Don’t ever become a wildly successful writer.
It’s hard work. Lots of trolls. Pies in the face. Your name in random headlines. But if all of that doesn’t spook you, and it shouldn’t, then here’s how I achieved some level of writing success.
Not to brag. And no I won’t quote stats or dollars earned.
Writing success isn’t an accident
The best writing you’ll ever read is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can’t write consistently with a system and fail forever (unless you refuse feedback).
So you need to sell yourself on the idea that systems work.
If you don’t believe that then nothing I say can help you. You’re doomed to become another wannabe writer that hits the graveyard with a casket full of ideas no one ever gets to benefit from.
Dramatic, maybe. But true as hell.
Become a writing machine with this system
This is the system I use. I’m not the Jesus of writing, so experiment with these ideas and build your own.
Write every day
This one grinds writers’ gears. They get angry. It’s obvious.
Yet so few writers do it, so it has to start every how-to-write-online listicle for eternity. I’ll still be writing this one when I’m 104-years-old in the nursing home pissing into a bag while holding my Nokia flip phone.
Walk to let ideas marinate
God damn who knew Stoicism actually got something right.
What I do is look at a few headlines I’ve written that I like. Then I go for a 1-hour walk with at least 20% of the path being in nature.
Through some strange alchemy, by the time I get back to my student apartment, the articles have written themselves in my head.
I sit down and brain dump them before I forget them.
Write your headline and dot points before you sit down to write
Badass writer Nicolas Cole taught me this.
If you sit down to write and don’t have a headline or your dot points already written, you’re likely f*cked.
The chance of overthinking or writer’s block coming into your home and stealing your writing dreams is high.
Don’t worry. I’m an idiot.
I did this for 5 years. It’s why most of what I wrote in the early days needs to get lit on fire with a cigarette lighter. It’s okay. I’ll wait for it to burn in a blaze of glory.
You don’t start your car with an empty gas tank. Why would you do that with writing? Come on, amigo. Make your writing life easy.
Write your article blueprints on non-writing days. It’ll improve your life.
Have a sexy time schedule
Too many writers treat writing like magic. They think Houdini will come back from the dead, do some card tricks, and write their stories.
A writing schedule writes your way to millions of views.
It’s my biggest secret and it’s so dumb. I probably stole the idea from somewhere. Most likely from Tim Ferriss Wheel.
My writing days are my sexy time. Here’s the system I use:
- Write on one day
- Edit on another day
- Choose pictures on a lazy Sunday
- Get feedback from other writers in-between
Hide your phone from yourself
Me and my phone are enemies.
I want to punch him in the face and smash his screen face in. He wants to smile and send me notifications my dopamine-addicted brain can’t get enough of. That’s why I write with the phone in another room.
No phones, no distractions.
Don’t ruin your best writing with a text message from grandma. She can wait.
Always be ready to write down ideas
Back in my single days I went on a date. Things were going well. Good times after dinner were almost a certainty.
Then something she said shook my brain upside down.
Me: Aha…what a great idea for a blog post.
I took my Macbook to the restroom (yes I took my Mac on dates. This was old Tim before Tony Robbins).
I sat on the toilet and punched out a quick outline. I thought it would only take a few minutes. I was probably gone for 15. When I came back to the table she was gone.
The joke is on her though. The article ended up being one of my most popular.
Now, don’t become desperate and dateless by following my Tinder advice. But you get the point. An idea has the most energy when you come across it.
Always be ready to capture ‘idea energy’ on paper or a device. Your writing will have more energy when you do.
Energy (eventually) equals millions of views.
Write 5 headlines per day
If your headlines suck your writing sucks.
Why? Ain’t nobody ever gonna read anything you publish. Fact.
Headlines are a skill. I still suck but I’m trying to get better. Instead of pumping weights to become a better writer, pump out headlines instead. Five a day is what the doctor ordered.
They’ll start bad.
After a year, you’ll be taking one-sentence dialogue from your stories and making them your headline. Nice.
Break headline rules to get to the next level of writing.
Proactively read (or become a recycling bin)
If your reading consumption is low, the quality of your writing will be low.
You’ll become a recycling bin for ideas and stories you’ve already shared. I think of it a bit like my grandparents.
My grandma used to say the same thing over and over and repeat the same stories as age slowed down her brain and emptied out her memories. You don’t want this to happen to your writing.
We’re a sum of our inputs.
Read whatever you want. I read on Substack, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs like Farnham Street, and anything people send me. Reading adds new ideas to your existing ideas.
Have idea sex.
The best writing system is one you use
Time to go and play with a system yourself.
Write down the ingredients. Schedule the main writing activities in your calendar so it’s clear when and what you’ll do.
My biggest tip: make your writing system stupidly simple. Then it’s so easy to use it that you won’t talk yourself out of it.
Systems automate writers’ dreams.
Design your writing system, design your future writing life.
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