Succeeding as a writer online is counter-intuitive.
The advice out there is so bad. I’ve done many writing courses over the past 8 years. So many of them parrot the same old garbage advice.
It’s as if one person says “this is how you succeed writing” and then everyone just copies them. Recently a reader sent me the curriculum for a popular writing course priced at $5000.
Holy crap. You could start an online business for that much money and become the next Mark Zuckerberg.
You don’t need to spend $5000 to master online writing. Let me give you the answers to the most popular questions. Warning: they’re contrarian.
1. A newsletter is the only way to survive
There are a lot of starving writers out there.
Now the global economy has got worse it means the good times for writers have slowed down.
They’re not over. But the lazy writers who want everything for free and blame platforms for their low views are drowning in their own ignorance.
I believe the only way to truly survive as an online writer is with a newsletter. Ads fund most platforms. When times get tough, ad revenue goes down and it becomes Struggle Town.
Ask Quora writers.
That platform is a bloodbath. There looks like there’s been a mass exodus because they didn’t listen to readers — or writers.
Newsletter writers are killing it though.
They can charge a small monthly fee to readers, or they can run ads with businesses they align with to keep their newsletter free. It’s a bloody dream mate.
If you don’t make a newsletter the core of your writing world, all you’ve bought yourself is a glorified job. That job comes with long hours and zero control over who does and doesn’t see your writing.
At any time there can be a ‘views apocalypse’ and you’re left licking your wounds and begging for readers to leave tips in a dog bowl at the bottom of your content like a beggar. Yuck.
Build a newsletter or die trying.
2. Using your real name adds more weight
Many writers use pseudonymous names.
They’re afraid to get canceled if they say the wrong thing. Or they’re worried their boss will see their writing and fires their ass.
Honestly, writing under a fake name places a limiting valve on your success. Readers want to hear from real people. They want writers who put themselves and their careers on the line to tell the real stories.
Use your real name. Connect it to your LinkedIn profile so we can see your true career history.
Whatever your worst writing nightmare is, it’s probably not going to happen. Unless you become bigger than JK Rowling — in that case, you’ve got way bigger problems to worry about, and your name ain’t one of them.
3. The content is dead if the headline sucks
Let me share a naughty secret.
I have a huge pile of articles that suck ass. I couldn’t be bothered writing new stuff so I took the old ones and started re-writing the headlines (or hooks if they were tweet threads) and then re-publishing them.
The same content that bombed, performed 10x better than the original with a new headline.
A few pieces even went viral.
Drill this into your head: your story is great, it’s the headline that sucks. You’ve gotta sell us like a salesperson to get us to read your work. We’re drowning in content calories that are making our brains too fat.
Make it easy and answer the question “why should I read this?”
Make the pitch amazing and stack the benefits so high, it’s irresistible for us to say no like a bro.
Make us a little curious. Slightly trigger our imagination or sense of values. Otherwise, watch article after article bomb and scream at Mark Zuckerberg for cursing your writing career.
4. Nobody has time to write
Writing online isn’t free. It costs your time.
And we’re all busy as hell. Our workloads aren’t getting smaller. They’re getting ginormous. The other challenge is you have to be consistent for the online platforms to notice you and distribute your work.
If you only show up once a month to write then the big tech overlords know and they simply limit the reach of your content. It is what it is. The thing is none of us have time (me included).
You make time to write. Period.
5. The platform you start on doesn’t matter
One of the most common emails I get is “what platform should I start on?”
Everyone has their own opinion. Frankly, I don’t give a fudge. The platform you start on isn’t the platform you eventually win on. I started writing on an unknown WordPress blog. I stayed too long.
Eventually I discovered other platforms and found my groove. The key is to start. If readers love your work, they’ll gladly share it for free on their favorite social media apps.
Surprisingly, the most lucrative way my work has got shared is through other writers linking to it in their newsletters.
I never asked them to. They just got sent an article of mine and went “yeah, I like what Timbo is saying there so I gotta share this gem!”
Just start. Somewhere. Anywhere. For the love of god.
6. Most writing puts us to sleep
I find it hard to read online.
Writers just write facts or sound like every other monkey in the online jungle. What makes a writer better than the other boring ones is when they inject some emotion.
Wake us up. How did it make you feel? What kind of people did you meet? Write down the conversations that you had with them. Does something piss you off? Or best of all, what moment inspired you?
Just stop telling facts. We have medical journals and Wikipedia for that.
7. You don’t need a boring-ass niche
I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face: niches are a ponzi scheme.
It’s cliche advice that sounds right and attempts to make the guru look smart. But it doesn’t work. You’ll get bored if you write about the same topic every day. Writers need to have their minds set free.
How the heck does that happen if you can only publish articles for 25 year old Chicago dog owners for the rest of your life?
The niche is you. Read that again.
8. Politics and newsworthy content don’t help you build a career
Let me finish on the biggest contrarian view of all.
It’s common for writers to follow trends. If you use this technique you’ll no doubt notice that writing about politics and newsworthy content will get loads of engagement.
Now, as you get smarter, you realize if you trigger people and write about the end of America, they won’t be able to resist. It’s candy for the brain.
We love to spot the negative.
Slowly, if you play this game, you will get tonnes of views on your writing. The trouble is you’ll destroy readers’ mental health. As you do, they’ll slowly start unfollowing or muting your writing.
Not because they dislike you.
But because they know these toxic topics are bad for them. Or because they start to feel off and strangely compelled to distance themselves.
There’s another level again. You can start trashing your fellow writers or the platforms you write on. Again, you’ll get loads of short-term readers who lap up what you have to say.
But humans are smart.
They’ll figure out what you’re doing and switch off. The tables will turn and before you know it, the bright lights will be pointed at your face.
All of these tricks do work to get views.
You’ll never have a proper writing career though. You might get one good year out of it. Then you’ll be drowning because you went against this classic mantra: doing the right thing is always the right thing.
So while these cheap tricks 100% work, they’re part of the dumbest strategy in history.
Treat readers well, though, and you’ll go on to have a long career and make decent money from writing. Treat writers well and they’ll share your writing so it reaches people you never could of before.