Category : Writing


Here’s How to Come up with a Tremendous Amount of Writing Ideas

Finding ideas to write about

Photo by Thomas de Luze on Unsplash

Having a writer’s roadblock can stop your flow.

I suffer from this problem all the time. I sit down to write, and then…BOOM! I have nothing to write about. I try to fire up my mind’s engine and get nowhere. I sit there staring out the window at my concrete wall view.

There are many ways to release your mind’s blockage and start writing again. I’ve spent the last six years getting good at this practice. The first strategy is to follow James Altucher’s advice and become an ideas machine. Write ideas down wherever you go.

Always be ready to write an idea down when you least expect it. The best ideas smack you in the face when you’re on the toilet, in the shower, waiting to sit down at a restaurant, or while reading a book. Here are a few more ways to come up with writing ideas like Ms Harry Potter Rowling.

Start with a headline and subtitle only

Thinking about an entire story is overwhelming. Trying to imagine each point, choose the cover image in your head, think of clever quotes, half write subheadings, and choose the voice you’ll write in is way too much work. I start with the plain vanilla idea of a headline and subtitle.

A writing idea is just a headline. Nothing more. Don’t complicate a simple process of coming up with writing ideas. Do you know what the best headlines are? A statement.

Write a headline that makes a bold statement.

Collect and admire headlines as you progress through the week. After a while, your entire world starts to look like a headline. When I make an online course, the first thing I come up with is the course title (headline). When I write a social media post, the first thing I come up with is the first sentence (headline). When I put together a Powerpoint pack for work, the first thing I do is name the deck (headline).

Headlines are all around you. You write headlines even when you don’t realize you’re writing headlines. When you meet a person for the first time, you tell them one thing about yourself (another headline). When you pitch yourself in a job interview, you drop a one-sentence headline to the recruiter to make them remember you.

The world is full of headlines. See the headline and you’ll see an idea.

Ditch “Algo Thinking”

The worst thing you can do as a writer is fall for algo thinking. Algo thinking is where you worship a social media platform’s algorithm and try to stroke its ego for some sexy time. Here’s what it looks like:

  • Obsessing over trends.
  • Trying to recreate viral articles that won’t become viral.
  • Choosing topics because they’re popular.
  • Binging on noteworthy news that will impress an algorithm, but never become glorious evergreen content.

An algorithm doesn’t determine whether an idea is a good one to write about. Your creativity and imagination do that.

If you want some inspiration from a non-algo thinker then take a look at Sean Kernan. His example will help you come up with quirky ideas you never thought you were capable of giving birth to (he knows Navy Seal fight sequences though, so be careful — step away from the sad face emoji).

Get lost in a Twitter Thread

Twitter Threads are hidden writing inspiration. Because a Twitter Thread is nothing more than a blog post without all the calories.

Read a Twitter Thread for inspiration on what to write about. Take a single tweet and turn it into your own masterpiece. A Twitter Thread in a lot of ways is just a listicle with 280 characters per point.

If you can write a succinct story that fits nicely into a Twitter Thread, then you’ve got the basis for a full-blown blog post.

From a writer’s point of view, Twitter is an app for the forced publication of early drafts — Paul Graham

Pick an unknown person to write about

Everybody is writing about Jobs, Musk, Buffman, Bezos and Zucks. A great way to come up with writing ideas is to make a list of unknown people that the average joe has never heard of.

When I was stuck for writing ideas I wrote about Kevin Swan. Kevin has a rare disease called ALS and is immobile with the exception of his toes and eyebrows. Kevin uses eye gaze technology on a tablet to be a writer. You think you’ve got it tough as a writer who has to come up with ideas until you meet Kevin. The bizarre thing about Kevin is he hasn’t learned how to see tragedy. All he sees are opportunities to do things that dead people cannot.

On another day, I was stuck for writing ideas again. I came across a 17 year old from Europe. He quit school to become an entrepreneur. I learned about his approach to life. I came face to face with my bullshit excuses about coming up with writing ideas. It was hard to feel sorry for myself when I was getting beaten by a smiling 17 year old in a tracksuit, working from a bedroom his parents still paid for.

Writing about unknown people is an untapped goldmine full of ideas. Trade well-known for unknown and watch the ideas come flooding in. You may not be able to get an interview with Elon Musk, but you can probably get an interview and a bunch of great ideas from a local hero who nobody has ever heard of. Musk has enough lunch appointments already.

Take a quiet unknown genius out for lunch instead and interview them.

Phone a friend

A friend can easily give you writing ideas. I was stuck for ideas recently and Michael Thompson said to me, “write an article that is the opposite of billionaire worshipping porn.” So I did. I remembered how happy I was earlier in my career making $60,000 a year. They were uncomplicated times surrounded by great colleagues who became lifelong friends.

Your friends know you really well. Let them give you ideas for free. Shout em a coke if one of their ideas gets you a book deal.

Write about a niche topic when everybody is following the mainstream

Niche topics are the antidote to writer’s block. Topics all start to sound the same after a while. But a niche topic is idea heaven. Think about a topic you’ve already written about and then see if there is another story you can write where you go narrow rather than wide.

Collect listicles

I collect the writer’s devil: listicles. I freaking love them. A listicle is a compilation of ideas I can riff on like Carlos Santana. Take dot points from different listicles and patch them together.

Visit these websites

Ya’ll writers love super practical tips. Use these websites as inspiration for ideas. (This is my personal collection.)

  • The Atlantic
  • Human Parts
  • The New Yorker
  • Oliver Burkeman’s “This column will change your life”
  • Slate

Final thought

As a writer, you have lots of ideas trapped inside your soul. All you have to do is pry open your mind and extract the ideas. Coming up with ideas isn’t hard. Don’t get romantic about coming up with ideas. Instead, make it a habit to take down ideas without judging the quality of them.

If you judge ideas before you note them down then you’re spoiling their potential life-changing magic. How can you possibly know if an idea is a good one or a bad one until you’ve written about it? You can’t. An idea is a good one after the fact — after an idea has been helpful to a reader, then you know if it’s a good one.

Dare to keep track of all your ideas and then curate them later.

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I Made Myself Cry Writing This Story. It’s an Experience You Will Never Forget for the Rest of Your Life.

Tim Denning Writing

Photo by Taynah de Sales on Unsplash

This has never happened to me before.

I wrote a story, and as I typed it, I found myself crying through the process. It was one of those powerful events one will never ever forget. It’s not a sad outcome either.

Crying as you write is the next level of writing.

Here’s the Story That Did It

In a few weeks’ time I head back to hospital for cancer motivation.

In 2015 I was surprised with a cancer scare.

Ever since then I have to go back to the hospital every year, take an anesthetic, and hope I wake up and my life continues.

It’s the best career motivation one can have.

It puts everything into perspective.

Cancer motivation helped me understand life.

I don’t waste time.

I try to find the goodness in everybody I meet.

I try to do something small for others through writing.

Yes, people tell me I’m a strange dude.

When you wake up to reality and realize you’re not here for long, everything changes.

Cancer motivation gave me the I-Don’t-Give-Damn approach to my career. It scares some people.

The only goal is to meet as many people as you can and show them unconditional humanity. Or maybe I’m going crazy.

Love people. That’s the truth.

See you on the other side.

It Means You’ve Finally Let Go

I hid for years in a shiny metal BMW bubble of perfection. I was deathly afraid for people to see the weakness that was overtaking my mind.

The scariest thought was this: “What if people find out I have an eating disorder and can’t eat in public?”

See, I couldn’t eat in public. Something was broken. It was an incredibly frustrating problem that no doctor could understand or solve for.

The problem would only happen in public. I’d have to take the doctor to lunch to show them my eating disorder. No doctor had time to do that. And even if they did rise to the challenge there was no guarantee my eating disorder was going to show up for lunch and be seen.

So, I lived with it. I avoided public situations. I took unnecessary sick days when there were team dinners for work. I hid behind perfection. I wore a suit with a red power tie and pretended to be okay.

On the inside, I was fucked.

The story I wrote above made me cry because I realized that scared inner child was no longer scared anymore. If I could write, and share, a deeply personal story about a near-miss with cancer, then clearly something had changed. I had changed.

I had finally let go of my own self-image.

You too can have a moment exactly like this and let go of your avatar that you play the life game with.

Life-changing insight: Everybody is broken. Why not you?

It Means It’s Not About You Anymore

Why was I sharing this deeply personal story?

It wasn’t about the personal brand nonsense. It wasn’t about social media and meaningless follower counts. I shared this story because after six years I realized it’s the one thing I can competently do to be helpful.

A story like this makes your internet inboxes light up like a college bonfire on the beach with your best mates.

One of my closest friends sat with me yesterday at a cafe, post-2020-apocalypse, and said “I haven’t found my calling in life yet. I’m still searching.”

I said back to him, “I had that problem too. Not anymore. Writing stories like this is my calling. I am never going to stop until my last breath.”

That level of certainty changes how you live your life. You basically ignore all the noise. You talk with confidence and conviction. Your shoulders are back. Your posture is dead straight. You stand tall. You have something to say and you’re not afraid to say it.

A story you write, that makes you cry, acts like a giant arrow pointing to what you must pay attention to.

Many of the secrets of your life lie in that moment. Tremendous emotion like this is a sign. It’s a gift you’ve been waiting your entire life to get, that you didn’t think you needed. Pay attention to overwhelming emotion.

Write Something That Makes You Cry

It won’t be an easy story to write. It won’t be like all your other stories. You’ll probably have to write about the very thing you’ve avoided writing up until now. How do you do it?

Don’t focus on what others will think. Focus on what others can gain from a story like this.

Tim Ferriss shared his story of childhood sexual abuse. There was nothing to gain by doing so. If anything, it ruined his perfect productivity entrepreneurship brand, fuelled by the 4-Hour Workweek. He did it anyway. He had everything to lose and nothing to gain.

What got him over the line to share the story was the number of other victims who could heal because they heard his story.

Your story inspires people to take action. It might be silent action nobody ever sees. That’s okay.

Dare yourself to write something you’ll cry the whole way through writing. You will learn a lot about the tremendous power you hold as a writer to inspire everyday people to battle their demons.

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Write to Think. Don’t Think, and Then Write.

Tim Denning Blogging Tips

Photo by Elijah O'Donnell on Unsplash

I don’t enjoy writing; I enjoy having written. So that first draft for me is the hardest because the kind of writing I do — it’s a kind of thinking.

I write primarily to find out what I’ve been thinking, and I don’t know until I write it — Kevin Kelly

Thinking about writing the way Kevin Kelly does made me write differently. Better, even. I write to think, not to write.

If I try and think in order to write, my head becomes a hot mess. My brain turns to mush. My process is to come up with headlines during the week and email them to myself. A headline is an idea. It’s a thought that I believe is worthy of its own story to explain in detail.

I cut myself off at a headline thought. Once the headline is written I come back and then think about it as I write.

There is something about sitting down to write with zero expectations that changes the words your fingers type. It’s as though the process of writing does all the work for you without you having to do anything. I can write 10,000 words in a single day if I just stop trying to think and start writing.

Writing is a journey into yourself

Your brain is full of ideas, experiences, and potential experiments.

When you write you organize all that information in your brain. One thought becomes a paragraph. A library of quotes becomes the icing on your writing cake at the end.

I write to understand my thinking. I don’t truly understand what I think about an experience until I write about it. For example, I heard a story about a man that jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and was saved by a sea lion.

The story only made sense when I understood it from the point of view of the sea lion. Writing the story in my own words helped me understand it.

As I wrote the story, I went back to 2016 when I visited San Francisco and stood in the same place. I remember looking over the edge of the bridge and imagining what lay beneath the freezing cold sea. The thought of being in that water, alone, was terrifying.

The man and the sea lion story took me back to that place. The experience of standing on the Golden Gate Bridge took on a whole new meaning. Knowing someone survived a run-in with that bridge, thanks to a sea lion, gave me tremendous hope about the state of the world and what is possible.

A story takes on a whole new meaning when you write about it and deconstruct your thinking in the process.

Think to practice creativity

I don’t practice writing. I practice thinking.

The self-help dudes dating women wearing Lululemon gym pants preach habits like the gospel. Well, they’re right. Going to the gym can be a habit.

Thinking is the best kind of habit.

When you practice thinking, you understand the world better and your place within it. Words make your thoughts a reality.

Writing is a form of creative expression, that if practiced long enough, can rewire your thinking entirely.

You never think the same way twice. There are always subtle differences.

The same is true when you write about a topic more than once. I never write the same personal finance story twice. Each time I’ve written about money the meaning has shifted slightly.

It started with “quit your job.” Then I saw money as a way to invest in assets like stocks. Then I saw money as a tool. Then money became a way to distribute random acts of kindness. Then money became a way to relax more and stress less.

Now when I write about money I see it as all of those things, plus a way to buy back your time so you have the freedom to do whatever work you want without having to think about how much you’re going to get paid.

My thoughts on money have evolved by writing about it. I couldn’t predict this change in thinking when I started talking about personal finance after working in banking for many years. That’s the beauty of writing. Writing helped me understand and evolve my thoughts on money over time.

I wrote to accidentally evolve my thinking in secret.

This is why when you read your work from five years ago you can’t recognize the writer who wrote it. Each writing session evolves your thinking and slowly changes the type of writer you are. This is the magic of writing, at its finest.

Think to help others

The main reason I want to write to think is so I can find ways to solve problems that many people face.

The thing is a solution to a problem isn’t straightforward for me. I have to write about a problem ten times just to understand it at a surface level. When your goal is to help others with your writing, your thinking shifts and your thoughts are written down in a different way.

You start to write as though you’re having an imaginary conversation with a reader who needs help, who you’ve never met and probably won’t. Conversational writing is able to be heard easier by a reader.

Surprise yourself with your own thinking

You’ll be surprised what happens when you subtly start writing to think.

Your thinking has incredible value. Analyzing your thoughts through writing will give you immense power in your life to create cataclysmic shifts in the philosophies in which you live by.

My writing feels terrible. But what I am surprised by is the evolution of my thinking. I used to be a 4 AM asshole who spewed green smoothies all over people’s well-kept faces. Not anymore.

My thinking has evolved thanks to writing. This would never have happened if I’d stopped writing and thought my thinking was terrible or unhelpful. I started with shaky thinking and then let the input of books and the writing process evolve my thinking over time.

The same opportunity is available to you. You don’t have to be a writer. You can just be a thinker and use writing to capture your thoughts with an illusionary net. When you do, you surprise yourself. You’ll find ways to combine, detach, mold, sculpt and craft completely new ideas.

Writing accelerates your thinking. Write to evolve your thinking and be helpful too.

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I Plan on Being the Most Read Writer on the Internet

Writing Tips Tim Denning

Photo by Joshua Woroniecki on Unsplash

Not for fame. Not for attention. Not for money. To be helpful.

You may want to be a content creator too, so here’s my plan you can copy.

1. Publish a Lot More Free Content

When I was an amateur I wanted to be paid for everything. Now I realize that 80% or more of your content should be free. You only need to charge a small number of people, a small amount of money, to earn a living.

2. Go All in on the Email List

I used to think email lists were stupid. Boy how I was wrong.

An email list has helped me build a business rather than just be a writer. That business has given me the chance to buy back my time so I can live out my version of freedom.

Even though I never took email lists seriously until recently, I have always built an email list, starting from six years ago. This has allowed me to gain almost 50,000 email subscribers.

You know the dumb thing? Writers like Benjamin Hardy, who have been writing for roughly the same amount of time as me, have 800,000+ email subscribers. I’ve been doing email like a rookie.

Leveling up an email list looks like this:

  • A weekly email newsletter that has value (and isn’t a glorified ad).
  • My buddy Gavin said it best: Build the list. Email the list.
  • Sending more valuable emails that have no links, and offer solutions to problems that readers have been asking about. Free emails build so much loyalty with a subscriber.

3. Start Using Twitter like a Pro

My eyes were gaffer taped shut when it comes to Twitter. Writer, Nicolas Cole, introduced me to the idea that even after more than 14 years, Twitter is still a huge opportunity. The problem is I have been using Twitter like an idiot.

Three things I learned about Twitter:

  • Never bother with posting external links.
  • The default 280 character Twitter post is level one.
  • A Twitter Thread is level two on the platform. It’s the key to building an audience on Twitter and I missed it for years. I’m doubling down on Twitter over the next 12 months.
  • Put a Call-To-Action as your bio link. I previously put a link to my website in my Twitter Bio and wasted years of audience building. I now offer a free eBook as my Twitter Bio link which is accessed via a hyper-focused landing page where you can only do one thing: sign up to my private email list.

Think of a Twitter thread like this:

1st tweet is the headline.
2nd tweet is your intro.
3rd tweet is your first point.
4th tweet is your second point and so on…
5th tweet is a link to the original blog post published elsewhere.
6th tweet is a link to your call to action.

A tweet thread is just a deconstructed blog post with a 280 character limit for each point. The way you know which sentences of each point to include in the 280 characters is by looking at highlights of your blog post.

Pro Strategy: Take a successful blog post and turn it into a Twitter Thread. Release each 280 character dot point of the Twitter thread slowly.

4. Double down on a Minimalist WordPress Blog

You can use other people’s platforms, sure. I have watched many writers I admire grow their audiences faster by adding a WordPress blog into the mix — and, most importantly, updating their blog regularly with fresh, free content.

I own my blog and use it to build my email list and private group chat communities. I am going to double down on this approach.

5. Implement an Unconventional Approach to LinkedIn

Social media algorithms look at your past history when deciding the organic (non-paid) reach of your latest post to their audience. The algorithm also pays close attention to your consistency and doesn’t reward one-hit wonders.

I have been writing on LinkedIn for six years and have a large content library to draw from. What I am currently doing is taking all my most popular LinkedIn posts from the last six years (the ones that typically have more than 1000 likes) and reposting them from scratch.

Your most popular posts have proven engagement. You can use previous engagement on your posts to create engagement on your new social media posts. All my future posts will be text only posts because I’m a writer. And because text-only posts perform the best on LinkedIn by far.

My LinkedIn posting schedule looks like this:

Monday to Sunday — One post at 8 AM that is from the archives and is tried and tested. One post at 6 PM that is brand new.

Pro LinkedIn strategy: I am going to direct message people, who ask to connect with me, a link to join my email list. I have hit the maximum of 30,000 connections that LinkedIn allows. Why should those excess connections go to waste though? They aren’t going to anymore. I’ve found direct messages are a great way to build your email list.

6. Add Major Publications Who Agree to Link Back to My Website

Most major publications outside of social media will never pay you a dime.

A major publication like Huffington Post is only good for one thing: adding a link at the bottom of your story that sends people to your own website.

I am going to add more stories to major publications like Business Insider. I am not going to wait for them to come to me either.

I am going to use the habit of pitching them every week to get more stories published. I am going to take their rejection emails and archive them (they could tell an interesting story one day).

7. Utilize Substack to Offer Paid Newsletters

I first heard about Substack through POMP (Anthony Pompliano). He’s my favorite straight-talking Substack personality by far with 35,000 subscribers.

One of the best writers I have read in years, Sean Kernan, has started using Substack too. I’m going to take his navy seal approach and do the same. You can say whatever you want in a newsletter and it will reach 100% of your readers.

Whether they open your newsletter is up to them, but at least they are guaranteed to see it and get it. And you don’t even need to add images to your newsletter — people are happy with just the words (a writer’s dream).

A newsletter is the most intimate way I have talked to a reader. If they pay you for the newsletter, they’re even more likely to listen closely to what you say.

A newsletter is an MVP (minimum viable product).

If a reader pays me $5 a month to read my newsletter, they might buy my $20 eBook. Or they might buy a traditionally published book I sell through Amazon one day. Or they may like to be taught by me through an online course I create an offer. This is an idea I’ve been pondering:

“Start with $5 and see if a reader finds you helpful.”

8. Insert Even More Passion into the Writing

Dry content is everywhere.

Lukewarm thoughts without an ounce of passion rule the internet. I plan on adding even more passion to my content. I want readers to know I care and I’m excited about what I do.

Passion makes learning so much more enjoyable.
Passion makes reading a writer’s work a delight.

9. Do More Collaborations

I have a 100+ person army behind every one of my blog posts.

That’s what people don’t know about my work. There are so many people behind the scenes that do the following:

  • Share my work
  • Help edit my work
  • Give me story ideas
  • Kindly point out spelling/grammar issues
  • Provide research
  • Invite me to events where I get content from
  • Tell me to keep going when I feel like giving up
  • Provide social media strategies I can use to respectfully and honestly reach readers
  • Tell me when I’m being a dick (it happens)

This year I met Todd. The collaboration has been mind-blowing. He’s my brother from another mother. He challenges me and uses this classic line:

“What feedback do you have for me?”

Open-minded people are extraordinary. They make you think.

10. Insert A Lot More Personality

Niklas Goke said my writing has an edginess to it. What he meant was that it has a little of my personality.

You can tell I’m a 6 AM Aussie that doesn’t know when to sit down, who likes the occasional Chai Latte. (Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!)

Personality is going to be a differentiator moving forward. A lot of writing I read puts me to sleep. I don’t want to ever put a reader to sleep.

11. Write 2–3 Short eBooks a Year

My readers seem to enjoy ebooks. It’s a way for me to go deeper with them on a particular topic. An eBook has a higher perceived value than a blog post. Here’s how I think of it:

If a blog post is going to be more than a 5-minute read then it’s better off as an eBook.

I am going to write more eBooks than normal to offer readers something they can take away and load up on their Kindle when they choose to.

12. Explore Kindle Unlimited / Amazon

Kindle Unlimited is a reading subscription. Kindle Unlimited is like borrowing a book from the library. Writers get paid through royalties from their work based on the number of pages readers consume.

Novelist and blogger, Shaunta Grimes, self publishes on Kindle Unlimited. She loves it because people can read her work, but have the added bonus of readers being able to outright buy her work.

Shaunta says the pool of readers on Amazon / Kindle Unlimited is much larger than any other platform. This is because Amazon was the first big online book store and has enormous traction and years in the game.

If I am going to reach more readers then I’m going to have to tap into Amazon’s audience of readers.

13. Have Customised Landing Pages for Each Topic

I lose about 50% of readers when they reach my landing page. The chance for me to be friends with them is lost, all because of a landing page.

Marketer, Liz Willits, taught me that a hyper-targeted landing page that is the same topic as the blog post that took the reader there in the first place should convert much higher.

In other words — if a reader reads one of my personal finance articles and then clicks a link to go to a landing page that offers a free personal finance eBook or email course, they are highly likely to sign up.

I have learned that building an audience of readers means engaging with them based on the topic you write about which they’ve shown prior interest in. There’s no point sending a reader who loves entrepreneurship, content that is all about spirituality. I was doing that 🙁

14. Launch More Online Courses

I am a writer because I am a teacher. I released a writer’s course that people have found helpful. Now I want to expand into other courses to help more readers achieve their personal goals.

An online course is a way to offer a superfan option to readers who like what I have to teach. You can do the same.

15. Expand the Team

I have tried to be a one-man freak show for way too long. Bringing Todd onto the team was an awesome decision. LinkedIn Content Creator, Krista Mollion, has been trying to get me to hire a Virtual Assistant.

I struggle to do it because I’m a control freak when it comes to my writing. But a VA could really help me remove admin tasks and focus on writing. If I’m going to reach more readers then a VA is going to be hard to avoid.

16. Publish a Book via a Traditional Publisher

This one is more a bucket list item. I want to wait though until it feels right. Many books from bloggers feel premature.

I want a book to make sense for everybody involved. I sure as hell don’t want it to be about some attention-seeking personal brand mumbo jumbo.

17. Offer Free Scholarships

This one might seem weird to you. What has offering free scholarships to readers got to do with reaching a larger audience?

Well, when you write for as many years as I have you can easily forget the whole point of being alive: kindness. I never want to forget to be kind.

I had a nice lady message me the other day from the Philippines. She described her home and said there was a garbage dump right next door. She could only dream of spending $297 USD on a course. It would take her years to save up. Her story really got me. I don’t want what I have to offer to only be available to those who come from privilege.

There’s a lot of billionaires in the world who wouldn’t dare give away even 1% of their wealth. I don’t ever want to be like them.

So, I am going to add ways to my writing process to give something back to people who have nothing and are looking for a second chance. There’s nothing like an underdog. It pays to be a little generous, even though it might seem like it has nothing to do with being a writer.

How you treat people has everything to do with being a writer.

What I Am Never Stopping

  • Consistently hitting publish
  • Flow states that lead to the best writing
  • Dedicating 2 full days a week to writing
  • Kindness/love towards others
  • Staying out of 90s rap battles between writers

That’s my plan to become the most read writer on the internet. Maybe I’ll fail. Or maybe it will happen. Either way, I am going to try because writing gives me a meaning for my life that makes it all worth it.

Hack my writing plan to pieces so you can use it to reach an audience with your own content.

Life is beautiful when you look into a reader’s eyes and honestly try to help them with your words.

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Writing Motivation for an Unorthodox Time in Human History

Writing online with Tim Denning

Photo by Jack B on Unsplash

Politics, headlines, social media — it’s a lot to deal with as a writer.

It’s hard to stay focused. You think you’re ready to start your day writing and then a tweet sends you into a death spiral. Before you know it, you’re chasing trends again out of the fear of missing out.

You don’t write what’s in your heart. You write what everybody else is writing. You want to bottle some attention for your precious self. Attention is the currency and the addiction.

Who ever thought we would see a social media post be censored — not me. Right and wrong can be governed my tech company overlords. Are they evil?

Probably not. They’re allowing the consensus to remain mainstream. But what happens when the consensus is wrong? What happens when it becomes all about who is right and who is wrong rather than a difference of views that, when combined, lead to progress not ruin?

Writing through these unorthodox times is hard, but possible. Here’s how.

Do the opposite of everybody else

If everybody is talking politics, then don’t.

It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re writing about what everybody else wants.

Write about what you want to write about. You know the potential of your words better than anybody. When you write about trends you quickly become bored. Plus, as a reader, when you open your favorite blogging platform and its full of stories all about the same thing, how do you feel?

I feel tired and bored. I vigorously scroll through all the content looking for outliers. Looking for those strange people who dare defy the trends and live in a bubble. A writer’s bubble acts like a reader’s escape.

Many of us feel like teleporting out of this year and into a new year. It’s natural. I used to be an anti-news guy. Now, not watching the news is bad for your health. You have to be addicted to news to keep your family safe. That’s why many readers are desperate for an escape and it’s a strategy to stay motivated as a writer.

Provide an escape through your writing.

Write a lot

Half the time I don’t feel like writing either.

I find writing a lot helps. When you frequently change topics your writing brain keeps ticking away. For every ten duds you write, you may write one good one. You only need to write one good article occasionally. Not everything you write will be a hit and that’s the point.

You lose motivation when you stop writing. Keep writing to stay motivated. Then you’ll find your writing swag again.

Focus on how you can be helpful

Your writing has value through your ability to be helpful.

If you’re not motivated to write, reframe the act of writing. Don’t sit down to write. Sit down to be helpful by laying out the process for doing something.

It’s easier to be motivated to write when your goal is to be helpful. It takes YOU out of the equation. Helpful writers tend to do better than writers who are in love with themselves. In-love-writers haven’t got time to be helpful. They’re too busy seeking attention and screaming into an echo chamber. That doesn’t have to be you.

Selfless writing is helpful writing.

Selfless people change the world.

Phone a writer friend

In my case, I whatsapped writer Michael Thompson. He gave me two topics to write about. Both were topics I would never have chosen. I threw a headline back over the fence to him.

Vibing with other writers helps you break the barriers of your mind that destroy your writing motivation. You may have no idea what to write about. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing that can help you.

When you can’t help yourself, let a writer friend help you.

It’s for this reason that I shout from the mountain tops “join a heavily curated, respectful, professional, non-toxic writer’s group as soon as you can.”

Writing can be lonely. Writer friends remind you we’re all in this together.

Chill out from the stats page

Writing is hard enough. The stats page makes it harder amigo.

Refreshing your stats doesn’t make your writing better. Your stats don’t hold any clues to your writing motivation — or worse, your writing failures. Your writing stats are a distraction for doing the real work.

You’re doing the best writing you can — remember that.

Be outlandish and change topics

I am not motivated to write today. And I’m writing.

I normally write about personal finance, careers, entrepreneurship, self improvement, or blogging. Today I’m going to write about a brand new topic. I’m going to pick a topic that is risky and that everybody tells me not to write about. Why?

New topics spark new writing motivation.

Fellow writer, Nat Eliason, said this:

If you’re thinking “ehhh maybe I shouldn’t write about that” then you should probably write about it. Most people are playing it safe with their content. Have an opinion and write something more interesting.”

This bit of advice from Nate sparked new-topic-joy in me. The feeling of newfound joy is excellent writing motivation.

Dare to write about a brand new topic.

It’s a strange time in the world. Strange times make for good writing though. Now more than ever there are people who are wanting to be helped, through the superpower of organizing your thoughts in the form of writing, and sharing them to anybody who might need them.

You don’t need to focus on the writing. You need to focus on ways you can regain your writing motivation in case the world narrative falls off a cliff for a while and distracts you from your work.

If all else fails, aim to inspire people with your writing and you’ll have just enough motivation to keep going.

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The Good Artist Serves the Audience. The Bad Artist Exploits It.

Tim Denning Writing Tips

Photo by Sarah Ruhullah on Unsplash

This is why I hate personal branding and basically all marketing. It takes advantage of the audience.

The audience is treated like an abused victim ready for another beating. As a member of the audience, you feel like you’re being exploited or content-marketed to. As a result, something feels off. You run from the creative person and half the time you don’t know why.

You can’t spit on an audience and expect them to respect you.

Or worse, expect them to give you their attention. Or even worse, expect them to pay you money for your content. The creative world doesn’t work like that.

I choose to worship the audience. You can too.

The title of this article came from author Jeff Goins. He said this which I love:

Use the advantages of art to earn the attention of an audience. Then serve that audience with empathy. You will have a built-in market that will help you innovate and grow much more quickly.

An email list, content calendar, online course or eBook you put a price tag on isn’t selling out and it doesn’t make you evil.

It’s how you do each of those things that determines whether you serve an audience or exploit them. What makes up the “how” are your values as a content creator, your genuine interest in being helpful, and whether you’re obsessed with money or not.

Don’t Become a “Content Trafficker”

Too many creatives — writers, vloggers, bloggers, everyday people who post on social media (most of us) — exploit humans so they can make money from them.

There is a lot of content trafficking that feels like human trafficking.

Too much obsession with money creates a dirty little audience abuser.

Signs of an audience abuser:

  • Too many ads disguised as content
  • Too many asks to “follow”
  • Too many affiliate links that earn the creator a juicy commission
  • Too many interviews disguised as sophisticated podcast PR
  • Too many “I just tagged my mate”
  • Too many links in the content or in the description

This list of stuff content creators do is fine when done occasionally. The problem is when “occasional” becomes everything that person ever publishes. What happens when you meet an audience abuser? You become fatigued. That leads to feeling exploited.

How to Avoid the Audience Abuser Trap

I am not a content creating saint. Exploiting an audience as a creative is easy to accidentally do. I’ve whiplashed a few people with blog posts over the year by accident. The aim isn’t to be perfect; it’s to be conscious.

These techniques have worked for me and other creatives in my network:

  • Choose organic discovery of resources and people. I rarely say yes to writing about a person or sharing a study someone sends me unless I found it on my own. Or the resource/person really can change someone’s life. Otherwise, I say no. There are too many hidden favors creatives are asked to do in order to serve the interests of business or making-making entrepreneurs, rather than the audience.
  • Remind yourself daily of how average your content is. One viral hit can make you lose your mind. Virality is random. It doesn’t make you god. That’s why I tell myself that my creative work is average, so I don’t blow up my ego, and blow up everything I’ve worked for.
  • You won’t abuse an audience if you don’t worship yourself. An influencer is just a person that loves themselves too much. They are so obsessed with how they’re changing people’s minds and doing so much influencing, they forget the point of an audience — to serve them, honestly.
  • Remember: without an audience, your creative work will be lost in a sea of mediocre content. As quick as you can find an audience, you can lose them too by disrespecting them. An unsubscribe on your glorious email list is all it takes. It’s so easy to block, unsubscribe or never view a particular creative person ever again. Don’t you forget that.
  • Use the 90/10 rule. For every nine bits of content designed to serve an audience, chuck em an ad. An ad is a piece of content thats sole purpose is to holla and put dollars into your pocket.

I know when my creative game is off. The number of unsubscribes on my email list tells me.

Let your unsubscribes tell you when you’re being a bad artist. Then correct yourself before you wreck yourself.

Your Audience Cares About How You Can Help Them

Your audience does not care how smart, good looking and awesome you are.

I share success stats, sure. I do it to help people by using my life as the example. I constantly remind the audience why I do this so they’re clear: don’t worship me or think I’m a Genius like the real Genius Turner. I’m not.

My entire creative work changed when I stopped fluffing about and slapping my own ass, and got down to the business of finding ways to be helpful.

The unfortunate thing about being helpful is you’ve got to share stuff most people will keep secret. You’ve got to give away ideas, strategies and bits of information most people tell you, “you gotta charge for it amigo.”

You show your audience you care when you give them content they feel like they should be paying for. You show an audience you care when you give them more than they expect at the sacrifice of your own income potential.

I’ve sacrificed hundreds of thousands of dollars by giving away free content for six years straight. People told me to warm the audience up with shallow blog posts and then force them to pay money to get the other 80%. I said “how about NO, Scott?”

I wouldn’t change a thing.

Giving away most of what I know for free is the best decision I’ve made as a creative so far, after thirty-four years on this gorgeous blue and green planet.

When a content creator genuinely cares about you, you secretly feel loved and you keep coming back for more and don’t know why.

Treat the Audience like a Close Friend

Thinking about how to treat an audience is weird. It’s hard to give you a practical approach. Then, I learned a simple technique: talk to your audience like you talk to your close friends. Make your content conversational, too.

When you talk to a close friend you drop all the formality, the mask of perfection, the phrases required to make you sound smart, and feeling like what you’re about to say isn’t complex enough.

Talking with a friend is an experiment. You let your guard down with a friend. You let your thoughts flow. You get feedback from them. You don’t have an end goal when you have a conversation with a friend. You teach a friend something, you do it with empathy. You want your friend to succeed. You want your friend to be with you for the long-term. When your friend falls down or loses a loved one, you’re right there for them. You bring the Oreos and wine around to cheer them up.

If you do all of these things for your close friends, why couldn’t you do the same for the audience you serve? You can.

Treat your audience like your close friends and they’ll stay with you through controversy, troll fights, tweetstorms, and moments where you feel like you want to give up being a content creator.

This Is Practically How to Be a Good Artist and Serve an Audience

  • Reply to their private messages. Respond with care.
  • Use empathy when creating content for them.
  • Give them freebies they’re not expecting. (I gave away a 3-day course.)
  • Create for the audience, not yourself.
  • Use helpful language in your content.
  • Give practical, actionable tips.
  • Let the audience take over your main channel. Let an audience member host your podcast, or ask you questions in a Youtube video/blog post.
  • Occasionally do this — give away your paid products for free. Not the ones who ask for freebies. The ones who really need it and are too afraid to ask you. A bunch of people have been given my $20 eBook for free for the hell of it. It’s good to be generous. An artist doesn’t have to charge everybody a fee.

Final Thought

Most artists online abuse their audience. Often, it’s not intentional either.

Become a rare artist who serves an audience rather than abuses them by being a Human Content Trafficker armed with a fist full of ads.

An audience wants to learn, be helped, be cared about, be entertained, escape society once in a while, and get to know you like a close friend.

Let your audience in. Don’t push them away by exploiting them for money.

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