🦊 Reflecting on a Year of Writing

QBF #42 — 1st Anniversary Edition 🎉

Hey friends,

Welcome to the 1st Anniversary edition of Quick Brown Fox! 🎉 A year ago, I sent out the first edition of QBF. It’s been an incredible journey of creative exploration since then, and I’m so glad to have had so many of you joining for the ride. I’m proud of how far I’ve come, and excited to keep going!

In this edition, I reflect on a few lessons learned over a year of writing, and share some of the best work I’ve produced along the way.


Lessons Learned: A Year of Writing

I could write volumes about the different ways my writing journey has helped me, but I’ll focus on three themes: building self-awareness, quality through quantity, and cohort communities.

Building Self-Awareness

If you had asked me why I was writing when I started this journey, I probably would have told you it was about sharing ideas and improving my thinking. I had spent most of my life heads down building startups, and rarely wrote online or shared my experiences personally. My main driver was my desire to tell my story.

But a strange thing happened when I started writing. I didn’t talk about my past much, and barely mentioned my startup experiences. Instead, I used writing as a lens to process and understand what was going on in my life today. I began to use writing to build self-awareness. That has been (by far) the most valuable return from my writing. With every word I write, I hone my ability to observe my thoughts and feelings. I even learn from observing my own words. Sometimes when I look back at my own writing, it’s as if they were written by someone else. We reveal much more than we realize — there is much to learn by looking closely at our own words.

I’m thankful for this gift I have begun to give myself. I have so much more to learn.

Quality Through Quantity

I published a weekly newsletter for about 35 weeks in a row. That’s a lot! Having this outlet like that served two functions: (1) it allowed me to write often and (2) it forced me to write often. Instead of staying idle in my private notes, many of my ideas were published for the world to see in the form of newsletters, essays and notes in my digital garden. Being prolific brought my ideas to life.

I’ve also seen significant gains in the quality of my writing. In some cases it was validated by an audience, like when my polymath essay went viral on Twitter and HN. In other cases it was just something I was personally proud of — I really loved how the intro to my latest essay on the body turned out! When I contrast my writing today to a year ago, I notice a clear improvement.

It’s heartening to know that I put in the work and it has started to pay dividends. Instead of focusing too hard on specific tactics and techniques to somehow “achieve quality,” I can just focus on quantity.

All I have to do is keep writing. The rest will take care of itself.

Cohort Communities

I started my writing journey in earnest after taking a course called Write of Passage. It was a launching pad for me and I haven’t looked back since. There’s significant value in the content and instruction in the course but the biggest benefit of attending was definitely the connections I made with fellow writers. I ended up attending additional cohorts as an alum and most recently also attended the On Deck Writer program’s first cohort.

Why so many courses? There’s definitely a bit of course burnout I’ve experienced with attending so many. But these cohorts create communities that continue to be valuable much after the completion of the course. Rather than consuming knowledge in an isolated way (self-learning) or in an overly structured group setting (traditional classroom), many courses are offering a mix of self-paced content with live sessions. In particular, these formats allow you to connect directly with peers in a meaningful way (Zoom breakout rooms have been a crucial part of this formula).

I’ve come to rely on cohort peers for feedback on my writing. I don’t seek feedback on every post I publish, but I know that I have a group of folks willing to help me when I need it most. Often this feedback comes in the form of a conversation, and reminds me of the power of conversational energy. Earlier this year, I wrote an essay about the value of working in public, where I touched on the importance of connecting with others:

The longer we wait to share our work, the more disconnected we become from reality. We hide in our creative cave, sheltering our work from the very feedback it needs to improve.

I appreciate each and every one of you for helping me improve my work, and helping me overcome the hurdles to get it out into the world. I can’t thank you enough.

I’m excited to keep creating. I hope some of my work helps you do the same.


My Best Work

Here are some of the most popular pieces of work I’ve published:

Essays on my Blog

  • The Polymath Playbook — Modern society is designed for specialists, but there are huge benefits to taking a polymath approach to life. This essay is the story of my life and how I learned to embrace my inner polymath.

  • Altering Your Reality — How to stop worrying about what others think.

  • The Body Knows When It's Alone — After almost a year of lockdown, I grapple with the loneliness of self-quarantine. But I discover an ally in the process — my own body. It's been sending me signals to guide me all along. I finally learn how to listen.

  • Why Bother? — Why should we share our work with others? I found myself in a crisis of questioning: I was writing more than ever, but wasn't sure exactly why. I share the story of how I tackled this difficult question, and the answers I found in the teachings of Elizabeth Gilbert.

Notes in my Digital Garden

  • Writing Guide — My best writing advice. I’ve been building this guide over time and it covers a range of challenges including overcoming writer’s block, improving your craft, and evolving how you measure your writing.

  • Bookshelf — My favorite books. I’ve been publishing annual posts with my favorite books of the year (2017, 2018, 2019), and have been maintaining a Twitter thread of every book I’ve read in 2020. (Note: I’ll be sharing my favorite reads from 2020 in the next QBF edition!)

Videos on my YouTube Channel

P.S. I finally updated my welcome email (only took me a year to get around to it!), and incorporated this list into it. If you’re writing a newsletter, I highly recommend updating your welcome email if you haven’t already. You might find this guide to welcome emails useful.


Quick Links

  • Brahm’s Lullaby — Sit back, relax, drop your shoulders and take a deep breath. Enjoy a few minutes of relaxation in this animated piano lullaby.

  • The Thief and the Cobbler — I love this restored sequence from a never-released 1992 animated film. The illustrations, the animation style, the voices, and the musical score all contribute to such an alluring vibe. I wish this movie was completed! I’d love to watch it.

  • Greek Quarantology — Incredibly creative illustrations of Greek mythological characters trying to survive through pandemic life. My favorite is Hermes as a Grubhub delivery guy 😅 Shoutout to Robin for sharing this with me!


I’ll leave you with these delightful little characters designed by Megan Rose. I’m in love 😍


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Until next time,

—Salman

🌎 salman.io | 🐦 @daretorant