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.

Tim Denning
Tim is a thought leader in the personal development, entrepreneur and startup fields. Outside of blogging, Tim works for a large organisation helping fast moving technology companies come to Australia as well as helping Australian tech companies go to the world.
2 Comments
  • Oliver Kandler May 17,2021 at 6:39 am

    Thanks Tim for sharing your thoughts on what you learned writing online.

    Can you elaborate on “Twitter is a great place to test headlines”? I wonder how you do this exactly.

    P.S.: Did not find a link to your twitter on the website 😮

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