The First Five Minutes

Several people have asked me how I started The Simple Dollar and how I found the initiative to keep writing even in the early days when there was little success to be found.

Let’s take a walk down memory lane to September 30, 2006.

I was sitting at my computer playing a game of some kind – probably World of Warcraft, since I was dabbling in that a bit at the time. My son was taking a nap and my mind wad drifting towards thoughts of my future. What was I going to be doing five years from then?

At the time, my family had just begun our financial turnaround. I had been reading a lot of personal finance books and we had paid off the debt on most of our credit cards. The three of us (my wife, my son, and I) lived in a tiny apartment together, and I had a very steady job in a research lab. Things were, for the most part, quite good.

There was something missing, though. I felt a big, empty hole when I looked to the future. Since I was in high school, I had dreamed of becoming a writer, and all I could see in my future was that dream slipping away. I knew that, if I wanted my dreams of writing to come true, I had to make a change – a commitment to it.

And in that moment, everything changed.

I logged off World of Warcraft and decided that today was going to be the first day of the rest of my life. I didn’t know what the future held for it, but I knew that if I didn’t give writing a try, it would remain just a dream, nothing more, nothing less.

I had made many, many attempts at writing before, but never with any sustained seriousness. I also knew that I wouldn’t become a better writer if I didn’t commit to writing something and sharing it every day (I already wrote virtually every day in my journal, but I didn’t share these writings – and still don’t).

So I took that first step. I went to Blogger, signed up, and began to write. It took just a few minutes.

At first, it was aimless, of course. I didn’t really know what to write about, so I tried some writing exercises. One writing exercise suggested that I turn a journal entry into a piece of shared writing – and the result really shook me. It was this article, which became the start of The Simple Dollar.

In order to make myself write every day, I set my web browser so that my default page was a page to enter a new blog post. I couldn’t start my web browser without being totally confronted with that tall order – and the mixture of feelings that went with it.

Soon, though, the habit of writing for public consumption started to become more natural. I started TheSimpleDollar.com at the end of the month and, somehow, it all took off.

In truth, though, everything that has happened with The Simple Dollar found its genesis in those first few minutes. In that time, I did four key things.

I realized that if I was ever going to reach my dream, I needed to start now. Every year that passes is a year of lost opportunities. No matter what, you’ll never get those opportunities back. You’ll grow older, have less energy and initiative than before, and those dreams will grow grayer and grayer. There is no someday that’s better than today.

I did something tangible right off the bat. My tangible act was starting a blog that would quickly become The Simple Dollar. I signed up for it right then and there, on the spot, so that I wouldn’t have time to get lost in the details of planning and hemming and hawing and hedging my bets. That immediate, tangible action took my dream from complete unreality to something at least a bit tangible.

I shared what I had done with others. As soon as I started the blog and posted something, I sent the URL to several friends to share what I was doing. Not only that, I asked them to check it regularly and to please comment on what I was doing, even if the comment was negative. Having several sets of eyes on me provided quite a bit of motivation right off the bat. This works with any goal – just make a public yardstick of your progress and tell lots of people about it.

I put the next steps in the process so front and center that I couldn’t avoid them. Even after those little pieces were in place, it would have been easy to let the train die on the tracks. I had to rub my face in my plans for success, so I set a huge, flashing reminder for myself – that blog update page became my browser’s default page. I saw it multiple times every day. I couldn’t avoid that consistent reminder to write, write, write.

Those four keys can be the keys to any success. They can be applied to anything from weight loss to a musical career. The best part? You can be sitting there at your desk, twiddling your thumbs, and start to take those actions to get the ball rolling.

What’s your dream?

Why haven’t you started yet?

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39 thoughts on “The First Five Minutes

  1. Baker @ ManVsDebt says:

    Trent,

    Thanks for providing me constant motivation to stay on track. I’ve really enjoyed the content over the last couple of weeks.

    I’ve been working really hard on a couple projects and the efforts are starting to pay off! Taking that action… shutting off WoW… really is the biggest step.

    Once the ball is rolling, the sky is the limit!

  2. Ankit says:

    Great Post! Need to start now!

  3. Trent,

    That was a very inspiring article. I did the same thing as you several months ago. I had a growing passion to share with others my knowledge of personal finance and ways to make money from bank bonuses as a form of alternative income.

    Thanks for reminding us that procrastination is not helping us accomplish our dreams in life!

  4. Janet Rowley says:

    Very interesting and inspiring. Your blog is always a treat.

  5. Studenomist says:

    I wanted to start a pf blog for the longest time and I just never got around to it. In fact I even wrote articles in Word and saved them on my computer. Then one day in November of 2008 I had no work and no school. I was sitting at home feeling useless until out of nowhere I signed up for a domain/server and started my blog.

  6. Carrie says:

    Yes, it’s the little steps you do daily that bring you closer to your dreams! Christine Kane blogged about this as well: it’s the seemingly boring moment-to-moment decisions that create success.

    http://christinekane.com/blog/the-boringness-of-success/

  7. Kevin says:

    That’s how I decided to start. But I’ve not been disciplined about writing every day. I would be interested in a follow-up post describing how you learned about moving to a hosted site of your own and how you went about monetizing your site. You were already knowledgeable about that, or did you have to learn as you go?

  8. Kris says:

    Great post Trent. Very inspiring.

  9. theBadLibrarian says:

    ‘There is no someday that’s better than today.’

    I like that. May be quoting it in future.

    I’m working on my dreams… slowly. I can’t remember which PF blogger (it might be you!) has advised not to let a single day go by without at least one baby step towards your dream. I try (and usually succeed) to follow that advice.

  10. I started blogging on Blogger too! I’m a WordPress convert now, though.

    Kevin, if you use Dreamhost like Trent and I do, it’s actually quite easy to do a self-hosted blog. Plus, the Dreamhost customer service people are so nice and helpful(even when dealing with a newbie like me!).

  11. MoneyEnergy says:

    It only took a month to get your blog to take off? Wow, that’s great….

    For me, it was reading BripBlap’s great blog that finally motivated me – and it’s not that I had a desire to do the same thing – I had already independently been crazily sharing my financial knowledge and tips with everyone and it seemed I should direct that energy into something that could be more useful or at least reach more people. I had also been studying the economy on my own (I’m not an economics student) for several years, so starting a blog about these global flows came naturally sort of.

  12. RYM says:

    I think we all have our ‘tipping points’ :)

  13. Lisa says:

    Trent-

    I have been reading your blog for a few weeks. What a great read! I have been “planning” my blog for at least a year. You have inspired me to just do it!

    Thanks!

    :)
    Lisa

  14. BHappy Bill says:

    Good for you, Trent – making that first decision was a huge step as they say.

  15. It has taken me a long time to figure out how to start a flagship blog. I am still not sure that the Online Banks Blog is the right medium for a flagship blog.

    This site is a mixture of personal finance articles and bank rates news articles. Any thoughts?

  16. Interesting article and you make a great point about just doing it. Inertia is the reason we stand still but once we are able to break that force the ability to continue forward is much easier.

  17. Great post, Trent. I went through the same thing a little over a year ago…I started a blog and for the most part kept at it. I’m still working on finding my writing niche (so many ideas, lack of focus, that whole thing) in between work/college/kids/etc….but that I do any public writing at all feels like a small miracle for me.

    LOL…World of Warcraft can be a major life/energy suck for sure. Goals there are so much easier to accomplish, but not nearly as satisfying as the ones out here in real life. =)

  18. Thanks Trent, I just changed my browser homepage to the entry portal to my website. That was the best tip I’ve seen all day.

    Great information as usual.

  19. Scott says:

    A friend of mine often says that there are tons of great ideas, but they fail because of lack of action. Thanks for reminding me that just doing is much better than sitting around planning what you should do.

  20. Michael says:

    I also like the tip about the new-post homepage. I have more than one, so I set multiples in Chrome. No goofing off until those tabs are CLOSED. :)

  21. Kate says:

    Very inspiring. Just do it!
    I’m always amazed that you have something interesting to say each and every day. Thanks for working so hard and sharing your bits of wisdom.

  22. Jenny says:

    I don’t usually comment on blogs but had to say thanks for the inspiration!

    I signed up for an online college course but have been lacking motivation and keep getting too distracted to read the course materials.

    I have deleted my other Hotmail and Facebook homepages and made the college page the homepage. I’m not going to allow them to be a barrier/distraction any more!

  23. Zip says:

    Excellent post. What separates you from the million other financial bloggers out there, other than your writing style, is that you have actually experienced the mistakes that you’re writing about. Others just talk about what you should do, but you write about ways to fix them.

    Keep it up, Trent. I’m cheering for you.

  24. Kevin says:

    @Kristen – Thanks for the tip!! I’m glad to have your perspective because I’m not sure I’d be able to get everything to work on my own! Thanks again.

  25. Rachel says:

    I’ve been a writer for many years. My problem has been trying to find my niche. I’m working on a food blog now to see if food writing is the thing for me! We’ll see! Thanks for your blog, Trent.

  26. Great inspirational post. Thanks for sharing. It means a lot to those of us that are on a similar path. Encouragement is always welcome. I have a similar story.

    I let my consulting business wind down to a point where I could start my writing career as I have always enjoyed writing. My sweetheart Ellen got interested in websites, and it clicked with me that my writing future was on the web.

    Using the Internet allows me to write “living books” a page or chapter at a time that I can update at any time. It also obviates the publishers which puts me in the driver’s seat, just where I like to be.

    I’ve been a writing fool for the past year, building momentum on four websites that allow me to share my passions, knowledge and skill set to help others.

    Clair

  27. Jerry says:

    @Kevin (comment #5),

    I just recently found TSD and have been perusing the archives. Trent made a series of posts back in 2006 on the subject: http://www.thesimpledollar.com/2006/11/30/building-a-better-blog-for-2007/

    Jerry

  28. mike says:

    I enjoy each of your posts. This one is very inspirational and applicable in many areas. keep up the good work. I especially like sharing your goals with others…that will definitely keep you on track.

  29. tammy says:

    I slaved over writing a music business tome for years. Literally, 10 years. Thinking at some point I may have it finished and then I would seek a publisher.
    Through a completely bizarre set of what I can only explain as divine coincidences, I realized I could break apart my tome into small, concise booklets. I wrote the first one in a month, created the cover art myself, figured out how to run a 20 page booklet on my computer printer and learned how to post the booklets for sale on my website.
    Since then I’ve created 3 more booklets and am writing another one. Each one takes between a month and two months to write.
    Breaking my work into bites helped me so much.
    Now I blog about life as a Frugal Musician and also have a music advice blog as well as writing booklets. And I still have my day job of being a music publicist.
    Trent, I love your work. I admire all of you who write about personal finance. It is indeed refreshing and soothing to know we are not alone on our path to contentment via sustainable and responsible behavior with money!

  30. MoneyGranola says:

    I can relate. About a month ago, I started my own personal finance blog too—www.moneygranola.com. It’s hard to start a blog, knowing what to write about. But as Woody Allen said, 80% of success is just showing up.

    I started blogging. I now write nearly every day, and slowly but surely, I’m finding my voice and my blogging niche. (And my audience is growing too– which, of course, is gratifying.)

    Trent, keep up the good work!

  31. Steph says:

    Thanks for sharing this post. I’ve been inspired by your whole story. I’d like to be a professional writer one day too, and I get ideas and inspirations on how to go about it by reading about your process.

  32. Ell says:

    Hi Trent.

    I am pretty new to reading your blog but I just wanted to tell you to keep up the great work with your writing. I recently have started to turn over a new leaf (two more years and I’ll be 30 I wish I had started sooner!) with my husband and get on the right track with our finances and you have been a huge inspiration.

    Your story was inspirational and I thought it was kinda funny how you said you use to work for a research lab and lived in a tiny apartment. That is my exact situation right now! I am not kidding. I am currently working at a lab and we are in a tiny apartment with our four year old son. Having even just a little bit in common reminds me that perhaps I can be where I want to be as well. Thanks Trent!

  33. Natalie says:

    What a great tip – to have the browser automatically go to your blog/create post page. Genius! I’m a personal blogger – capturing the stories of my daily life and stories of being a mom/wife/scrapbooker/working mom – and I often don’t blog for days or longer – and I can do this as a great reminder to blog even a little bit everyday…

  34. Great post! It really illustrates the power of making a decision. We can all learn from this post.

  35. arshad says:

    Your article is very good.Struggle and changes are part of life.It realy motivates me and inspires me.

  36. vdavisson says:

    I’ve sent this to my brother. He needs focus at this time. Thanks for all you do, your blog is great.

  37. This was a GREAT post! I did..actually AM DOING the same thing…I got very excited in the beginning, posting daily, and then I seemed to let “life” get in the way, and I haven’t blogged in weeks! I LOVE blogging about getting out of debt and the inspiration of Scripture. I need to MAKE THE TIME to do it because it is such an describable GREAT feeling to be on a debt journey, helping others, and spreading God’s Word all at the same time. I am glad to hear that you had those days where you almost “let it go” also. Thanks for the inspiration!

    God Bless!

    DEBT FREE JOURNEY

    debtfreethroughchristwhostrengthensme.blogspot.com

  38. ChristianPF says:

    Nice post trent – well put and very true. There is never a better time to start that now…

  39. I have to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in penning this
    website. I’m hoping to see the same high-grade content from
    you later on as well. In fact, your creative writing abilities has motivated me to get my own, personal
    blog now ;)

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