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To write interesting, do interesting

I read some time ago from a recently accomplished author that the best way to write interesting things is to do interesting things. A writer trapped in a white box for several months will, after having gone completely insane, have absolutely nothing more to write about. If you don't do interesting things, you won't have interesting things to say.

While not a white box, trapping yourself in the same confines day-to-day will not yield much in the way of creativity. If you want to have interesting writing, you need to have interesting thoughts. And I've found that my brain's churning runs at its highest capacity in a day when I've done any of the following:

  • Read an interesting, long-form article
  • Read a chapter in a fiction or non-fiction book
  • Listened to and ingested a podcast
  • Taken a long walk to reflect
  • Tried a new experience or restaurant
  • Talked with or visited a friend
  • Challenged myself to take on a new project, or reignited an old one

Of course, any novel input will do, however mediocre. I like to think of the brain's algorithm as akin to a blender that's always spinning. Whether the resulting smoothie is delicious or bland depends on the inputs you've fed yourself. Any book you read feeds thousands of unique inputs in your brain's blender, and is bound to produce some thought with a distinct shade.

I've also found that when it comes to writing, my style tends to reflect the average style of all the input I've ingested over the last month or so. If I read a historical thriller, my writing tends to be more adrenalinous. If I read science non-fiction, my thoughts, and thus my writing, tend to come out more grounded and physical.

For writers whose format tends to be autobiographical, doing or ingesting novel things is essential. But, it doesn't have to be dramatic. While quitting your job and traveling to South America is sure to produce some excellent content, traveling with your mind will suffice plenty.

If writing frequently is important to you, reading frequently can be of no less importance. As you read, your mind enters into and absorbs the world it encounters. You put the book down, but your mind still churns its contents, believing it were real. Your world and the fictional one you consume begin to blend, at times into a mystical concoction that takes days to wear off. During this haze, your writing is most ripe. It bears endless fruits, often yielding an end result that will surprise you. Did I really write that?

No, your mind did.

—@Mo

Tips for writing every day

It's been a few weeks since we issued our #100Days challenge, where writers of any level challenge themselves to write every single day for 100 days. Why? To explore. To discover a deeper well from where our thoughts come. At some point, you'll run out of things to say—so what will you write about then? That's the challenge. And make no mistake about it—it's not easy. But you come out the other side stronger. Keener. Sharper. Writing becomes a natural instinct. You never stare at a blank document and think to yourself—there's no way I can fill this with words. You don't think that, because you've done this a hundred times. You've filled a blank space with words over and over again, and now, any self-doubt is annihilated.

What's hard about writing every day is not the writing. It's the doing. It's the discipline of doing something every day. You'll likely encounter the same breed of resistance you encounter when the thought of going to the gym, or cleaning your kitchen, comes to mind: Na, I don't feel like it. That's about it. It's a really shallow affair. You don't want to do something good for you, simply because you don't feel like it. But that, quite honestly, is not good enough. Who's really in control anyway? This simple, pre-historical mind that wants to rest and save energy after every meal? Or the modern being within you wanting to explode with creativity and expression—if only you would let it?

Creativity awaits

If the old Disney-fairytale mentality was, find yourself—it's somewhere within you, and the new modern tale is that you must invent yourself, then writing every day is a play on both. Writing is the act of authorship. It's the act of inventing. It's codifying words into stories and thoughts into expressions. When you write, you build worlds. You see reflections of yourself that are not seeable through any other surface. Writing every day for 100 days is in some ways a bootcamp for your writer mind. If you do make it out alive, you come out hardened. You come out proud. And it's a skill that never ever degrades in value.

When you're confident in writing, you become confident in your communication. You convey yourself better. You're less misunderstood. You make better transactions. If you're entrepreneurially minded, you connect with your customer more. You become a better seller. You build a better company. The skill of writing confidently is the same skill as communicating confidently. It's charisma. And it will be one of your most valuable assets.

I say all this because I've been through this bootcamp, of challenging myself to write every single day, if for no reason other than to prove to myself I could. And the experience has been one of the most valuable in my lifetime.

But, it wasn't easy. There were times when words just emptied onto paper with little friction, and other times when my hands felt like dumbbells and could not be lifted. It was all mental of course, and it's why this exercise is so important. You're letting out that energetic part of you that wants to work, and be creative, and explore, and suppressing that pre-historic part of you that always wants to rest.

There's absolutely no wrong way to go about this challenge, but if you do find yourself flirting with resistance, I can share a few tips that helped me.

A few tips

One is, I always wrote first thing in the morning, immediately after waking up. Your mind is most clear at this point, and I find morning routines to be the stickiest. That is, you can almost sleepwalk your morning routine. Your body tends to internalize it really well. So if writing is the first thing you do upon waking, your body will just let you. It won't try to bother you and tell you to rest, or do other things. It's ready to take on the day. It's why it's common productivity wisdom to do your most important work in the morning. You just grow more tired from there.

You can write with keyboard or on paper. Personally, I did paper for the first half of the challenge. Why paper? One is, it's kind of quaint. It's a lost art. There's something warm about writing with pen and paper. And it's neat when these papers pile up over the course of a few weeks. You feel really accomplished. And it feels real. You can touch your words. I also find that on paper, I'm less likely to edit myself, which is very important for the 100 day challenge. Your goal is to write freely, and without worry. When I write for myself and know that my words will never be seen, I make ridiculous typos and grammatical errors, and don't really care. It's for me. I'll understand it. You want the same mindset here. There are no rules. No one's grading your writing.

Writing on paper also allowed me to feel more spontaneous. I could instruct my hand to just "begin writing" and it would. With keyboard, you kind of have to know what you want to write.

Early in your challenge, the hardest part will be, what will I possibly write about today? But that's not necessarily the right outlook. Your writing does not need to have a topic. You'll find, anyhow, that as you begin to fill your pages with more words, a topic will pop out naturally, without any doing from you.

So, how should you start every day's writing?

Here's the trick: you wake up, prepare your cup of coffee, and come to your desk, where you have before you a stack of 3 white printer paper and a pen. You lift the pen. What's the first thing you write? Literally: the first thing that comes to your mind. DO NOT DISCRIMINATE. I repeat, do not discriminate against this initial strain of thought. It will be your most important. When I say "first thing," I mean it. If your first thought is about your growling stomach, then begin writing "My stomach is growling. I must be hungry." Then, you follow that thought. It will take you to wonderful places. "It must be because I didn't have a good dinner yesterday. You see, usually on Sunday nights I like to cook, but there was this documentary on." And you just keep writing spontaneously like that, until you fill out about 2-3 physical papers. Then type it up. The hardest part is just starting. The rest is easy.

If you simply transcribe what your mind is thinking, then there's no way you fail this challenge. Have you ever observed your mind not chatting incessantly? It's impossible. It just goes on and on, for better or worse. Your job is to simply sample a small timeline of those thoughts onto paper. You're not doing any work here other than transcribing the thoughts that naturally flow through your mind onto paper.

And, if you do run into a point where you think, I simply have nothing to write about today: write about that.

Your Writing is Incredible, An Answer To Your Question, and It's Not Too Late

It’s wonderful to see how many of you are taking on the 100 Day Writing Challenge. The writing that you’re sharing is nothing short of genuine, sincere, and unfiltered. This was what we hoped for when issuing this challenge; that it would be an outlet for you to share who you are without worry and without judgement.

If you haven’t read some of the posts of our members in the Listed Community, you owe it to yourself to have a read. Not just the #100Days challengers, but also the Listed members who write as a means to express themselves, whenever inspiration strikes.

Writing on Listed is like speaking to yourself, and it can be quite strange at first. There are no comment boards, there are no likes, and there's no way to know if anyone is reading your posts. This is by design, and is unlikely to change. The world is chock-full of content designed to please other people. Listed instead focuses on you. It's a sort of self-therapy. And authors on the platform love it.

To help encourage free expression, we want to answer a few questions you may have:

  • Is Listed an anonymous platform?
  • Is anyone reading this?
  • What if I disagree with something someone says on Listed?
  • Will Standard Notes and Listed be here for the long term?

Is Listed an anonymous platform?

Listed is anonymous, and private. While not necessarily designed for anonymous sharing, privacy is included naturally as a product developed by Standard Notes. Your IP address is never collected. Registration to Listed does not require an email address or a password. You don’t have to publish under your given name, or you can publish with just a part of your name. It’s up to you how much you share with the public. (If you'd like an extra, super high level of anonymity, you can use a separate Standard Notes account to publish to Listed. But honestly that might be overdoing it.)

Is anyone reading this?

Yes, others are reading your works. Sharing of yourself takes courage, but sharing of yourself can also have great benefits for you. And, as a community made of up readers and writers alike, your words are being read. By how many?

Ah, you number-minded person you. That’s no way to treat your most personal work. Regard the worth of your self-expression not by metrics that ultimately don’t mean anything, but by how it makes you feel to read it back to yourself. If we had a slogan on Listed, it would be “Listed: An audience of one.” We’re really serious about this vanity thing.

The web today has created dangerous incentives, where people transform themselves into what will get the most likes or views. And the result is ungodly. Monstrosities of the human psyche. This spontaneous rage culture of the internet? This isn’t us. This doesn’t have to be the result of the human collective. By focusing on writing in a way that feels natural to you, in a way designed to please only you and no one else, you emanate your longing for a more civil internet. A more peaceful internet.

This is your space, your outlet, your rules on what you want to share and what you don’t. Just know that on our end, we don’t censor, judge, or degrade your works with ridiculous algorithms. So, just write what’s on your mind, what you feel, what you wish, what you want. We’re all enjoying the same.

What if I disagree with something someone says on Listed?

That’s ok. We’re not all here to agree with one another. Your first impulse is to post a comment, right? You need to let the author and the world know you’re in disagreement, and perhaps save a few lives. Well, you can’t do that here. Listed is a personal space for authors, and just as you wouldn’t barge into an author’s home to share your disagreement, you can’t insist on your own views over an author’s here. You can, however, create your own personal space and share your thoughts that way. But there’s no tying yourself to another’s work in the parasitic-like fashion that internet comments are today.

Sorry, we feel really strongly about that one.

Will Standard Notes and Listed be here for the long term?

Standard Notes and Listed were designed for the long run. We make careful design decisions to make sure that keeping our software alive and stable is as easy as possible. It’s awful when a great service or tool gets engrained into our daily life, only to have it suddenly shut down.

We’ve insisted on a longevity statement from day one of our founding, focused on decisions made for the benefit of our users and the service itself.

When you combine Listed and Standard Notes, the end result is freedom of expression combined with deep privacy. And the result and uniqueness in tone of voice on Listed has been awe-inspiring. Keep writing.

100 Day Writing Challenge

Could you write every single day for 100 days? Most people find this idea mad. Write for 100 days? Surely my life is not that interesting. I would run out of things to write about.

And that's where the magic lies.

Yes, you will run out of things to write about. So what will you write about then? Ah—that's when imagination begins to explode. That's when creativity reaches its peak. That's when you discover—you're a much better writer than you thought.

Yes, you can write 100 days in a row. And when you do, you'll never doubt in your ability to produce again. You'll never doubt in your ability to be creative again.

The 100 Day Writing Challenge is simple:

At any given time of day, take about 10-20 minutes to let your mind empty onto paper. Just start writing. Write about anything. Unload all your thoughts, and let all the tension you've been hanging onto ooze from your fingertips. It's quite meditative.

Do you know how in the middle of a conversation with someone else, you just think of something to say, to always keep the conversation flowing? So it is with this challenge—your goal is not to win a Pulitzer Prize for literature. Your goal is to keep your thoughts flowing, and simply transcribe the hundred thoughts that flash through your mind at any given moment onto paper.

The secret is to write without discrimination. When a thought flashes through your mind, write it. Be silly. Be incoherent. Write as your mind instructs. The end result will surprise you. The quality of writing that results will be more honest than you've seen of yourself in some time.

I've personally done the 100 Day Challenge on my own Listed blog, and it was one of the most important experiences of my life. I went for about 120 days, and I started with the attitude that there's no way I could ever write for 100 days in a row, and ended believing I could write every day for a decade. It has single-handedly been the most important experience in my blogging life.

How to join the 100 Day Writing Challenge

To join the challenge, simply add the hashtag #100Days in your Listed author title or bio. Or choose your own way to say that you'll be writing every day for the next 100 days.

Writing #100Days is about discovering a deeper, more creative part of you. And it's a wildly exhilarating experience. To kick things off, your first post can be about why you've decided to take on the 100 Day Writing Challenge.

See you on the other side—lighter, writer, transformed, and energized to take on the world.


Some resources to help you on your way:

Do Everyday

Seth Godin writes:

One never gets talker’s block. Because you just say what you think. Similarly writer's block is a myth, because you just write what you think.

The secret to writing a daily blog is to write every day. And to queue it up and blog it. There is no other secret.

I haven't missed a day in many, many years--the discipline of sharing something daily is priceless. Sometimes there are typos. I hope that they're rare and I try to fix them.

Over time, the blog adds up. People remember a blog post a year after I wrote it. Or they begin a practice, take an action, make a connection, something that grows over time. The blog resonates with people in so many fields, it's thrilling to see how it can provoke positive action.

On writing every day

It's a sort of therapy for me. A lot of stuff finds itself circulating in my mind, then lingers and pollutes it. It's become exhausting to think, I should write this down, and expand on it to learn more about it, then never following through.

Writing three pages every day is something I learned from The Artist’s Way. At first I thought it would be impossible, that I couldn’t possibly find something to write about every single day. But several months ago, I did this same exercise and found that not only was it possible, it was also extremely easy.

The trick is to write without thought. The cogs of your mind are spinning and producing thoughts whether you want them to or not. This exercise then is about transcribing this free flow of thought on to paper, without judgement.

When you have to, you will

It’s about the challenge. It’s doing something difficult on a scheduled basis. It’s to keep my mind sharp and on its toes. And in some ways, it’s to prove to myself that even the most ridiculous and rigorous of challenges, if you care badly enough, can be within reach. If it were about the writing, I could have surely prescribed doing it once every few weeks, or per week at most. But everyday?—the sheer madness of it could not help but arouse my always latent sense of competitiveness. Could I beat myself at this? Could I overcome laziness, boredom, volatile supply of willpower, a longing for easiness and worklessness—could I overcome the sick part of me that wants to bring me down, that wants me to give up, that wants me to explore the sick world of failure and what more comfortable challenges it may bring—could I overcome myself and commit to something ridiculous that I know will benefit me in some way were I just to keep it up?

This Week on Listed

There's been a lot of great bustle on Listed this week. Sure, we've had our regular contributors continue to bring us great reads, but the pace of users sharing their thoughts, notes, and personal progress has also increased positively. So, welcome to those that made their first post this week, and to all who continue sharing their stories. You've shared words that inspire, educate, and most importantly, resonate. The power of honest writing is that we see ourselves in everyone else. That is the potent connection that Listed aims to bring about.

One of the cool features of Listed, besides that your publishing capability is built right into Standard Notes, is that you can also have a custom domain name linked to your Listed Blog. For example, one of our community members, @GLSSJG, has mapped the domain of https://journal.glssjg.com to go right to their Listed Blog.

And, when you add a custom domain to your Blog, you also get a free HTTPS URL to ensure that all visits to your Listed Blog remain encrypted. If you'd like to set up a custom domain for your own blog, read here.

This week, we've seen one member's review of the POP!_OS Linux distribution, another that's shared their specific use cases for information management software, another sharing reasons for liking a particular series of books along with an introspective of their personal reading habits and experiences, and so much more.

With there being a healthy increase in activity within the Listed community, it goes to show that there's so much to share with one another, and that we can all benefit from each other's sharing of our thoughts, big and small. The good, the not-so-good, the motivational, and the inspirational. Honest writing is good writing, and this includes the profound and the mundane—from things authors found liberating and enlightening, to that which was tiring and frustrating. The value of an experience is not in how positive it was, but how truthfully it's told.

We believe in writing as a healthy and creative expression of one's self. We write for ourselves, and in turn, have come to deeply appreciate the bonds formed over the untold stories that seem only right on Listed. Thank you for writing truly, and freely.

What Will You Write About?

On Listed, there's a wide variety of content, which shows just how diverse our community is.

Since your listed page integrates seamlessly with Standard Notes, there's really no easier way to publish your thoughts to the world. As some examples, we've got authors that share their learnings with the world around them, and some that share their learnings in the technology arena, and another that shares great links to horizon-expanding books and podcasts.

There are others that post in their native language, and even an author who uses his Listed page to chronicle his gratitude for different things on a daily basis. A popular Discord bot even uses Listed to publish a changelog for new software releases.

If you haven't taken a look at some of the Listed pages in our community, I encourage you to have a look around at some of the great, and oftentimes, personal content being created here.

There are several ways to interact with one another, or allowing your readers to interact with you as well. There's done-for-you email delivery of each new post, a guestbook, and readers can make direct email contact. If you haven't already, you'll want to enable any or all of those settings from your Standard Notes "Actions" menu in your editor.

And if you've been lurking around the Listed pages, but haven't published your own post yet, here's some ideas to perhaps get you started:

  • Building something: Like to build apps? What about code and development strategies or examples? Are you building a computer or a robotic assistant of some kind? Document your build here, so that others can learn from your journey and discoveries. Standard Notes and Listed even supports code embedding.

  • Share your day/weekend: Did you have an awesome day at work? An epic weekend trip? What about something that happened today that you'd love to get off your chest? It helps to share, and sharing of yourself can help make that positive experience even more real, or help you feel better about that thing that bugged the crap out of you earlier.

  • Solidify your goals: What's your goal for the week? The month? Year, five years, what about even just today? If you want to reach your goals, write them down, and then post them on your Listed page. Doing so will create a sense of accountability that could help you get past those times when you don't feel like moving forward, but you know you should because your goals won't happen without you.

  • Creative words: Want to sharpen your skills at writing short stories, or perhaps get a poem out there that's been in your head for the longest time. Why not share your creativity with the community and even ask for feedback? It's a great way to sharpen your creative skills with little risk of failure. You don't even have to publish under your real name if you don't want to.

  • Nothing in particular: What if your writing didn't really have a topic or a point of view, but was just simply for your to get all of your thoughts out so you can make room for more? Whether an actual journal, or just a stream of conciousness brain dump, get it out, share it. It doesn't need to make sense to anyone else but you, and yet others may enjoy it for what it represents for them. Picasso, anyone?

With our commitment to privacy, you can share with the community or the world at large as much or as little as you're comfortable with. And, if you change your mind later, you can always remove your post with a single click.

If you haven't written in a while, or you're thinking about making your first post ever, your community would love to see what you'll write about.

—Jay

Code Highlighting

Listed now supports code highlighting for fenced code blocks.

```ruby
def hello
    puts "world"
end
```

will yield:

def hello
    puts "world"
end

Some more examples:

Python

import numpy as np
cimport cython
from libc.math cimport sqrt

@cython.boundscheck(False)
@cython.wraparound(False)
def pairwise_cython(double[:, ::1] X):
    cdef int M = X.shape[0]
    cdef int N = X.shape[1]
    cdef double tmp, d
    cdef double[:, ::1] D = np.empty((M, M), dtype=np.float64)
    for i in range(M):
        for j in range(M):
            d = 0.0
            for k in range(N):
                tmp = X[i, k] - X[j, k]
                d += tmp * tmp
            D[i, j] = sqrt(d)
    return np.asarray(D)

JavaScript

document.addEventListener("DOMContentLoaded", function(event) {
  var purchaseForm = document.getElementById("purchase-form");

  if(purchaseForm) {
    purchaseForm.addEventListener("submit", ($event) => {
      var email = document.getElementById("purchase-form-email").value;
      var price = purchaseForm.dataset.price * 100;
      var title = purchaseForm.dataset.title;
      var id = purchaseForm.dataset.postId;
      var name = purchaseForm.dataset.blog;
      loadStripe(() => {
        beginPostPurchase(id, email, title, name, price);
      })
    });
  }
});

CSS

/* Some example CSS */

@import url("something.css");

body {
  margin: 0;
  padding: 3em 6em;
  font-family: tahoma, arial, sans-serif;
  color: #000;
}

#navigation a {
  font-weight: bold;
  text-decoration: none !important;
}

code {
  font-family: courier, monospace;
  font-size: 80%;
  color: #418A8A;
}

Authors can now receive tips from readers

Author sustainability is a strong part of Listed's focus. A few weeks ago, we rolled out Paid Posts, which allows authors to charge a set dollar amount for an article. This works well for some types of articles, like tutorials, recipes, and other structured forms of content. For more subjective pieces, this model might be difficult to monetize.

Today, we're rolling out the "Thank" option on author profiles. When a reader is inclined to an author for an article they wrote, whether it be that the article taught them something new or had a subtle or profound impact on their life, thanking the author gives them a chance to give back and encourage the author to continue doing their best work.

The Thank option is available on all author profiles in the header section of the author page. You can thank your favorite authors by choosing a one-time dollar amount, and leaving an optional note.

This setup ensures that Listed is always an author-reader platform, and not incentivized or obliged to third-party interests. While it may feel weird to tip an author $5, $10, or $15, tipping already pervades every aspect of our life, and we often tip more to people who may have less effect on our life. Authors have the unique ability to peer directly into our hearts and minds, and offer us unique perspectives that unlock heightened levels of consciousness and intelligence.

Culture, politics, and the ratio between good and evil sounds like a complex coagulation beyond comprehension and control, but it's quite simple really: The world is made good when good ideas are supported. And it starts always at the individual, one-on-one level.