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16 Harsh Truths About Your Writing You Don’t Want to Hear but Must (You’ll Be 10 Times Better for It)

by | Mar 25, 2024 | Writing

When you rack up 1B+ views & make 7 figures online, you piss a lot of people off.

You become a target. People love to take their anger out on you or put any success you’ve had down to luck, clickbait, or friends in high places. This is my story and I’m proud of it. I don’t regret a minute.

As a result, amateurs who offer writing advice like, “How I Increased My Writing Earnings 300% in one month” (from 30 cents to $1.20) mislead people who want to start writing or do it full-time.

Amateur writing advice will hold you back, not help you grow.

As someone who’s in the top 1% of online writers in the world (no joke), let me give you the brutal truths no fluffy writing coach from the New York Times will ever give you.

Every writer faces this big problem and they don’t realize

I run a 200,000-person email list. Most are writers.

I ran a challenge recently where I asked people to send me their content to review. What stood out like a dog’s balls was the average writer may be able to #WriteDaily, but they have little to no engagement on their posts.

So … they starve. They never get off zero. And they sure as hell never make a dollar or earn a full-time income from writing. This makes me sad.

If you have no engagement it’s because you’re a traditional writer, not a digital writer. They’re not the same thing.

Your ideas may be great but if they’re not packaged and sold right, no one will ever be transformed by them. And that’s a huge lost opportunity.

If you have less than a handful of comments, then the algorithm has shadowbanned you

You can publish content on a platform. Yay. You’re a hero. Give an Oscar speech. Hug the platform owners and buy them flowers.

Just remember…

There’s published content, and there’s content people can actually see on the platform. The two are not the same.

If you publish an essay and there were 10,000 other essays published on that platform in a day, and yours got hardly any views, then is your essay really published and visible? Nope.

Your essay is invisible. YOU are invisible.

Focus on distribution, not seeing your content published. “Published” doesn’t equal money. Being seen does.

Murder the cryptic headlines with a machete

At 16, I saw my best friend get stabbed with a machete.

Blood everywhere. While it happened I got hit repeatedly with a baseball bat and nearly lost my life. It did knock some sense into me though.

When I was begging for my life to this group of 20 gangsters, I was clear about my request.

“Please don’t kill me.”

They eventually heard my pleas and spared my life. If I’d tried to give a Ted Talk or explain some cryptic buddhist quote, they’d have skinned my skinny ass alive and you’d never of opened this article (tragedy).

I stalk you mofos. I read your writing.

Too many of you are using cryptic headlines that make no sense because you’re afraid of the clickbait boogie monster. By trying to be clever, you’re making it impossible for the average person to ever feel the orga$mic urge to click your content.

So they don’t.

You write a great essay. It’s world-moving. Barack Obama would’ve quoted it in his next Youtube interview. But now the essay is dead. No one will ever open it. Untapped potential will rot in hell. Now that’s a tragedy!

Make your headline so easy to understand that a 5th grader gets it.

Ask yourself: “Why should someone click this?”

Remember we’re busy. We have a firehose of content being sprayed in our beautiful faces and we can’t see.

If you don’t give a clear benefit to reading, then no one will invest five minutes of their time to read.

So you may as well *not* hit publish at all. You’re better off flying to Harvard University and jerking off with a few professors about Jane Austin than you are writing online. Seriously.

Nail the headline or go home.

Stop using this ineffective tool

For the love of god. I’m begging you. No more hashtags.

Every time you add a hashtag you put on a white wig and become my now-deceased grandmother who has never used a computer or left Australia.

People think you’re stupid. It’s not 2006 anymore.

Social media apps are smart enough to categorize content for us. When we relied on people to assign hashtags to content, it got abused. People would take a post about Mary Poppins and add #Elon to try and get extra views.

The one exception to the hashtag rule is LinkedIn. But even then I’d argue you should avoid hashtags. They make your content look cheap.

Wanna make your content look even filthier? Piss all over it with emojis. Nah, screw that. Take a giant crap on your content and do this…

Tag all your f*cking friends. Actually tag f*cking strangers too.

Why not? You’re desperate. You’re begging. You could even add a “Buy me a coffee” button and really cheapen the hell out of your brand.

Repeat after me:

  • I will not use hashtags.
  • I will not tag my friends.
  • I will not ask people to buy me a coffee like a homeless man.

Now you’re gonna go from looking like a one-night stand to becoming a writer that readers want to be in a marriage with.

Make the first sentence a nuclear bomb

Writer Linda Caroll once wrote a killer article.

In it she said you need to open your essay strong or there’s no point. I agree. But I’d go a step further. Open your essay with a nuclear bomb straight from the Oppenheimer movie.

Drop us right in the action. Make us care in the next 5 seconds. What’s the big point of your entire essay? Open with that. Because if you don’t nail the first sentence then the drop-off rate will be high.

The worst way to open is in some boring chronological or logical order of events. You may as well start with “Once upon a time Winnie the Pooh…” Gives me runny poos just thinking about it.

Be interesting in the first sentence, not clever.

Consider the reader’s mental load (or blow up their brains)

Readers are beautiful humans.

They should be worshipped like they’re Jesus (I’m an atheist). Yet writers love to ruin a reader’s mental health. They open with a 20-sentence paragraph and take a bow.

The reader sees the huge paragraph on their 3 year old iPhone and nearly has a heart attack. It’s a huge wall of text. The cognitive load is enormous. Then the essay continues on…

  • No subheadings to guide the reader.
  • More huge walls of text.
  • Cryptic subheadings.
  • Acronyms everywhere that force a reader to click away & google them.
  • A thousand charts smaller than a bee’s d*ck that require a microscope to examine them and feel like you’re reading a 100 year old science paper on why we should eat more grass in our diet.

Before you know it, you’ve signed up to read a 20-minute essay that could’ve been a 3-minute tweet.

Think about how much time you’re stealing from the reader. Make the reader’s life easy — short, sharp, clear sentences that a 5th-grader dripping with snot can understand.

Me, me, me journal entry writing (#MeToo)

Amateur writers do what I did when I started out.

They write journal entries. Everything they write is about themselves and it never leaves the narrative of their own life.

One of the reasons this happens is because we believe we’re not enough of an expert. So the only thing Harvard University has qualified us to write about is our own lives.

But journal entries are boring. There’s no benefit to them. They end with some cryptic moral of the story that requires Sherlock Holmes to investigate and report back in 5 years.

Great writing has takeaways. Read that again.

Fortune cookie, chicken soup for the soul, platitudes destroy your ability to make money (and the reader’s will to live)

There are too many Gandhis.

There, I said it. A big mistake you can make is to accidentally take on the persona you’re some influencer or world leader who has written an article that is basically an Oscar speech disguised as a “Change Your Life” Ted Talk.

The world doesn’t need more fortune cookies. Writing endless platitudes such as “eat your vegetables Timothy if you want to be healthy” won’t help you build a writing career.

This content is obvious. It’s boring. The internet is drowning in picture quotes from people trying to be somebodies while simultaneously being nobodies. So what do you write?

  • Lessons you learned
  • What you’re building in public
  • Insights from the industry you work in
  • Systems you’ve built
  • People you’ve met and what they told you
  • Places you’ve been and how they’re different to America
  • Movie/Book reviews

Anything but “be more grateful.” No sh*t.

Your boss, family, and friends aren’t watching you. This isn’t Big Brother.

You’ve probably read stuff that sounds smart.

It’s full of “I think” and has a million caveats in the intro. You might wonder why this bizarre phenomenon exists amongst writers. Let me crack it open with a pick axe I stole from the set of the movie “Saw” back in 2004.

Our worst writing is produced when we obsess over who might be reading.

This is bizarre because most writers have less engagement on their posts than my neighbor’s dog’s Instagram he started 2 weeks ago. If you don’t tell people about your writing they probably won’t find it.

It’ll get lost in the information overload that is the internet.

Even if you do tell people to read they probably won’t because … have you seen people’s email inboxes? They’re like a teenager’s bedroom full of moldy pizzas and 90s p*rn magazines they stole from their parents.

Writers have this obsession. They think their friends, family, and boss are constantly googling their name to see what they’re up to. They’re not.

Bottom line: no one is reading.

This is amazing! I wrote for 7 years during my banking career and 99% of people I worked with had no clue. I told one of my bosses and he loved it. But he still never read anything I wrote because he was stuck in meetings all day.

If no one is watching then you’re free to write whatever you want.

This is the type of stream of consciousness writing full of emotion, vulnerability, wisdom, energy, and awesomeness that’ll change your life and attract readers to your life like a semi-trailer sized magnet.

Now, if you’re still paranoid then do what Zulie Rane did: use a nickname.

Now you’re free little birdy. Mwah.

Thy must not post selfies or face death

There are personal brand schools now. OMG.

They have infected writers’ brains. They tell you attach selfies to your writing. They may even force you to post a photo of you by the pool in a fake hotel in Miami that you rented for a few hours to do a photoshoot.

Selfies are part of the me, me, me movement. They make you look like you’re in love with yourself — like you tried to do doggie with yourself last night because of how gorgeous your buttocks is.

Don’t do it. Great ideas and stories cut through without selfies.

Writers are part-time journalists

Great writing puts you in a place and time.

The X app has recently changed. Citizen journalism is on the rise as a result and all of social media is moving this way. Online writers are supposed to be part-time journalists.

That means you’re supposed to reference culture and what’s happening in the world, and thread it through your stories and how-to guides. Otherwise, what your writing often feels irrelevant.

A journalistic lens to your writing helps create discussion. That generates comments. Comments help your writing get seen by more people.

Read the room (and don’t be a copy and paste monkey)

Amateur writing advice teaches you to write once and post to every platform. It’s supposed to be a hack. You’re supposed to save time.

But this strategy is f*cked.

Every social media app is a language. If you take a LinkedIn post and copy and paste it to X like a lazy mofo, it’s the equivalent of entering a boardroom full of Spanish-only people and speaking Indian.

They’ll have no idea what you’re saying.

Social media apps have a culture. They have a language and you have to read the room. Almost no piece of content can be simply copy and pasted all over the internet and give the writer any benefit.

That’s why write-once-and-copy-and-paste-everywhere writers never gain any traction.

They walk into a boardroom full of guys in suits wearing a Hawaiian shirt and take a dump on the table, then exit the room and expect a standing ovation on the way out.

The other mistake here is to post and ghost. Social media platforms are social. You’re supposed to write, edit, publish, then stick around and engage. Otherwise you’re a literary snob and you’ll get ignored.

How dare you talk and not stick around to listen.

Posting under company accounts

Hands up who gets all hot and bothered when a company publishes a press release on social media?

Not me. Why? When companies talk we call them ads.

Ads are low quality content that we have to be forced to watch because they’re so bad and some corporation just wants to slide their hand in our pants, feel around, then take out our credit card and swipe it.

This is why publishing under your own name is ten times better than setting up Timbo’s coaching on Instagram and blasting out a bunch of life coaching platitudes that are secretly designed to sell people coaching.

Humans are relatable. Companies are aliens.

And people that embrace personal branding become more like a company brand, therefore, becoming aliens.

External links will get you shadowbanned

Social media apps make money through ads and subscriptions.

When you post a link on their apps that leads to your website or any external source, you’re effectively trying to steal their customers.

To screw you over for being an ignorant selfish a-hole — if you do this enough times — they’ll shadow ban you. All that means is every time you post they’ll just show it to no one.

No comments. No views. No likes. Nothing. Nudda.

It’s a form of jail and most writers live in there without realizing. Your links go in your bio or comments section (never in the post).

Be at least 1% spicy

Out of the 100s of posts I reviewed for my challenge, only one had some spice to it. Also known as a hot take.

Everything else was bland and boring.

No one’s saying you gotta be outrageous like the soon to be (again) Donald Duck president. But you at least gotta say something slightly interesting, polarizing, or controversial once in a while.

We all have these spicy takes on our topic of choice. We all have things that piss us off that we can layer in for extra entertainment. Try it.

Promote one thing (and nothing else) if you wanna eat tacos tonight

Too many writers are accidentally self-promotional. They insert way too many links in their articles, so it becomes an underline 0rgy.

At the end of their article it looks like this:

  • Follow me here, here, and here.
  • Buy my book
  • Buy me a coffee
  • Read these 10 other stories I wrote
  • Check out my business that can help you clean your gutters.
  • Ohhh…and check out my friend Grace Vandersnob. She’s awesome and would also love you to like and comment on all her posts.
  • While you’re at it … join my free Facebook group so we can spam each other’s posts, game the algorithm, and increase our earnings by 30 cents a month.

What you just read feels to a reader like you’re going on your first romantic coffee date with them and asking for a gang bang in the opening sentence.

The intelligent way to talk to a reader is ask them to take one subtle action.

The best option is to ask them to subscribe to your newsletter. Everything else is a distraction and creates decision fatigue.

No email list, no money.

Followers are rented. Email subscribers are owned (unless you piss them off with too many one-night stand ads … then they unsubscribe).

Final Thought

The harsh truth I’ve learned from the hundreds of writers I’ve encountered in the last week is:

Thinking you know what you’re doing is a curse.

Hitting post is the easiest button to click in the world. But behind the button is hundreds of 1-percenters and hidden bear traps.

Posting every day for 5000 days is no better than the 10,000-hour rule — that teaches us if we show up enough times will get rich and famous.

If that was the case then all the people who sang on TV talent shows since the early 2000s would be Madonna by now. But they’re not. Why? Because 10,000 iterations matters more than 10,000 hours doing the same boring thing and expecting it to win you the lottery.

If you don’t learn the art of social media you’ll never be a writer. That’s the harsh truth no writer wants to hear but must.

Are You Operating With Maximum Energy?

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