Writing

Behind the Scenes Hard Truths About Being a Writer Who Publishes a Lot Online

Tim Denning Writing Advice

Photo by Per Loov on Unsplash

Writing online looks easy. Anyone can do it, they say.

That’s all true. Anyone can be a writer and publish stories online. But there is a lot more to publishing stories online.

For example, what happens when a group of people decides to organize themselves using messaging apps to “take you down?” What do you do when other writers take the rap battles of the 90s and bring them back in their stories, featuring you?

There are good days and bad days as a writer — mostly good days. There are times when the last thing you want to do is write. I watched a family member pass away two years ago. During their last days I was so overwhelmed by grief that I couldn’t write a single word. I just wanted to be with them in the hospital and retell my childhood to them which they made so enjoyable.

So that’s what I did. I threw the bulletproof coffee, cold showers, and meditation apps in the bin for a bit. I didn’t write a damn thing. Maybe I broke the rules of online blogging. Or maybe I needed to learn to write in moderation.

They call me “Robot Tim.” LinkedIn staff actually asked me if I was a real person. They didn’t think it was possible to publish so much content. They thought my full name was actually a representation of several people. My response: “Nope it’s just lonely old me. No automation or special life-hacks.”

These are the hard truths worth considering if you want to write online or you already do.


A Lot of What You Write Will Be Crap

Incredibly hard to admit but true. I’ve written a lot of crap. Crap turns out to be helpful if you write for long enough.

The good part is this: the stories you write that you think are incredible will fall flat. The stories you push out into the world without thinking about them will probably change your life. Or at least buy you an iMac one day. I was one of those writers that never wanted to write a bad story. This mindset stopped me from writing stories. I sat there and dreamt about writing… one day.

You may as well write what you can today than wait your whole life to be prepared to write perfectly and never reach anybody.

Readers Aren’t Looking for Perfect

Big secret: I purposely put mistakes in my writing to screw with people.

I purposely make mistakes because it makes my writing more human. One of my most successful articles was about how life is like a Ferrari (okay, calm down — that was the old me). The publication put a big fat picture of a Bugatti car on my Ferrari article. It was a mistake. Both cars look similar.

This article blew up. People saw the mistake and came to the comments section to hunt for justice. In the process they read the article and actually found it helpful. So a mistake brought readers in the door and the helpful lessons made them stay.

Readers don’t like perfect writing because deep down they know something is wrong. Either they can’t write in the same way which makes them sad — or their bullsh*t detector switches on and they look for a hidden PR company, influencers, affiliate links or famous editors as the reason for the perfection.

Imperfect writing stands alone — it’s timeless.

75% of the Time You’re Inspiring, 25% of the Time You’re Offending People

Warning: this is a rough calculation for the mathematicians in the audience who missed out on auditioning for the movie “Goodwill Hunting” with Matt Damon. *Does Matt Damon pronunciation from the Team America movie*

I offend people every day for reasons I can’t explain. If you publish your work online you will offend people. The more you publish, the more you will silently offend people. Shake it off. Let me butcher a Mae West quote:

“Those who are easily offended should be offended more often.”

You are going to upset people with your writing. The cure is to understand that all you’re doing is releasing thoughts into the world. You’re not intending to blow up a country with your writing or cause the end of the world. So take all the noise in the comments, lightly.

Offending people makes them think. The world needs more thinking.

On the flip side you’ll be inspiring more people than you piss off. A lot of people will love what you do. And a small few will become superfans and help you grow as a writer.

You could lock yourself in your home with your typewriter and hide from the world. Or you can make the decision to go outside, publish, and play in the sunshine knowing there will be a few angry drivers on the highway each day.

Your writing has the power to inspire. Let that be your driving force.

Following the Crowd Will Lead You off a Cliff

The worst thing you can do as a writer is follow the trend.

If I read another article that says I made $1M in 2 hours from writing I’m going to be sick. And guess what? I’m probably partly responsible for this trend. I’m sorry. I will donate to Greenpeace to make up for it.

If everyone’s doing it, consider not doing it.

It’s better to create the trend. How? By focusing on your creativity rather than other people’s successes. Trends are impossible to mimic.

I can write an article about life being like a Toyota Camry and then you can do the exact same thing. What goes into the hit story and subsequent trend you’re following is a lot of unknowns. Such as:

  • A writer’s name can make a topic or style popular.
  • A writer’s time on a platform can make a topic or style popular.
  • A writer’s voice can make a topic or style popular.
  • A writer’s view of the world can make a topic or style popular.
  • A writer’s professional 9–5 career can make a topic or style popular.

You can write a topic about money and I can too. My article could go mega-viral and yours may not. I worked in a bank for years and perhaps you didn’t. That subtle difference can screw with the trend you’re blindly following. At the same time, it can have nothing to do with it. Why?

You can’t predict viral.
You can’t manifest popular with brute force.

What Would Happen If You Just Wanted People to Win?

With all the 90s rap battles between writers online, I often try to think differently. When you genuinely want people to win, the noise dies down.

There are writers who hate me. Despite their hate, I want them to win. There are writers far better than me. I learn from the good writers and the up and coming writers. When you just want writers to win you release a lot of negative energy from your writing.

Tearing other writers down is a sport with very few spectators.

Build other writers up.
Or shut up.
Or secretly want other writers to win, so you can win too.

We’re all in this writing world together. Let’s not turn it into a political debate with a leader who refuses to leave office.

There Isn’t a Shortcut to the Big Bucks

If there was then I’d be sitting on a beach and taking a year off with zero f*cks given. There isn’t a magical pony that will take you across the well-lit rainbow to the other side, where a pot of gold awaits with your writer’s name on it. Nope, shortcuts are a fantasy.

Ask Benjamin Hardy who took years to make his first million bucks.

Ask Ryan Holiday who isn’t living an endless holiday on his farm.

Ask Tim Ferriss who made millions of dollars from his books and discovered his dark past of sexual abuse as a child and his near-suicide attempt as a college student.

Ask Sean Kernan who is the most consistent writer on the internet and has had more hits than Stevie Wonder. Or ask his Navy Seal dad. (Just don’t piss his dad off because he knows Kung Fu.) The tricks don’t exist.

Here’s the hack no writer wants to hear: Write a lot.

Credibility Goes a Long Way

It’s easy as a writer to become a boy/girl who cries woof every day, screaming for attention. Again, I’m not perfect. I’ve been the dude in a moderately priced Honda Civic who has said something to get attention. Guilty as charged.

You gain credibility when you quit crying for attention like a 5 year old in a diaper and focus on being helpful.

Helpful people are selfless. Selflessness builds enormous credibility.

Wearing Your Heart on Your Sleeve Can Be Exhausting

Okay you knew this one was coming. I’m the poster boy for this one too. So let me break it down: wearing your heart on your sleeve is exhausting.

Being raw. Exploring your emotions. Going into the depths of your failures. Showing all sides of you. Sharing the stories you know you’re supposed to keep quiet about. All of it hurts. It can feel like 99 daggers to the heart on some days. It hurts to show emotion, especially as a grown man.

But here’s the rub. You won’t forget a single minute of it. It will change your life in ways nobody can predict. Wearing your heart on your sleeve is being real. Being real is unusual in this messed-up social media world full of outrage echo chambers that cost $0 to enter. Show heart.

There’s More Work than You Think

Writing online looks like it doesn’t take a lot of work. I mean you can make $100K in a week if you buy my course right? Nope.

I was a terrible writer until I started to increase the time spent writing. When you write the same idea over and over it gets better. You get better at explaining the idea and making it simple.

The hard truth is that many writers who want to make a living from their work simply don’t write enough. You have to put in the work to get the rewards. Everybody reading this knows that deep down. It’s cliche advice.

Cliche advice is often simple advice that is overlooked in search of complex hacks that don’t exist.

Velocity Beats Quality

This is the great debate amongst writers. My view:

Quality is subjective. Velocity builds skill.

I owe more than half of every dollar I’ve earned from writing to this approach. Velocity is where you find your writer’s voice. Velocity is where you learn what readers want through feedback.

Velocity creates a writing habit.

Habits produce enormous results that look impossible over time.

You Only Get Paid for Quality

This one is the opposite of velocity. Most of the stories you write won’t earn you any real money. Quality writing is what pays the bills. If I publish 60 stories a month then only a small group of them will make any money.

To write the quality stories you’ve got to write all the terrible ones that come before them. You can still focus on quality. How?

  • Edit your work yourself
  • Use a grammar/spellchecker
  • Spend time choosing an image that matches the story
  • Add links to back up facts

You Could Blow up Your 9-5 Career

One recruiter got angry at me last year. I wrote a piece about how it pays to be friendly and get back to candidates, because it could be you one day.

It wasn’t directed at them. They thought it was and lost their sh*t at me. It cost me a high-paying job. But what I learned is the career opportunities that get affected by your writing are not ones you want anyway.

If anyone takes your writing that seriously then they’re probably going to be an emotionally fragile person to work with, who behaves like a pin stuck in the side of your butt.

As Soon as You Get Too Tall, Prepare to Be Chopped down

You might think having a viral article is a dream. As soon as I’ve had any success as a writer I’ve found there is a queue of people I don’t know ready to chop me back down to size again for being noticed. This thought helped:

You only get chopped down if you sign the permission slip. Let em try and chop you down.

Shine bright at their envy.

You Will Want to Give Up Writing

I’ve wanted to plenty of times. But I haven’t.

What kept me going? The “why” behind writing. I aim to be helpful. I like to play the role of a teacher. Even though life beats the sh*t out of you regularly, that doesn’t mean you have to give up.

Not giving up is a huge differentiator. If you just didn’t give up and kept writing consistently for 5+ years you’d figure out everything else.

That’s a Behind the Scenes Look at My #PerfectWritingLife

As you can see, writing online isn’t perfect after all. It’s hardly a dream life, but it’s my writing life. I enjoy it despite some of the pitfalls.

I’m a normal guy from Australia with a late model Honda Civic, a bedroom inside a student apartment, a four-day a week 9–5 job, average writing skills, and a warm cup of tea on the go in case life beats me up again.

Take yourself lightly and you too can publish thoughts that might change the world in some tiny way, without trying to.

Tim Denning
Tim is a thought leader in the personal development, entrepreneur and startup fields.Outside of blogging, Tim works for a large organisation helping fast moving technology companies come to Australia as well as helping Australian tech companies go to the world.

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