Writing is bloody simple when you know how to stand out.
My work stood out, mostly, because I’m a giant weirdo from Australia with a face only a mother could love.
I’m cool with that.
None of the stats in the headline are supposed to wow you or make me sound special. I tell them only so you’ll get writing advice from someone who has been in the game for 8 years and gone far …
As opposed to Joe Blow on some random app who says “XYZ platform is dead” and writes articles that say “How I Made $3 Writing On News-Break-My-Balls.” These people are the network marketers of the writing world. Yuck.
Writing success isn’t about being the best writer. It’s about standing out from the sheep. Let me show you how.
1. Use pattern interrupts
Pattern interrupts in psychology break a state or a habit. I learned this from Tony Robbins in 2013. Afterwards I applied this framework to writing.
Readers love to scroll and skim. Your job as an online writer is to help them by interrupting their default thought of “this article is boring.”
These techniques interrupt a reader’s thoughts:
- Weird subheadings — when I read an article titled “10 Ways To Be Happier” and the first dot point is some cliche garbage like “think positive,” I fall asleep.
- Killer quotes — break up the story with some quotes.
- Insert odd images — place them throughout the body of the article. Images provide relief from text.
- Gifs — they’re fun as hell. And they help communicate ideas that can’t always be put into words.
- Add tweetable sentences — these are short, sharp, sentences (1–2) that contain loads of wisdom in a few characters. They’re so short they can be a tweet. Here’s one below from me…
2. Put a story in the intro
Too many online writers start articles with huge intros that try to set up this grandiose narrative.
Most readers have clicked off their work before they’ve even had a chance to quote their Ph.D status or name drop. No one cares.
The fastest way to hook readers is with a story. It’s the #1 ingredient of viral articles. Jason Shen on Twitter shared the data in case you don’t believe me.
The best intro stories are short (250 words). That’s why they’re so damn hard to write, because most writers can’t get to the flipping point.
3. Inject the reader’s brain with dopamine
TikTok used dopamine to make its app addictive.
Like it or not, we’re in a dopamine-giving world. This applies to writing now, too. When you place plenty of subheadings in your writing it signals to the reader’s brain they’ve progressed. Progress releases dopamine.
Use frequent subheadings to keep readers’ dopamine high as a kite.
4. Great headlines
“On Writing” is the worst headline in history.
Don’t write these fluffy Harvard University essay titles to look smart and go broke. If the title sucks nobody is reading — I don’t care how good the story is.
A headline that does its job is simple, makes a reader curious, explains the benefits of reading the article upfront, and isn’t trying to be cute.
Cute headline example: Chef Cooks up a Storm of an Idea for Uber Eats
99% of articles die before they’re read, solely, because of headlines.
5. The first sentence has to be killer
Don’t worry about writing a gorgeous story.
Focus on writing one good sentence. Start with the first sentence. Waste lots of time on it until it slaps you in the face.
I had to get over 100 prostitutes to like me in 5 seconds or less.
This first sentence from author James Altucher is a great example. You can’t read that and not be curious and interested to read more.
If the opening sentence sucks the reader isn’t getting to the next line.
Most first sentences from online writers suck. Your competition is low. So just work your butt off to make your first sentence feel like a cold shower, and you’ll get an unfair advantage.
6. Get writing feedback
Many writers live in a bubble of their own awesomeness.
You want to get a few other writers to edit your work so you can read the room before you drop your masterpiece. The trick is to return the favor and edit another writer’s work in return for editing yours.
Some of what you write is:
- Needs a rewrite
- Boring as hell
Let fellow writers edit you out of the grave and bring your work back to life. Right now I don’t currently have anyone that edits my work (I did for a long time though).
A few of my recent pieces have had silly spelling errors as a result … and I don’t give a fudge.
Errors in your writing make you stand out. They show you’re an imperfect human. They make the reader feel less bad about their own writing. Bizarre, I know. But true.
7. Use killer images
The amount of times I see the same headlines copied from one writer to the next, followed by the use of the same cover image, blows my mind.
A cover image below the headline sets the mood. It sparks the emotion. It tells a story in itself. The image also hints at the vibe. Is this a serious piece of writing? Is it a joke? Is it in-between?
Images spark curiosity. They help you stand out. Don’t be a lazy ass and select whatever image comes up first in Unsplash.
Make the image keep readers wondering. Or use stunning photography.
Bonus tip: Resize and filter the image to enhance it.
8. Write with emotion
Isaiah McCall made me think with this remark:
So much [writing] work online makes me feel lukewarm. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either. It doesn’t make me feel anything. Avoid this feeling at all costs. Publish something that makes you afraid.
I feel the same. So much writing feels lifeless. It’s nothing more than retelling facts.
After studying some of the most popular writing for the last 8 years, one thing stands out: When a writer adds emotion, the story blows up.
To add emotion, make yourself feel sad, happy, angry or regretful before you sit down to write. Youtube videos can program your brain with these emotions if you need help.
9. Write the way you talk
Conversational = Human
If you want your writer’s voice to stand out more then record your article as a voice memo with your phone. Then playback the audio and write your article. Now your writing will be conversational.
To take it to the next level, add in character dialogue from your own stories to make the article come alive.
10. Build up a library of cool words
Too many writers sound the same.
There are two solutions:
- Make up your own words
- Borrow cool words from other writers
Mark Manson who wrote “The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck” has some of the best made-up words I’ve ever seen. Devour his personal blog to find a few cool words if you’re stuck.
Either way, make up some words. Unleash your imagination.
Here’s an example from me: No-moo foods.
11. Quote uncommon heroes
There are too many Elon Musk and Oprah quotes. We’ve heard them all before. “Who you hang around with is who you — blah, blah, blah.”
Add more quotes from these people.
- Quiet achievers
- Up-and-coming writers
Humans love to collect quotes. Give them some new ones to dominate the writing world and stand out.
That’s what I’ve learned from 8 years of online writing. I wouldn’t have made a dollar or got anywhere near 500m+ views without these writing lessons. Use them in your writing.