Category : Writing

Writing

What I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Writer 7 Years Ago

Writing Life Lessons Better Marketing

Image Credit: Unsplash

Most writing tips make me vomit in my mouth, silently.

When I started out as a writer the advice was terrible. Getting started as a writer is even harder nowadays. The advice is mostly written by people who have published very little online. You can’t blame them.

Writing about writing has become a weird summer sport.

I’m not special. I’m definitely not a gifted writer. But I’ve written an awful lot online and had a few million readers over the journey, so at the very least I know some shortcuts you can steal. Let’s go.

You don’t need a blog

Sure, it’s nice to have but you don’t need one.

Owning a blog can be a giant money pit. The problem? Wherever you write online you need access to an audience. Owning a blog gives you zero access to an audience, and it’s a huge distraction.

You’ll end up tinkering with logos and sidebars for the rest of your life, the way wannabe Einstein inventors do with their never-released innovations. Or the way the next JK Smoling does with all of the books they write that they never dare submit to a publisher because they somehow think they’ll one day be chosen. James Altucher was right: “Choose yourself. “

Ditch the blog. Start writing on someone else’s website/app.

The SEO underworld isn’t for most writers

Writing with SEO in mind is robotic. You feel like you’re writing ads or producing content for an AI. You don’t need to worry about keywords. You know what beats keywords? Telling good stories.

Quality content will always leave SEO for dead.

Spread the holy news. (But shhh … don’t tell SEO expert Neil Patel I said that. I’m still trying to have coffee with him.)

Make your email list a priority

Email started in the 90s. Email defeated the fax machine and it’s still going. Grow your email list. How? Use simple software like ConvertKit to set up a landing page and link it to an email list.

Then all you do is write stuff online, add a one-sentence call to action at the bottom, and link it to your landing page. When a reader subscribes via your landing page you give them a free gift — either a free eBook or a free email course.

If you do this for long enough, you will build an email list and own your audience.

But make sure you go beyond email

Building an email list is cliche. Most writers know about it. This is why I wish I knew before about other ways to build a community around your writing.

Let’s face it: people get a lot of emails, and most of them aren’t worth clicking. Why? Most emails are designed to sell. People hate being sold to. Plus, a lot of us have email overwhelm. Managing email has become a full-time job.

So you’ve gotta go beyond email as a writer.

All you do is create a second channel. Instead of only adding people to an email list, you can add them to a community you create. The community is based around whatever you write about. For example, I write a lot about personal finance. I could set up a community in Slack for anybody who wants to stay in touch with me and learn more about personal finance. Why is a community you manage through an app powerful?

Simple: the open rate of direct messages is higher than emails.

There is a community of people in a group chat. There is nobody but you hiding in your email inbox. Human psychology says you are more likely to pick the communication channel where you find other people like you. Nobody wants to be alone. So build your audience with loneliness in mind. This will increase the engagement rate of your writing.

Explore your curiosity

It’s tempting to follow trends, or look at what’s viral, or be like everybody else. Instead, follow your curiosity. Turn each story your write into a research assignment. Make the assignments about a topic you want to know more about and share with others.

I do this all the time. If I want to learn something, I write about it. Once you write about a topic enough times, you naturally become an expert. It’s counter-intuitive and awesome at the same time.

Forget being good at grammar or spelling in the beginning

Most people don’t care.

The ones who do care are probably professional literary critics. You want to stay away from those weirdos anyway. Start with an app like Grammarly. Near enough is good enough. You can spit shine your writing later by brushing up on your grammar.

Perfect writing is boring

A few mistakes make your writing human.

In fact, don’t tell anyone, but I often purposely add a few mistakes to my writing to rough it up a little. Writer Derek Sivers says, “Rub your work of art in the dirt.” He explains how he got his friend’s musical work of art played on the radio against all odds back in the day.

We took each letter out to the backyard and rubbed it in dirt, then crumpled it up. Then we put the crumpled letter and CD into each black envelope, sealed it with an alien head sticker, and finally covered it with the huge label that said “Confidential! Do not open for any reason.” And that’s what we mailed to each radio station.

Act like you’re a teacher

Be the expert from day one. Don’t write “I think…”

Teachers are confident. They know what they’re teaching. They don’t second guess themselves. Writers are the ultimate form of teacher. As writers, we seek to move readers to action or inspire them to think differently. Readers won’t properly listen to you if you’re unsure of yourself.

There’s no need to doubt yourself. Your experiences and lessons are more than enough to qualify you as a writer. Give yourself permission to be confident, and your writing will reach a lot more people because of it.

When writing is your passion and you earn money from it, things can go bad

Many writers are dying to make money from their writing.

They’ll sell their soul and write a clickbait headline for a few bucks. They’ll copy every trend, formatting tip, and random advice from a failed writer on Youtube to touch those crispy dollar bills.

I was like that at the start. Making money from writing seemed like a good thing. Until I depended on writing to pay the registration on my piece of shit car made by Honda.

Money can change how you write. That’s why it pays to get good at writing without focusing too much on money. Quitting your day job to become a writer is terrible advice for most people.

Write because you like writing. Then write because you like helping people. Starting with money on the brain produces copy (“ads” also known as low-quality content), not writing.

Twitter is a great place to test headlines

I take popular highlights from my writing and post them on twitter. I then use the data I collect to help me write better headlines. If your headline sucks or sounds like everybody else’s, then your writing will flop, consistently.

There are already a lot of flops. Buck the trend.

A headline makes a reader want to read your story. Why would you randomly guess with a headline and play the lottery? Why not use data to predict what will help readers find your story and read it?

Over time, collect popular phrases from your writing. Those phrases make for the best headlines that will help your writing reach bigger audiences later on.

Good writing leaves you better than it found you

Good writing is uplifting. You feel better after reading the story than you did before. That’s what good writing does. It just leaves you 1% better.

Write to leave the reader slightly better than you found them, and you’ll do extremely well as a writer.

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Writing

99% of Writers Will Give Up Writing Before 5 Years Is Up

Writing by Tim Denning.

Photo by Surface on Unsplash

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.

You’re social.

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.

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Writing

A Writer Is Only as Interesting as Their Life

Tim Denning News Break

Photo by Marcos Prado on Unsplash

There’s a lot of boring writing out there. I’m sure you’ve read it.

Dry, lifeless points thrown into a listicle and sealed with an overused, trending headline designed to make the writer go viral. What makes for boring writer is when the writer is boring.

Writer Isaiah McCall reminded me of a quote from the book “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction.” The author explains “a writer is only as interesting as his life.”

Isaiah took the advice to heart. He interpreted what the author was saying to mean “have more experiences” to be a more interesting writer readers want to devour the words of over a bottle of red wine.

He joined the army for six months, became an ultramarathoner, began a career in standup comedy, and started writing for well-known publication, USA Today.

Those experiences are bound to make what he writes about more interesting. It explains a lot of his recent success as a blogger. He’s intentionally become more interesting. You have the same opportunity as a writer.

The missing component

What’s missing from a lot of writer’s work is a personal touch. They write a rushed intro that doesn’t grab the reader’s attention and then get straight into slapping the reader over the face with advice.

Context is crucial in writing. You’ve got to set the scene a little. Give some background. Explain your philosophy.

Add this sizzle to your intro

One of my favorite things to do in the intro is to define a key term. For example, if I write about being financially free then I define the term upfront.

Every term has a different meaning to the writer using it. The biggest argument I see in the comments sections of many blog posts is over terms. You can provide readers clarity when you define what you mean. If you say I can be retired by listening to what you have to say, what does that look like amigo?

Is the version of retirement you’re talking about involve Lambos? Are we talking private jets too? Or is it a small house in the woods that you can construct from materials you buy from Walmart? Does Ikea furniture cut it or are we talking primo leather couches with coasters to place your champers glass on?

Can I wear my undies while sitting on the couch or is this more of a Vanity Fair style retirement with photographers and the candy colors of the rainbow as background? Do I need to donate money to a good ol’ fashion Nelson Mandela endorsed cause or can I just gift a Ferrari to the nearest 21 year old in the street who is seeking a one night stand and qualify as worthy for this version of meaningful retirement?

Pro writing tip

You can create your own terms. People love it when you come up with a term. It helps people identify with what you’re saying.

A now-infamous Reddit User, Ryan, blew up online when he came up with the term “Zero Days.” He built a catchphrase off the term that went like this: No more Zero Days. It was unconventional motivation. It was a term he coined off his own personal experience.

A zero day is when you don’t do a single f*cking thing towards whatever dream or goal or want or whatever that you got going on. No more zeros….promise yourself, that the new SYSTEM you live in is a NON-ZERO system. Didn’t do anything all fucking day and it’s 11:58 PM? Write one sentence. One pushup. Read one page of that chapter. One. Because one is non zero.

You can create your own terms. Make them so simple, anybody can relate, and drop your newly created term into a tweet or a blog post of their own.

Experiment to become more interesting

I wasn’t born interesting. My career was crazy boring when it started in a call center. Maybe you can relate? The good news is you can use mini-experiments to become more interesting. Here are a few of mine you can steal:

  • Go to strange meetups with odd themes.
  • Read about weird topics — like the supernatural, higher states of consciousness, flow states, strange events in history.
  • Commit small acts of kindness. Notice how you feel.
  • Reach out to people you don’t know. Spend a bit of time researching them and then use what you’ve learned to see if you can have a 30-minute video chat with them.
  • Take several odd jobs in the space of a year.
  • Volunteer at a homeless shelter. See the brokenness.
  • Write down interesting conversations you witness.

If your writing isn’t being read. If you feel your writing is boring. If you find yourself staring at empty stats. The answer is to make yourself more interesting rather than get lost in chasing empty writing hacks — like headlines, virality, styles, or trends.

Do things that make you incredibly emotional

What makes writing boring is a lack of emotion.

Readers want to feel what you have to say, not only read your words. When we feel what you’re writing we can absorb it. You subconsciously ignore information that makes you feel nothing.

Emotion acts like a bookmark in your brain. You remember the emotion and then the writing attached to that emotion.

I remember reading a blog post with the cheesy title “How To Lose Weight In 4 Easy Steps” by Aaron Bleyaert. I have never been fat. (My look is more like a skinny version of the infamous green character Gumby.) I read Aaron’s post on weight loss and found myself sobbing like a child. It wasn’t a blog post about losing weight at all. It was a love story. It was the story of seeing the person you love move on, while you’re still stuck in the past loving them.

I was going through something similar when I read it. His words pierced my heart. As soon as I think of the headline for Aaron’s story I get emotional. That’s how powerful emotion is for memory recall.

You, too, can be Aaron. You can inject emotion into your writing. How? Simple. Ask yourself “how does this idea make me feel?” If you’re writing about playing tennis, then how does it make you feel?

If you’re writing about losing your job, then how did it make you feel on the day? If you’re writing about your friend that passed away from stage 4 cancer, then how did it make you feel to send them a message on Facebook, realize they were dead, and attend their Youtube funeral because of a pandemic?

Your writing isn’t intriguing unless people can feel what you’re saying. Too many writers prioritize quotes, facts, and throwing advice at readers. Instead, add the missing ingredient of emotion.

The beauty is in the tiny details

I am guilty of this one. My most boring pieces all go straight to big concepts that lack detail. You may skip over the tiny details to keep your writing concise. Don’t.

The tiny details help people relate to you and the humans you’re writing about. I tell people I’m Aussie for this reason. The Australian way of looking at things is laidback. “She’ll be right” is our country’s motto. It takes a lot to make us outraged. You can throw stones at our parliament building. It will take more than that to get our tanned buttocks off Bondi Beach, over to our phones, and logged on to Twitter to express disgust. Nature is just too good to take everything so seriously.

This tiny detail helps you understand where I’m coming from. You can do the same. You can reference your hobbies, what stage of life you’re in, your age, what you do for a living, odd quirks about yourself, or even the car you drive as a way to reference your beliefs about material metal objects.

Tell us the micro so we understand the macro.

Add energy before your writing session

Your writing reflects the level of energy you were in when you wrote the words. When you’re in a lifeless state your writing feels boring. A simple way to lift the energy of your writing is to change your state.

Do a workout before you write. Drink coffee to wake you up. Have a nap if you feel tired, then write. Watch a video on Youtube that makes you feel alive with energy. I often watch music videos of my favorite singers to energize me before sitting down to write. Why couldn’t you?

Everything in this world is either adding to your energy or taking it away. Add energy to make your writing more interesting.

You are more interesting than you think

I get writers tell me this all the time: “But sir, I’m not interesting enough.” Yes you are. You’re more interesting than you think. The trick is to document the interesting stuff you easily forget. When I drill into writers who give me this excuse they quickly see they are interesting.

Writer Tom Kuegler said readers buy your view of the world. I agree. How you see the world is beautiful. Describe it to us so we can enter your mind and witness another dimension. It’s easy for readers to feel trapped right now with all the crazy stuff going on in the world. Your writing has the ability to set readers free from what holds them back, and teleport into your world for a bit, thus giving them incredible value.

Share your world as an escape for readers.

Takeaway

Boring writing lacks emotion, context, the definition of terms, tiny details and energy. Add each of these components to make your writing interesting. Then, make your life a tiny bit more interesting by conducting mini-experiments. Become an Uber driver for a few hours. Or do what Isaiah did and try your hand at standup comedy.

The answer isn’t to make more money or to improve your writing stats or to dance around complaining about a writing platform. If your writing sucks (and you know it) then intentionally make your life interesting again.

Interesting writing is found at the intersection of YOU, your view of the world, and the experiments you conduct.

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Writing

Creativity Has One Tremendous Downside That Is Rarely Spoken About

Photo by Thomas Franke on Unsplash

I always believed creativity was a superpower.

I learned how to be creative by spending a lot of time in recording studios. Recently, creativity has become ugly. Emily Sinclair Montague said it best:

Creative brains are annoying as shit. I love ’em, of course, but they cannot, will not, RELAX. There is always something to analyze, unravel, spin into a narrative, or picture in painfully vivid detail at 4 am. Creative minds have no brakes.

This is how I feel as a writer.


A conversation becomes content.
A book you read becomes content.
A disappointment becomes content.
A romantic relationship becomes content.
A huge frustration becomes content.
A random email becomes content.
A movie you watch to relax becomes content.

Then your creativity muscle wants to riff on the idea you’ve discovered while you’re trying to do something else. Creative multi-tasking doesn’t work. When your creativity is switched on you can’t turn down the noise in your head.

All you can do is succumb to your creativity in the moment.

The problem is when your creativity takes over every moment. That’s the phase I’m in right now. I have to get off the creativity treadmill. You might suffer from the same phenomenon. Learning to put the brakes on your creativity is key.

It’s during your time away from being creative that your creative energy levels are restored. If all you do is let your creativity rage, like an out of control drunk, you’ll eventually crash.

Not everything you do in life has to have meaning. The things that have zero meaning can feel incredible when you know you need to relax.

The “do it for the hell of it” approach

What’s the solution to stop your creative brain for a while? I use the “do it for the hell of it approach.” I experiment with doing random stuff and promise myself not to creatively analyze it, looking for a content idea.

The do it for the hell of it approach is a rule. When you want to slam the brakes on your creative brain you choose an activity. The more meaningless the activity the better. I tried walking and it made things worse.

When you walk or have showers your creative brain seems to be amplified. It’s when all the ideas and experiences of your life seem to marinate best.

The do it for the hell of it approach works best when you do things you dislike. I dislike watching the tv show Friends. I hate trying on new clothes because nothing is made in big bird size for 6-foot giants who wear size 11 clown shoes. I don’t like cleaning windows because I always leave a streak mark.

But while doing each of these activities for the hell of it, I get a reprieve from the creative takeover operating my brain.

It’s as if frustration quietens my creativity for a bit. The frustration is calming. The challenge of the task I dislike takes over from the usual goal of doing the task and analyzing it for creative ideas.

Read your critics’ comments

Another way to shut down your creativity for a while is to read the feedback from your critics. If you’ve ever dared post anything online then you’ll have at least one critic. Congratulations. You made it in life.

If you read enough negative comments about yourself you’ll start to question your creative reality. You’ll think to yourself “Am I too much?” or “Is my creativity out of control?”

These are helpful pattern interrupts. They’ll almost certainly stop your creativity. Here’s the thing: every time your creativity is stopped by critics, it comes back even stronger.

You need to halt and question your creativity so you can come back better than before. Otherwise, you get stuck in an echo chamber of your own awesomeness — with random strangers telling you how brilliant your creativity is when, perhaps, it has become a rotten apple.

Let critics help you put the brakes on your creativity.

Slow down your creativity to speed up your progress

Writer, Sean Kernan, shared the quote “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” Growing up around navy seals taught him this mantra.

Your creativity is amplified when you vary the speed and spend time slowing down and completely putting the brakes on it. It has taken me seven years of publishing thousands of long-form articles online to understand that lesson.

Progress happens when you go slow or completely stop, so you can reflect.


Emily said our creative brains have no brakes. I can resonate with the feeling as an overly creative person, but there is a solution.

Use the do it for the hell of it approach, read your critics’ comments for a pattern interrupt, and remember to slow down your creativity to speed it up.

Creativity can be a burden unless you vary the speed.

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Writing

You Are Overpromoting Yourself as a Writer

Marketing a book.

Photo by Janne Rieck on Unsplash

As a writer it’s easy to become a billboard of broken dreams.

Overpromoting yourself makes you look desperate. Nobody wants to follow a desperate writer begging for attention. It’s not in our human nature, and we don’t even know why.

I see this mistake all the time. You’ve seen it too. There are writers who over-ask. It looks like this:

Follow me here.
Read more from me here.
Subscribe to my email list here.
Oh, and don’t forget to…

25% of the blog post becomes a call-to-action. It’s painful to read.

Why? When you ask a reader to do something, what you’re really doing is giving them an ad.

Every ask is an ad.

That’s why I’m extremely careful as a writer how many asks I request from a reader and you should be too.

What Is Misunderstood About Readers

Readers have a short attention span.

When I see a writer who over-asks I switch off. It’s exhausting to read and it’s easier to click away than stay for the ads. Even if the content is good, ads ruin your writing.

Why Writers Overpromote Themselves

It happens for a few reasons. I overpromoted myself as a writer in the beginning because I was desperate. I had unrealistic expectations about writing online. I thought you needed to have a big audience within a year. I followed writers like Ryan Holiday and thought to myself, “if I don’t achieve what Ryan has done in a year then I’m no good and should give up.”

As a result I jammed asks down my reader’s throats. I asked them to follow me on every social media platform. I begged them to take actions that were good for my writing career as opposed to good for them as readers.

My focus was on my writing progress, not the reader’s problems.

You’re taught as a writer that you have to market the heck out of your writing. It’s why writers paste links to their blog posts all over social media, not realizing social media platforms will never send traffic out of their apps and to their blog. It’s why my facebook feed is full of writers begging me to read their articles.

If a reader doesn’t find your work out of their own curiosity, they sure as hell won’t find your writing by you begging them to read it.

Asking people to read your work just doesn’t work.

It Gets Worse

The problem doesn’t end there. Writers spend so much of their energy trying to get people to read their work and then commit a cardinal sin. What’s the cardinal sin?

Writers send readers to platforms they don’t own.

It makes no sense. You spend all your effort asking people to follow you on social media platforms you don’t own. It creates a brick wall between you and readers who like your work.

You’ve got to stop thinking, as a writer, that followers matter. I posted a story a few days ago on LinkedIn to my 250,000 followers. The story was read by less than 200 people. Does that math not make you a little curious?

Divert readers to platforms you own. You own your mailing list. You can also own a group chat on apps like Telegram, WhatsApp, Slack etc.

Or if you really want to own your destiny you can get a developer off a freelancing platform like Upwork to build you a group chat app that is 100% yours. Personal finance expert, Alex Saunders of Nugget’s News, did this with his Collective Shift platform. Alex had a developer build this personal finance community of his followers after his bitcoin videos were being suppressed by media giant Youtube, along with other content creators.

Asking people to follow you on social media is a waste of your energy and marketing power.

There Are Too Many Platforms for Writers

You don’t know what platform readers prefer. So when you ask readers to follow you on News Break or Instagram you could be wasting your time. If a reader doesn’t use the News Break app then it’s like asking them to join a church when they’re an atheist. They’re probably not going to do it.

There are so many platforms for writers to use now that getting readers to find you on one isn’t worth your time. Let readers organically find you on a platform they already use.

Save your marketing power for activities that will actually boost your writing.

A Bigger Audience Isn’t the Answer

Another reason you overpromote yourself as a writer is because you’re trained to think bigger is better.

Having 100,000 followers doesn’t make you a better writer. You won’t earn more money from your content by having a bigger audience. The secret is to have a tiny, highly engaged audience, who are interested in the topics you write about. An audience like this can help you earn 6-figures as a writer.

A huge audience is an illusion. They come to see your work once and then often never return again. You get the pleasure of a vanity metric known as a follower, but you don’t get any value as a writer.

A highly engaged audience of less than a thousand readers can do wonders for your career. Look at writers like Zat Rana on Substack. While there is no exact way to check how many subscribers he has, I estimate it’s around a few thousand. Zat used to be on many social media platforms, where he racked up hundreds of thousands of followers. Now he writes for a few thousand readers a month. Zat discovered something interesting: focus.

A focused audience is more fulfilling for the writer, is more likely to purchase premium content and will comment, like, and share your work without you having to beg them — because they’re true fans, not fake fans.

Underpromote your work to reach a focused audience who will do the marketing for you.

I’ll Say This Until I’m Blue in the Face

You don’t own your followers. You can’t speak to them when you like. You don’t have their contact details. They can be taken away from you.

I got accidentally banned from LinkedIn four times. I had to learn the hard way that a social media platform is a privilege to be on, not a human right.


Implement These Things to 10X the Impact of Your Writing

We’ve talked about the problem of overpromotion. Let’s get to the rock solid solutions you can use to level up and escape the neverending treadmill that can easily become the writing rat race.

1. Use this simple rule

One ask per piece of content.

Have the discipline to limit yourself to one ask and you’ll respect your audience more, who will appreciate it. At the most I place one link to join my email list at the end of some blog posts. You can do the same if you choose.

2. Use the superpower of underpromotion

Dare to publish a piece of content with zero asks.

It will hurt. It may feel wrong. It breaks all the marketing rules. And it works, big time. What if you didn’t feel compelled to promote yourself all the time and just got on with the writing, which does most of the work for you?

3. Put your asks in the comments section

Asks are ads. You can remove ads from your blog posts by placing the asks in the comments section. I see this on LinkedIn all the time. It works. Readers read the comments section.

You can keep your content looking stunningly beautiful, and make the comments section ugly. If you don’t ruin the comments section of your work a troll will — beat them to it.

4. Use micro snippets of your content

Placing links to your blog posts on social media is dumb. Micro snippets of your writing placed as native content on social media works. Let me break this down for you so we can skip past the fancy marketing lingo.

  • Take a popular sentence or paragraph from your work.
  • Copy and paste this micro piece of content to twitter, as an example.
  • Make sure the link in your twitter bio leads to more of your work.

These micro snippets of your writing are incredibly effective. They give readers a sample of what they can expect from you. Then, if the reader likes your micro snippet of writing they will click the link to your blog, which you must place in your social media bio.

Better marketing is keeping the reader on the platform they found you, rather than taking the reader away to a place they didn’t ask to be led.

5. Offer value instead of asks

The best marketing as a writer is to offer value. Instead of begging readers to read your work, give them something that can help them. Value just means lessons, helpful links, checklists, eBooks, strategies they can try, people to follow, books to read, movies to watch, experiences from your own life, etc.

Readers are starving for value and drowning in a pile of shitty asks.

When you provide value readers will bend over backwards to find more of your writing.

Readers are smart. They can google you if you’re worth their time.


The Best Strategy I Know of to Promote Your Work

All the time you spend promoting your writing is mostly a waste. The ROI is terrible. Funnel your time into writing better, and publishing content. Write in one place consistently that has an audience (not your wordpress blog nobody can find unless you’re an SEO nerd like Neil Patel).

Your writing is what readers are dying for, not your punch in the face asks sprayed all the way through your writing.

Let your writing do the marketing for you.

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Writing

From $0 to $100,000: The Business Side of Writing Is the Hardest to Learn and the Easiest to Implement

Tim Denning $100,000

Photo by Martin Katler on Unsplash

Treating writing like a business is crucial. It’s not about the money.

When writing is a business, you market it.
When writing is a business, you invest in it.
When writing is a business, you learn about the business.
When writing is a business, you market the business.

That last point is key. The old days of just writing, hitting publish, and letting the book publisher gatekeepers take care of everything for you are over.

If you write, you have to market your work.

But marketing is a messed up word. It causes people to shove selfie poles in front of their faces and fall head over heel in love with themselves. We don’t want that. You’re a writer, not an insecure influencer searching for a Lambo in the Hollywood Hills.

A friend of mine calls what I’m referring to here as the “business side of writing.” I’ve made a business out of my writing and gone from $0 to more than $100,000. I believe you can do the same with a shift in thinking.

As writers, most of us suck at the business side of writing.

I don’t market my blog posts as much as I should. I publish and prey like many other writers. The world is shifting though.


You can’t rely on social media platforms anymore to get your work out to the readers who want it.

Their algorithms are complicated and they simply can’t please everyone.

Most writing platforms don’t age well. The ability for a writer to reach readers on a social media platform diminishes over time.

I remember when it happened on Facebook. Entire online businesses were wiped out. I was standing backstage at a startup event when it went down. There were literally grown men and women crying into their startup t-shirts.

I felt their pain. They’d spent so much time on Facebook only to have them shift their attention to ads, and away from their users. Now Facebook is a rotting carcass. Even my grandma doesn’t use it anymore. All that’s left is local clowns and cinemas looking for customers, who buy ads in the hope their dreams can be repaired because of a global health crisis.

When you treat the tools you use — like the places you write — the way a business does, your thinking changes.

I think of writing platforms like LinkedIn as a partnership. I’m lucky to have them and they are free. They may change over time, but as long as I can reach a few people then it’s a pretty good deal.

All writers are renting the social media platforms they use.

You can’t control them but you can certainly appreciate them. In the end, most platforms have a business to run just like you. Can you blame them for trying to please the majority of users while attempting to pay their building rent and staff with the attention their content gets? I certainly don’t.

Lesson: Treat writing like a business and de-risk your work by publishing in a few places.


Can you write for free?

This is a huge test for writers. See, what is missed by the glossy blog posts promoting billionaires who went from their carport to a luxury mansion overlooking a lake full of white swans is that these business people started working for free.

When you choose to start a business, you work for free for a long time.

Normally that free work happens outside of your paying job until you validate your business enough that you can cut the bungee cord and make the business your everyday thing.

The problem with modern-day writers is they’re entitled. They expect to get paid on day one. This is flawed thinking.

Most writers you respect started doing it for free. Many of them (like me) didn’t even know you could make money writing. The test of any business owner and writer is whether they can do it for free in the beginning. And I don’t mean for one month; I’m talking about years.

If you can write for free then you’ll build up the skill to make it into a business — but not before.

Lesson: Time in the online writing game equals more financial upside.


These are the parts of a writing business.

Let’s get into the detail. Business means making money from your work. The ways writers make money are as follows:

  • eBooks
  • Premium subscriptions through their personal blog for paid content
  • Traditionally published books
  • Paid newsletters using Substack or ConvertKit
  • Royalties from writing platforms like News Break
  • Selling online courses
  • Companies who pay to advertise on their website or newsletter
  • 1–1 coaching on an area of expertise
  • Ghostwriting for people who want to be thought leaders but don’t have time to write.
  • Copywriting — writing words designed specifically to make a sale of a product or service.
  • Freelancing — writing words for anybody who wants them, and getting paid either a per word or per article fee.

So the business side of writing is just understanding the different ways you can make money as a writer and then mastering them. Obviously you pick more than one way. And obviously you don’t pick every single way to make money and end up mastering none of them.

The trick with thinking of writing as a business is that readers are potential customers. I say potential because not every reader has to become a customer in order for writing to become a business for you. My rough formula is this:

90% of readers access my work for free.
10% of readers access my work via a paid channel.

When you think about writing in these terms, you treat readers with empathy. Instead of jamming stuff in their faces, you think about how you can solve their problems and instruct them through your words.

100 readers can make you 6-figures.

I wish all writers knew this so they would go narrow rather than broad with their writing.


Why do most writers never master the business of writing?

They get greedy or impatient.

They think writing is all about them and how quickly they can make a bucketload of money and pour it over their families.

Greed is a distraction.

Greed and creativity are poisonous mix. If you have to write for money then you will probably do the wrong thing. This is why I suggest to start writing because you like it, rather than it being a forced survival technique.

Here’s my deepest secret: I’m scared to make 100% of my living from writing because I’m scared I’ll mess up the magic of it all, and destroy the good luck I’ve had. Writing because I have to scares the shit out of me.

Many writers face this challenge. The answer in business is always diversification.

Find multiple ways to make money. Then invest the money you make wisely so it works for you. Then reduce your spending, lower your desire to buy stuff you know you don’t need, and you’ll have enough money to work when you choose, without stressing about the size of the paycheck.

Lesson: Think about writing in 5-year blocks. Build your writing business slowly. Make money from more than just writing.


Setting up the business side of writing is the easiest part.

The setup of a writing business is easy.

  • Choose one place to write for free.
  • Collect your readers through an email list or online community.
  • Speak to your public and private readers through regular, helpful content.
  • Find a second writing platform that pays writers and sign up.
  • Write a short eBook and sell it on your website.
  • Experiment with a paid newsletter to service your superfans.

Each of those steps is obvious and easy to do. If you’ve already set up a profile on social media then you’re already a master at setting up a writing business.

The part where writers stuff up

They set up all those tools and then nothing happens. That’s because the tools have several levels of learning.

Level 1 = you can use the tool.
Level 2 = you can find the hidden features of the tool.
Level 3 = you can use the tool in ways it hasn’t been used before.
Level 4 = you can stand out a little in the way you use the tool.
Mastery = you can help others use the tool and have them be successful.

A lot of writers stay at level one and try and turn writing into a business from there. It doesn’t work. Learning the writing tools means mastering them, so the value of your writing skills can help you earn a living.

The other problem: mastery doesn’t happen overnight.

If you use a writing tool like an email list for long enough then you’ll start to see patterns.

Patterns are where mastery is found.

After a while a complex tool can feel stupidly simple. Then you add another tool like a paid newsletter to level up your writing further.


The 2 skills you must have.

Business owners are investors — so are writers.

You have to be smart with the money you make from writing. There will be big months and periods where politics takes the attention off your writing. You’ve got to be prepared for both and invest your money.

The second skill you must have is collaboration. I haven’t seen any writing businesses worth replicating that are based on a single human. A single human writing business will become overwhelmed, eventually.

I spend a lot of my time with a group of writers who understand the business side of writing. They help me with my business and I help them with theirs. The revolutionary idea I came across recently was to pool resources.

If you have 1000 email subscribers, and you had ten other people with similar sized lists, then that’s a lot of email subscribers. You can reach a much larger audience when you collaborate.

Publications, editors, the writing platform you write on — they’re all partners, so treat them that way.

A user says “what can I take?”
A partner says “what are you working on and how can I help?”


Successful writers don’t follow the blind.

Many writers looking to turn their passion into a business are following the blind. Then the blind writers follow more blind writers who have no idea.

The result? The blind lead everybody towards blaming, complaining and extreme frustration.

The mental toll of writing is hard enough. You don’t need blind writers who have never made a dollar from writing telling you the sky is falling in and spreading conspiracies. I follow writers who have made their work into a business. They keep me calm and show me ways I can de-risk my business.


A giant shift in thinking is needed.

The business of writing is built on a solid foundation of high-quality content. You can’t build a writing business on terrible content.

Write quality content readers find helpful and you’ll have thousands of ways to repurpose that same content into online courses, books, and premium subscriptions readers will pay money for.

The business of writing is simply being helpful to a small audience who want you around to inspire, tell stories and teach them in return for a small amount of money they will gladly pay you.

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