross the line of the panic zone.

In addition to an appropriate level of intensity, a deliberate challenge also needs one more element: choice. Your commitment obviously has to be aligned with your personal motivations and goals if it is to benefit you.

Karl Rohnke discovered that the element of choice is the best way to ensure that a challenge is engaging. At some point of facilitating his outdoor training programs, he stopped forcing the participants into predesigned challenges — and gave them choice as to if and to what extent they wished to participate in the activities.

“What a revelation that the simple affording of choice could achieve more toward growth of self awareness and image than what used to require large doses of performance pressure. What a relief!” — Karl Rohnke

Rohnke’s philosophy of “challenge by choice” has since been widely implemented in outdoor education — for example, teaching ropes course programs. At least one study confirms that, if implemented correctly, the ‘challenge by choice’ methodology improves participants’ involvement in a given activity.

As you can see, your own involvement in designing your writing challenge is indispensable. It will be up to you to determine the extent to which you choose to stretch yourself — as well as to make personal choices about the parameters of the challenge. Only if the commitment is relevant to your unique, big-picture goals as a writer, will the challenge bring you tangible benefits.

I will be there for you all along, to point out what I found is important to take into consideration — based on the experience of my own 30-day challenge.

Ready? Let’s do it.


How to Design Your Writing Challenge Step-by-Step

Now that you grasped the potential benefits of a well-designed 30-day writing challenge, you are ready to start with your own. I will walk you through all the details you should consider while setting it up. Before getting to the strictly technical part, here is a handful of general tips to keep in mind throughout the process.

The first thing to remember is that according to the world-class self-development blogger Steve Pavlina, 80% of your success with the challenge is in how you set yourself up for it before you begin. This is great news because it means that you can save yourself a lot of struggle later just by defining your challenge as clearly as possible. Steve Pavlina explains:

“When I do a 30-day challenge, most of the discipline happens before Day 1. It’s the mental discipline to clearly decide on the parameters and make a real decision to do the challenge. I get myself to the point of being all-in before I start. The discipline happens in the pre-challenge setup work.”

It is widely known that the clearer you define your goal, the more likely you are to achieve it. This is why I encourage you to spend ample time on designing the challenge and deciding the smallest details of it. We’ll get to that part in a moment.

The second thing to keep in mind as you will be thinking about the parameters of your experiment is to make them feel challenging — but not too much. We already covered why this is important in the previous section — so let me just share a practical tip for how to put this into practice.

When you will be setting the parameters for your challenge (e.g. word count) aim at what your stretch zone is on your worst days. You may frame your goals as the minimum you are aiming for each day — but you are free to exceed that minimum whenever you want. The general rule is that it’s better for your psychology to set smaller goals and repeatedly outperform them — rather than consistently underperform in relation to what you hoped was possible to achieve.

The last remark to remember may seem like a technical detail, but it’s very important. This challenge is about writing and publishing every single day. This means that you shouldn’t write posts in advance and schedule them for later.

The whole point is to go through the process of writing and publishing every single day. Only this way you can create the kind of consistent experience that both enables you to receive immediate feedback about your work from readers — and get insights into your writing process.

With this, let’s get to designing your challenge step by step.


Decide on the Parameters

To maximize your chances for success, you need to make it crystal clear what you are going to do every single day. It should be a binary and obvious thing to evaluate — either you did it, or you didn’t. It helps to formulate your challenge in a language akin to a legal agreement so that there’s no room for pondering whether any particular day of the challenge ‘counts.’

Decide on how much time you’ll spend daily—and when

First, think about how much time and when you can realistically devote every single day for a month. This is important to start with since it will determine all the other parameters. Take a while to consider your daily routine both on weekdays and weekends and see when you can find a time — preferably the same every day — to fit the commitment in. Then, determine how long you will spend on the challenge every day.

I decided I was going to devote between one and two hours to my challenge each day. One hour was the bare minimum I needed to hit my word count, and I went up to two (or more) whenever I felt the piece could use a bit more editing — or when I simply felt like writing longer.

Once you know when and how long you’ll write for, block out the time on your calendar for the next 30 days.

Determine a target word count

Once you know how much time the challenge will take you every day, decide on the target number of words you want to produce. Remember that one important purpose of this challenge is to test your writing against audience response. This means that the quality of your text — grammar, spelling, and flow — should be at least decent.

Chances are, you won’t be able to achieve excellent quality when writing and publishing daily (unless you can devote yourself to it full-time) — and that’s ok. But it’s important that you don’t serve your readers absolute crap. That’s why you should match the word count to the time you have at your disposal.

In my experiment, I was aiming for the minimum of 1,000 words a day. Usually, it was more than that — but there were also two or three days when I was done at around 900. I didn’t consider this a failure — just a few occasions when I needed to take it easy on myself. Allow yourself this permission if you need to — but don’t make it into a norm.

Remember: it’s better to set a lower word count and consistently exceed it, rather than aim too high and find yourself perpetually ‘failing.’

Clarify your content and style goals

Once you decided on your time commitment and word count, determine other details about what you want to write and how — if that’s relevant to your writing goals. For example, if you have a specific niche in mind and want to experiment with it, specify the topics you will write about throughout the experiment. You may also make a point to write about anything that comes to mind on a given day (which I did and it worked wonders for unlocking new ideas). In that case, also make it clear right from the beginning.

Setting an intention as to what you write about will help you avoid the self-imposed impression that you are tackling ‘irrelevant’ topics.

There are dozens of other aspects to your writing that you can pre-determine to make your challenge more personalized. Is the style of your posts going to be conversational or formal? Research- or experience-based? Feel free to set any guidelines that you think will help you make the challenge more deliberate.

But also — don’t impose too many rules on yourself if the main purpose of your experiment is the sheer curiosity of what can happen if you set your writing as free as possible.

Set intentions for posting and promotion

I strongly recommend that you predetermine how you are going to promote each post. Will you send them in a daily newsletter to your subscribers? Post them on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook? Since the primary purpose of this challenge isn’t to test marketing strategies but to get better at writing, I suggest you promote every post in the same way. By doing this, you eliminate the extra variable that may impact the reception of your posts but isn’t related to writing per se.

Create a checklist

Once you decide on all the parameters, you may want to create a simple checklist to go through every day, in order to ensure that your challenge unfolds in accord with your intentions. It is also helpful as a step-by-step guide to walk yourself through the process every single day.

Here is an example of such a checklist:

Remember that the process you describe within your checklist doesn’t need to be perfect. The important bit is that you actually stick to it. If you do this daily for a month, it will be impossible for you not to notice what works and what doesn’t in that process.


During Your Challenge Period

Once you’ve done this initial planning, you’ll be ready to start your challenge. Use your checklist, keep your appointment with yourself, and write.

To keep yourself on track and get the most from this experiment, there are some additional things you should do during your challenge.

Measuring your results

In order to learn and draw conclusions from this experiment, you need to see numbers related to your posts.

If you will be publishing your challenge on Medium, there’s nothing extra you need to do — all the necessary stats are in place. If you are on another platform — for example, Wordpress — check if you are collecting these two numbers on each post:

  • Views
  • Reading time

On top of that, ensure that you have the commenting option on. Comments from your readers are the most direct and precious form of feedback that there is, and you should never underestimate their value.

Create an accountability support system

For a long time, I didn’t appreciate the value of setting up an accountability system whenever I wanted to accomplish something. I believed that if this thing was important enough, I should be able to do it regardless of anything and anybody else.

My attitude changed dramatically during my 30-day writing challenge. For the first time, I decided to share what I was doing with other writers I was connected to online. During the first few days, I received plenty of encouragement — but most importantly, I felt that people were watching.

One of the writers even committed himself to read and clap for each of my daily stories — which was an invaluable motivation boost. I even wrote a whole separate post about that.

After having this experience, I strongly encourage you to establish find accountability support in your network of writers, friends, or readers. Of course, you can still pull off your challenge without it — but why not make it easier for yourself?

Places to source accountability are numerous, for example:

  • Enter a challenge together with a fellow writer.
  • Tell a good friend what you are doing and ask them to periodically ask you specific questions about the challenge (e.g. “What was your last post about?”).
  • Announce the challenge to your social media followers, subscribers or a writing group you are a part of.

If there you don’t have anybody that you’d like to support you, you can also act as your own accountability partner. The simplest way to do it is to decide that for every completed day of the challenge, you will give yourself a reward. It can be as simple as creating a beautiful, fun tracker and marking the completed days there.

Alternatively, you can also treat yourself to:

  • going out for coffee,
  • spending 15 minutes relaxing in the sun,
  • going for a walk,
  • playing with your dog,
  • or anything that sparks a sense of reward, really.

Evaluate your challenge regularly

The big, formal evaluation of your 30-day writing experiment will come after you cross the finish line — and I’ll walk you through it in the next section. However, it is important that you reflect your process a few times throughout the challenge, too. This is to ensure that you don’t forget the valuable insights by the time you hit day 30.

For me, it felt optimal to reflect on what was happening about once a week — which meant I did it three times during the experiment, and then the fourth time after I crossed the finish line. I did my evaluations in two main forms: writing and speaking to a friend. I encourage you to test both on different weeks.

You may also choose to publish your reflections as one of the posts in the challenge — just like I did here.

Before the weekly evaluation, I prepare a list of questions that you would like to have answers to. You can either ask them to yourself or send the list to a friend/fellow writer/accountability partner so that they can ask them to you.

The questions will highly depend on your personal goals, but you can get inspired by — or just use — the questions I was answering:

  • What external factors were supportive/disruptive to my challenge in the past week?
  • Which post did I enjoy/dislike writing the most and why?
  • Which post got the most views/reads/comments/engagement and what are the possible reasons for this?
  • How did I deal with resistance to writing last week?
  • Where there moments when writing came more naturally to me than usually? What was I writing about/feeling/thinking when this happened?
  • What did I notice about my writing last week that could be improved?
  • What did I notice about my writing last week that I loved?

Even if you don’t answer all the questions, it is helpful to just keep them in the back of your mind. Merely formulating them will keep you more receptive to insight as your experience of the challenge keeps brewing in your mind.


How to Draw Conclusions From Your 30-Day Challenge

When you complete day 30 of your challenge, the most important thing to do is to celebrate. Congratulations! What you have accomplished is no small thing — and you know it best because you lived it.

To reap all the psychological rewards of the achievement, I encourage you to celebrate your success as the first thing you do after completing it. Throw a party, tell your friends, treat yourself to a nice dinner, get a nice writing gadget or go on a nature trip — whatever sparks the feelings of celebration and savoring for you.

This part is crucial because it reinforces the sense of achievement that will stay with you long after the memories of the experiment start fading away.

Recognizing yourself for your accomplishment must be an act in which you actively engage if you want it to bring you long-term psychological benefits. As Fred Bryant writes in his book, Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience:

“By experiencing pleasure, one does not necessarily savor. Attentive and appreciative awareness of the pleasure must also occur or we would not consider the experience to involve savoring.”

When you have properly savored your achievement, the time comes to draw solid, data-based conclusions from your challenge. Before you get to analyzing it, let the stats settle for at least a week. The point is for your last posts to go through the initial boost of traffic — so that you can compare all your articles in the same way.

I will walk you through the process in which I evaluated my challenge to find out:

  • What resonated the most with my readers,
  • Which posts I felt most proud of and enjoyed writing,
  • Where the readers’ and my own preferences intersected,
  • What my next steps as a writer should be.

I based my analysis on the widely popular 20–80 rule (also known as the ‘Pareto Principle’), which states that 20% of our activities are responsible for 80% of our results. As a writer, it is important to determine which content constitutes the magical 20%. After creating 30 pieces of content in 30 days, I set out to find the six which were most successful among readers — as well as sufficiently satisfying for me to write.

Here’s exactly how I did that.

Step 1: Create a table with all the data

First, I needed to put all the relevant data in one place. For that, I created a Google sheet, which you can access here. I recommend you keep it open in a separate tab for the rest of this article, so you can easily refer to it as you read.

There, I listed all 30 posts with the most relevant stats on the right — i.e. views and read ratio. If you were publishing on your own platform rather than Medium, you would replace the read ratio with reading time. Other stats I included — number of fans and fan ratio — are nice to have, but not necessary. You can successfully perform this analysis without them.

On the left from the posts’ headlines, I created four columns to mark the posts which:

(1) got the most views,

(2) got the highest engagement (i.e. top read ratio or reading time),

(3) performed exceptionally well in another, curious way (I’ll explain that in a second),

(4) that I am most proud of.

With a sheet set up like this, I started looking at the numbers.

Step 2: Mark top views and engagement

Drawing on the 20–80 rule, I first marked the six posts (20%) that received the most views. Then I noticed that there was one more that was very close to the mark of the top six. I decided to count it in as well.

Further, I looked for six posts with the highest read ratio. However, I soon realized that some of the highest read ratios came with posts that got very few views. I decided that I can’t treat a post with 14 views as statistically valid — so I decided to only consider articles with at least 50 views for the “engagement” evaluation (I marked those with pale pink in the sheet).

I put an “X” in the “Top engagement” column next to the top six of those qualifying posts. Then, just like with “top views,” I spotted the seventh one that performed very close to the top six — so I marked it, too.

With this, I had the first overview of which posts were best received by readers.

Step 3: Mark curiosities and personal favorites

There were certain posts that got very few views, but they stood out in terms of the read or fan ratio. I decided to mark them in the column “curiosities,” to take note that there was probably something valuable about them, too.

These were primarily two posts about writing: 3 Big Reasons Online Writers Are Needed in the World and Daily Publishing Is Not For Me. The former got a 93% read ratio, and the latter — 90% fan ratio. As both were about the same topic, I figured that there may have been something there that appealed to a narrow but engaged audience of writers.

Finally, I marked my personal favorites in the fourth column. Here, I didn’t aim for a specific number of them. Instead, I skimmed through all the articles one by one and asked myself a single question: Would I still be happy to publish this one with little or no editing today?

Whenever the answer was “yes,” I marked that article as one that I personally considered a creative success. These stories indicated what I enjoyed and felt most comfortable writing about. The posts that I left out were usually those which felt like a chore to both write and read.

Step 4: Find the intersection of readers’ and my own preferences

With this, I had identified the preferences of my readers — as well as my own. Now was the time to find the articles in which those preferences overlapped.

The way I did that was by finding all the articles with two or more “Xs” — one being my preference, and the other (or others) — the “top views” or “top engagement” mark. This way, I ended up with seven top articles. I filtered away one with the lowest stats (Positive Reinforcement Is The Most Powerful Tool For Reshaping Your Mind), so that top six — the magical 20% — remained. These are now marked in the sheet with bright green.

I also made one additional pass through the list, to mark the posts that didn’t make it to the top 20%, but still stood out in some way. I put an exclamation mark before the headlines that I thought deserved extra attention for various reasons.

This included two articles which received quite good stats and that I also enjoyed writing — but which fell slightly below the mark of top views or engagement. (Positive Reinforcement Is The Most Powerful Tool For Reshaping Your Mind and This Is How You Can Find Meaning in a Mundane Life) Another one I decided to pick out was Not Shaving My Body Is a Statement, which got into the top views and engagement selection, but I didn’t mark it as “personal favorite.”

Then, I was finally ready for the content analysis of my top 20% posts.

Step 5: Analyze the content of the top 20%

Now was the time for the truly pleasant part. I got to read my own best work and draw conclusions about why these particular pieces stood out.

While reading through them, I looked at their topics, style, structure, and keywords — and tried to get a feel of why they were the most successful. Here is the list of my top six headlines, followed by my conclusions.

1. Personal Growth Makes It Difficult For Me To Find A Partner

2. How To Take Your Mindfulness Meditation To The Next Level

3. Want A Shortcut To Intimacy? It’s Called Self-Disclosure

4. Do You Really Need To “Live In The Moment”?

5. My Definition of Intimacy Is Not The Mainstream One

6. Being Spiritual Is More Ordinary Than You Think

Conclusions:

  • The themes of all these posts revolved around: personal transformation, romantic relationships, self-awareness, and mindfulness. Pretty consistent with what I enjoy writing about.
  • The style I used in the top stories was largely conversational. These were not very researched posts — mostly, they were based on my own experiences. This was new to me, as for a long time I believed that I needed to heavily rely on scientific research in order to make any claims.
  • The headlines spoke directly to the reader and encouraged a sense of connection. Five out of six headlines contained some form of “you” or “me” words. Interestingly, two headlines contained the same word — “intimacy” — which I had already used successfully in headlines before.
  • Most of these stories were saturated with feeling. I found a lot of passages that I easily got emotional about, even as I re-read them many times. I also remember that writing those felt more liberating in comparison to other stories that didn’t make it to the top six.
  • Although it is not immediately apparent in all pieces, I started noticing an unconscious pattern in how I structured the default flow of my posts — especially the storytelling-based ones. Usually, I begin by briefly stating how things are. Then, I go back in time to share an experience from my own life to illustrate this. Towards the end, I tend to highlight a transformation or turning point that occurred. Then, I proceed to summarize.

To draw conclusions from your top 20% posts, simply look for patterns. What do these stories have in common?

  • Are there recurring topics or words that appear in your posts and headlines?
  • Is there something that connects the style of these posts?
  • What do you notice about your favorite passages — or those most highlighted by the readers?
  • Can you say something about the structure? Your tone? Emotional content?

Keep reading your own writing carefully — and I am sure patterns will emerge. Once you pinpoint them, you are ready for the last step: charting your course for the next phase of your writing journey.

Step 6: Formulate recommendations for the future

It’s time to wrap it all up. You got lots of data and insights out of this experiment. They allowed you to understand your own and your audience’s preferences better — but hopefully, they have also shed some light on the things you want to improve.

To conclude the challenge and move forward with what you learned, you now need to ask yourself the most essential question. This is what this journey was all about since you noticed you were stagnating in your writing:

Which parts of the 30-day experiment do you want to bring to your future writing — and which do you want to get rid of or improve?

To answer this, toss the numbers away for a moment. Get yourself out of the analyzing mode. You have by now absorbed all the information you need for this.

Just like in the previous, ‘analyzing’ step, I found it helpful to break this conversation down to particular aspects of writing. You may do the same — or just allow yourself to write freely, following the stream of consciousness. Whatever feels more natural and pleasant to you will most likely work best.

Below, I include a short summary of the recommendations I enunciated for the various aspects of my future writing. I hope this inspires you to have a fruitful conversation with your writing self, too.

Topics: I will focus on topics connected to the relationship with Self, including mindfulness, self-love, meditation, emotional work. I don’t want to invest in writing about feminism or politics, as I don’t feel I have enough knowledge in these areas right now.

Style: I will base my writing on personal stories and experience, and sprinkle it with research and/or spiritual texts. I don’t want to write heavily scientific pieces — I’d rather connect with readers by using plain language.

Depth: I will write in-depth pieces and investigate topics more than before. Daily publishing is not my thing. I want to be able to look at problems from different angles and include references to the work of others.

Frequency of publishing: Once a week sounds like a reasonable frequency for publishing new pieces. I don’t want my articles to be sloppy and I’d rather polish them longer than publish earlier just because I feel like it’s urgent.

Self-management: I can quite easily overcome the resistance to writing just by starting to type — anything. After I do it for a few minutes, my mind enters the ‘write mode.’ From that point on, it is much easier to focus on the task at hand.

What kind of writer do I want to be? I want to go deep into human psychology and connect scientific research with spiritual experiences and personal growth. I want to combine storytelling with studies and the wisdom of old scripts. I want to serve an audience who want to become more conscious every day and build strong and healthy relationships with themselves.

What I recommend is to grant yourself at least an hour of uninterrupted time — and simply have a written conversation with yourself about where do you want to take your writing from here.

And you? What kind of writer do you want to be?

Enjoy your 30-day challenge and your own journey to the fullest!

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Marta Brzosko

Written by

Self-discovery writer. Let’s walk the path together: https://afoot.life/

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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