Most writers I admired seven years ago have quit.
Less than 1% of my writing inspirations are still writing. This is a sad fact. They’re not stupid. I’m not better than them. They simply gave up.
Writing is a high friction pursuit. When something is high friction it takes away your energy and your willpower. When one of those scarce resources is depleted you give up writing.
The typical day of a writer
You wake up. You eat breakfast. You procrastinate. You watch too much Youtube and call it research. You post a lot of unnecessary stuff on social media and call it marketing. You pay some bills and call it “the business side of writing.” You think you’re about to start writing.
Then you get distracted again. Your browser tabs play havoc with your ability to focus. They always have another delicious idea ready to tempt you. You try over and over to write.
You end up looking at other writers and notice their progress. Why isn’t your progress as good as theirs? Why can’t you write a witty headline like them? Let’s say you survive all of this and actually write something.
Then you’ve got to live with what you wrote.
You doubt what you wrote. Then it’s time to edit and you have to revisit your writing. You feel stupid, or as though something is missing while you edit. The editing is done. Now it’s time to choose images. A good image is hard to find. It takes time.
Cutting corners and choosing a stock image of a guy in a suit doing a cliche pose and pretending to be happy is pissing on your Picasso. You can’t do it to yourself. So you waste insane amounts of time finding the right image. You finally find one and tell yourself “I can always change it later.” The next part is where writers lose their minds.
The online writing world is a series of gatekeepers. The mission written on their editing wall is one word: quality. They serve quality. In doing so, they have to accept or reject you. Some days they will like your work. Some days you’ll be the flavor of the month. Some days your writing will go so freaking viral you won’t recognize your own name as the author. You’ll smile at yourself, and perhaps, stand a little taller. You’ll even buy yourself a gelato to celebrate.
Then there are the bad days. When you submit ten stories in a row and they all get rejected without any feedback. Or when you submit a timely article and your friend who is also a writer covers the same subject and beats you to it, meaning your article is declined and theirs is accepted.
Rejection hurts no matter how many times it happens.
Then there are the days when the social media platform you write on does a subtle update. At first it seems like no big deal. Then your stats start falling off a cliff. You’re getting 500-view days again. What the hell?
The writer self-talk sounds like this:“You’ve been doing this way too long. You’re too good for a measly 500 views.” You feel frustrated. Trying to write frustrated feels as though a psycho burned off all your fingers, and all that is left are the stubs of your arms that push down multiple keys at a time for every keystroke.
Next comes feedback. You can choose to have your face ripped off by the comments section full of people who are clearly smarter than you. Or you can choose to read your email, where strangers send you thoughtful and unthoughtful messages. Some emails are long. Some emails are so short you read them ten times and still can’t work out the question. Other emails are a “what evs” and you delete them without a reply.
There are the pitches too. Random companies or PR agencies will kindly send you unsolicited emails every day requesting you to write about a purely self-serving topic. Their ask is wrapped in the promise of a good idea, but your ideas folder is already overflowing. Email takes a lot of your time and so does social media. Sometimes the point of all the communication can become lost.
But you’re a writer, which makes you a hermit crab on your best day.
Luckily, you close your computer. You head to the couch for Netflix decompression. You come back the next day. A blank screen full of white space stares right back at you. It’s you and the blank space again. You can fight her, or succumb to her power.
Whatever happens, it’s going to be hard.
This is why writers give up
As you can see writers have a lot to contend with. The failure rate of writers is high because the ask, and cognitive load, are enormous.
- Writing is hard work.
- You can expect results far too soon. You can want to be Ryan Holiday within a year.
- You likely have another source of income to pay bills so you can’t write every waking minute. The balancing act is tough.
- Your idea muscle gets worn out.
- Getting rejected by editors and publications can be exhausting.
- It’s easy to collect enemies who hunt down opinions to murder.
- You’ll question yourself. You’ll feel inadequate.
- Your boss or family could get pissed at something you wrote.
- Social media is a full-time job.
- You can’t answer every email. Emails take a lot of time.
- There is no clear blueprint to follow. You write or you don’t write.
- Falling for the viral mumbo jumbo is easy.
- Comparing yourself to other writers destroys your self-worth.
- It’s easier not to write than write.
I believe it’s natural to give up as a writer — it’s the obvious choice. But when you don’t give up, your entire life changes. Succumbing to the power of writing can change everything.
Writing allows you to create tiny ripple effects in the world. Writing is therapy. Writing is how you think. Writing lets you see your thoughts so you can challenge them.
Writing is hard but it’s meaningful. Writing is how you leave a few bread crumbs behind before you exit earth.
This is how to be part of the 1% of writers who keep going
- Write what you want to write. Choose topics you’re genuinely curious about.
- Pretend nobody is watching. Most people won’t read 90% of what you write, so dance with the devil.
- Adapt and try new platforms. Maybe newsletters will work better for you. Maybe a career platform such as LinkedIn is a better home for your content.
- Write to be helpful. Self-serving content is exhausting to read and will burn your audience quickly.
- Get comfortable not replying to every comment or message. Nobody expects you to show up every time. Your writing has more value than responding to comments or messages.
- Build an offline audience (Slack community or an email list). Owning your audience is massively underrated. An audience you own is an audience you can speak to using your own editorial standards. If everything you write has to follow someone’s rules you’ll eventually give up.
- Do your best. It’s hard to write online. Expect bad days and they’ll affect you a lot less than expecting continuous home runs.
- Don’t be on every platform. There are so many places to write, and writing on all of them will wear you out. Pick two places to publish regularly and focus on your writing. Platform-following and chasing trends like Clubhouse will eventually make you give up.
- Take breaks. 20-minute breaks on a day you write can help replenish your energy. Taking entire days off every week can give your creative mind a rest. Taking entire weeks off every year can help remind you why you write in the first place. Travel gives you experiences you can write about, too.
- Focus on the audience. Talk to them. Know them better than you know yourself. Ask them questions. Reply to their messages occasionally. You serve the audience — they don’t serve you.
- Take feedback lightly. Simply say thanks to a negative comment or email. A reader’s opinion isn’t fact. They’re entitled to express themselves and you’re entitled disagree with them quietly.
- Build a support network of other writers. These writers can help you edit your story, give you feedback, and share their journey so yours doesn’t feel as lonely.
- Invest some of the money you earn as a writer so you can work less if you choose. If you are forced to always write to earn money then you’ll get stuck on the hamster wheel. You can work less or write less when you invest your money in real assets. These assets grow in value, as your writing grows in value, over time. The compound effect helps give you the energy to persist with your writing habit.
- Be humble. If you write to please your ego you will eventually give up.
5 years is the magic number
It took me 5 years to make my writing goals come true. Many of the writers I interact with have found a similar number to be the tipping point. 5 years equals 10,000 hours of writing.
5 years of writing helps you hone your voice, get used to rejection, create a support network of writers, build an offline and online audience, discover which platform works best for you, find ways to help an audience, and learn what you enjoy writing.
If you can write for five years straight, then you can achieve the heights of the writing world. Don’t give up writing before it’s your time to shine.