Eight f-r-e-a-k-i-n-g years.
I would never have guessed I’d survive the writer world this long. The experience is one I wouldn’t trade for anything. Many of you reading this are either writers or dream to write online.
Let’s cut the crap and get to what I’ve learned so you can extract the lessons.
Time goes fast when you enjoy writing
8 years went in a flash.
Writing is self-care.
Many people should never write online. They hate it. They’re doing it for empty ‘likes.’ If you don’t like writing then don’t write — choose another hobby.
When you’re terrified to hit publish it’s a sign
I began to write as a way to process my recovery from mental illness, although I didn’t know it at the time.
My most popular pieces have been either raw or vulnerable. Right before I hit publish on those sorts of pieces, I am terrified. I’ve learned to hit publish anyway.
Vulnerable writing is honest writing. People are dying for the truth. They’re sick of the never-ending fakeness.
Admitting your fears is what inspires readers — Unknown
Format is king
The best writing is ignored if it looks hard to read.
A block of text is resistance for the mind, the same way the start of a marathon through the desert is.
Go to Twitter. Study how the best writers format. The way you space sentences, chop them, and leave white space matters. Over time you’ll start to notice the symmetry of lists and bullet points.
If you understand what I mean, the look of this tweet should make you happy. See the symmetry?
Screenshot via my Twitter account
If format is king then skimmability is queen.
- Space your sentences out.
- Use plenty of subheadings.
- Break up text with line breaks.
- Use more full stops than commas.
- Avoid complex graphs that drain brains.
- Avoid long sentences that feel like they never end.
- Give the reader a holiday with images here and there.
Readers like to skim your work to see if it’s worth their time. An article is a time investment. Time is precious. Time equals money.
My name is Tim — I’m a skimmer. What are we looking for when we skim?
Dumb stuff we’ve heard a million times that we don’t want to read again. Find new ways to say old things.
The weird part of virality
Viral content rarely has anything to with you or the size of your audience — it has to do with what you posted being true.
— John Marty
My most successful writing makes people think to themselves, quietly, I felt like that too. When a sentence or paragraph is true it serves as an important reminder. That makes us unconsciously share it like crazy online.
Master the power of the rhyme
You can write tweets that feel like a song. Make your words sing.
— The Art of Purpose
A fellow writer taught me to make my words rhyme and to think about the rhythm of sentences. He’s a master. I’m trainee.
Words that rhyme and sentences that create a rhythm are far more memorable. What’s remembered gets re-read and that makes it timeless.
The angle of the story matters more than the contents
The greatest compliment I’ve got over the last 8 years is this: “You find the most interesting angles to stories.”
If you pick an obvious angle you put readers to sleep. For example I wrote about astronauts going to space. I could have written about the standard wow factor of space travel.
Instead I wrote about how racism changes when you’re in space with other people. The earth out the window makes astronauts feel like they’re all from the one place, so they see race less.
There are many ways to frame a story. Prepare the reader in the intro for the angle you’ve chosen — then screw with it 🙂
A story is never finished
Articles are like lego blocks. You can join them and pull them apart to rebuild them. I’ve done it plenty of times over the last 8 years.
Hit publish. A year later, rewrite. Then hit publish again.
No matter how hard you try you’ll never write the same story the same way, twice. It’s impossible.
The #1 reason for any tiny success I may have had
How did I write and publish every day for 8 years?
- I made writing a habit. I scheduled it in my calendar. I trained my mind and body that at certain times I must write.
- Flow states. Once you understand flow you understand creativity. It shows up everywhere. From musicians like Lady Gaga to actors like Will Smith. They all swear by flow if you dig into their past interviews.
You show up every day to build trust. Trust compounds to build an audience slowly then quickly later on.
Consistency + time = trust
— Polina Marinova
Volume of work versus quality of work
I like to write a lot. (Like I like it a-l-o-t.)
The problem with publishing occasionally is you have less data. I’m a data-backed writer. I lean into the insights my readers give me to find ways to be helpful in the future.
My library of data on readers is so big now that it’s easier to know what direction to go in before I sit down to write.
As you write lots, I’ve found the quality naturally increases.
A lack of publishing if often silent overthinking. Your writing is good enough. It will become great the more you publish.
Publishing is the lottery. No writer knows what will happen. The more you publish the more spins of the writing roulette wheel you get.
Write to inspire
Readers will do anything for writers who encourage their dreams rather than destroy them for short-term attention. Negativity is easy to translate into words and hurl at innocent readers looking for an escape.
Don’t do it.
See the world through words, slightly better than it is. Consider a reader’s mental health before you publish your story. Life is hard enough. Don’t make it harder with your writing.
The powerful way to view other writers
Stay away from drama.
Writing is a competitive sport. Us writers are your teammates, not your enemies. Swap notes rather than swap insults and give backhanders.
Keep your ego in check
A little attention can make an adult writer go mad. They can start to act like a celebrity drama king or queen.
No writer, including me, is a superstar. Anyone can write words on a screen. We learn when we start school, so it doesn’t make any of us special.
Take any success you might get and be humble.
Find your voice, not your niche
After 8 years I still have no niche. Take that writing coaches!
I believe that every topic connects to every other topic. I’ve proved it on LinkedIn. I can take a wedding and turn it into a career lesson. Or take a death and turn it into a hiring story.
The differentiator online is your voice. We fall in love with your commentary, with your view of the world. A niche can be copied. Too many writers accidentally write boring stuff because they write for a niche rather than focus on writing as themselves.
Add lots of your personality to your writing so we know it’s you.
The money side of writing will surprise you
I’ve done well financially from writing. There is a funnel that explains how it works, courtesy of writer Daniel Vassallo.
How my Twitter profile makes $5,000/month:
600,000 Twitter profile visits/month
6,000 clicks on my ‘link in bio’
3,000 clicks on my website
2,500 of which are on my products
3% conversion rate
= 75 sales @ $66 average price
All you need to do is be willing to bet that your life has value and people want to purchase something from you one day. Here’s the easy way to make money as a writer:
Sell a $20 eBook.
Then sell a second one.
And a third one.
Then switch to other ideas when you’re ready.
It doesn’t matter if “the market is saturated.” There’s always a market for quality.
Unprofessional writers leave professional writers for dead
You’ll never reach your full potential until you start doing things you’re not qualified for.
— Lawrence King
The creator economy has brought on the rise of unprofessional writers. We’re now everywhere. I’m one of them. Our grammar is average. We don’t have New York Times best-selling books (maybe an eBook on our unknown website though).
We don’t give a fudge about literary critics, or major publications, or book publishers. We write easy-to-read paragraphs because we’re not trying to look smart for a professor of nothing. The barrier to entry is zero.
The cost of admission = time in the game x volume of content published
Unprofessional equals relatable.
8 years of writing online boiled down to one idea
You can’t replace reading with other sources of information like videos, because you need to read in order to write well, and you need to write in order to think well — Paul Graham
Writing is how humans think. Without words our minds die. Writing online is a forever career that will never die.