If you’ve been on this platform for a while, you’ll know it’s littered with articles promising the best writing advice out there. From how to make a fortune to how to come up with a million ideas a minute. Of course, I succumbed every time to the clickbait. But after reading the same generic content over and over I decided something needed to change. Instead of reading endless streams of ‘okay’ advice, I made the decision to go on a hunt.
A writing advice hunt.
The goal was to find the best writing advice out there and put it all in one place. One place so you wouldn’t need to go searching, instead, you’d come to this one-stop-shop and then spend your other precious time doing that one thing you’re avoiding.
So over the last few months, I’ve been collating, searching and crafting. It’s been whittled down to 4 pieces of writing advice that offer the most value. The advice that is most likely to change your writing future. So here goes nothing.
#1 Destroy the box and make a hat out of it (Sean Kernan)
Sean Kernan is a word wizard. This particular article (referenced at the end of this section) I’ve read at least 6 times and I’ll read it again and again. Why? Because his ideas are unlike any other ideas I’ve read on this platform and with the amount of repeatable content on this platform, that’s a huge accolade.
What is so brilliant about this piece is Kernan is on wording rampage about repeated content. He’s frustrated with the amount of content he sees day in day out that, is like adding a teaspoon of sugar to the same Victoria sponge cake recipe. The cake tastes no different. The content he sees is just the same recipe over and over, maybe with a little sugar added in. What it means is that there is a saturation of self-help all with the same age-old advice.
- Start a habit by practising little and often
- There is no such thing as an overnight success
- Write a to-do list to become more productive
You’ve probably read a tonne of articles like these and let's admit it you’ve probably written plenty of articles like this, I know I have. Why? Well, there are a few reasons:
- Articles like this are safe, no one’s going to argue that a to-do list doesn’t improve your productivity
- Articles like this are easy, it’s not particularly hard to think of 6 reasons to improve your productivity
- Most importantly, articles like this are inoffensive, we’ve all scared of receiving negative feedback. Articles like this are unlikely to cause a stir which can be exactly what you want.
Yet Kernan asks us to question the entire point of writing. Writing should be an expression of you, what you think and your individual opinion, now it’s obvious that some of your opinions will, of course, be built from others thoughts and feelings. It would be naive to suggest anything else. Yet you can create genius by giving writing the attention it needs.
Instead of pumping out the same generic title day after day and expecting to grow, Kernan teaches ways (actual ways) to come up with ideas that work, he says:
“Switch premise. Creativity is 80% familiar, 20% surprise.
Review your memories that keep coming back.
Put on a podcast and ignore it (mostly). Then riff random ideas.
Get cynical. Rather than be criticize the sequel to Batman, write your own.
Put an unrelated word into a generic article title. Build a theme on that.
Get pissed off about a topic nobody is talking about, or pissed for a unique reason.
Use Quora to test ideas on short answers to questions.”
Now, when you are used to living your writing life inside the box, this can feel quite scary. I know I’m still coming round to the concept of daring to be so bold in my headlines. It’s silly I know but yet writing safely for the last 5 months has grounded me to continue to be safe. That might of been what’s been happening to you. Instead, dare to lift the box you’ve been working inside, stomp on it and turn it into a hat. In other words, be creative. Dare to be bold and unique in your view. Sure some of the ideas might flop, some might make zero sense and others might confuse the hell out of people. But at least you are not continuing down the same boring path wishing to stand out.
#2 Write about outliers — light people up like a Christmas tree (Matt Lane)
Matt Lane has written some killer stuff over the last four months. He’s smashing every stereotype of the newbie writer and he’s a talent to watch.
Matt teaches us something we always forget, human beings love novelty. Whether it’s a new game, a new iPhone or a new car. We like it because it’s new. The novelty lights up our brain like a Christmas tree. Yet when it comes to writing, it’s easy to forget that. It’s a lesson that Matt has remained close to for his 4-short months on the platform.
“Would you rather read about how to make $1,000 or $1 million? Learn how to hold your breath for 30 seconds or five minutes? Lose three pounds or 30 pounds?”
It’s obvious, isn’t it? In content creation, the bigger the better. Now that’s not to say you should over-inflate the truth but it is to say you should push yourself for bigger and better. Don’t settle for the ordinary, search out the extraordinary. People see the same thing all the time on this platform.
- 6 Ways to Improve Your Financial Future
- 5 Tips for Improving Your Productivity
- 8 Ways to Win at Work
Matt forces us to think bigger. Much bigger.
“ I challenged myself to find the craziest version of this possible. The result: “How Two College Students Made $600,000 in 24 Hours,” which has earned over $7,000 to date.”
If people have seen it before or a version of what you are putting out before, they won’t click. Their brain thinks ‘I’ve read an article similar to that, I know the content’ and they’d be right. Playing it safe won’t get you very far. If you want to be seen you need to give people something no one else is. One way to do that is work in extremes, identify the outliers and write, write, write.
Go big or go home.
#3 Define yourself as a writer (Benjamin Hardy)
Benjamin Hardy is the most viewed writer on Medium. According to this article, Medium amassed 30,000 writers on the platform by 2019, which makes Hardy quite the rarity. When you read Hardy’s articles it’s easy to see why he’s as successful as he is.
With a PhD by training in organisational psychology, he writes about a wide variety of productivity and self-improvement topics with a deep focus on science. Research is at the heart of his work and he uses the latest studies to tell his audience about proven ways to improve their lives, not just the same old stuff regurgitated.
Hardy knows how much of an anomaly he is, yet he doesn’t think it needs to stay that way. There is this idea that writers are starving artists and that the trade-off for doing something you love is to get paid less, Hardy proves that’s not the case and encourages his readers to believe that is not the case too.
Hardy has done it all:
- 6-figure book deals
- 800,000 email subscribers
- 7-figure income annually
- 6 employees
Yet he doesn’t believe it’s unachievable for you but he advises that you answer a few questions first:
“If you want to be highly read and highly paid as a writer, here are some questions you need to answer:
What type of writer do you want to be?
How do you want to be known?
Who do you want to be compared to?”
The list doesn’t stop there though. Hardy has an extensive list of questions he wants you to answer before you decide that you want to be a highly paid writer. Some of those questions involve understanding your ‘why’ for writing and delving deep into the type of writer you want to be.
The reality is that there are a million and one ways to make money online with writing. Writing is the bread and butter of the internet, copywriting, advertising, books, online courses, podcasts, practically everything you can see and touch needs words to make it function.
So stop thinking that writing is a dying art. It’s evergreen.
What you do need to do, after you’ve answered those questions above is to start to get into the 7-figure mindset. Narrow it down and work out your one goal for the next 3 years. Once you’ve worked that out, do not waiver under any circumstances. Don’t convince yourself that you could be doing something better with your time.
Do not engage with any conversations with yourself about how ‘this isn’t working’ and ‘you aren’t going anywhere’. The key to sticking to your goal is to not get sidetracked. Hardy reminds us that people are great at setting goals but can fall down if part-way through they get side-tracked by shiny objects that distract them from their focus.
“Or will you let all the other shiny objects divert your focus, pull you in different directions, and ultimate derail your motivation and momentum?”
Setting a goal is 5% of the battle. Truly, if you have a 3-year goal, there will be well over 1095 opportunities to get side-tracked. Every single day there will be a chance to look side-ways. To have a sneak-peak into what other people are doing, to take a chance on a new idea or to indulge yourself in a new direction.
The simplest way to avoid this is to create a habit of not thinking about it. Every time you feel yourself drifting into becoming inspired to set a new goal, cut the thought process in half. Remind yourself that you are not thinking about this because you committed to this goal, in 3 years time you can think about a new goal.
“Once I clarified my future self, I set a single, measurable goal. That goal was to get a six-figure book contract with one of the Big Five publishers in New York.”
With that goal in mind, Hardy was able to work backwards and work out what he needed to do to get there. It turned out that building his email subscriber list was the most logical way to get himself there. Once you begin to define who you are and what you want to be, your behaviours will follow suit. It’s often that we get lost in the details of behaviours because we don’t really know who we are.
- Should you go for a run tonight?
- Should you write this evening?
- Should you work on your side hustle?
Those questions are easy to answer if you know who you are. If you know who you are, you behaviours are dictated to you. If you are a writer, guess what? You’ll need to write every day. If you are defining yourself as a writer, it’s only logical that you portion some of your days to writing, after all, that’s what writers do. The same goes for if you are an entrepreneur or someone that exercises.
Define yourself and then allow your behaviours to be dictated.
One important point is Hardy focus on the topic of hope. To quote Dr. Angela Duckworth, “Grit depends on a different kind of hope. It rests on the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future.” In order to commit to how you define yourself, you need to embed hope into your thought processes.
Believing in yourself is completely critical to your success. It’s not enough to set a goal and continue on as if nothing has changed. You need to believe every day that you are capable and ambitious enough to get there. This isn’t in a look-yourself-in-the-mirror-and-tell-yourself-you’re-amazing kind of belief. No, you don’t need to have a freezing cold shower at 5 am every morning to become successful and truly believe in yourself.
What you do need to do though is think you are capable. Truly believe that you, yes you, can do this. The easiest way to do this is to look at the world, look at the people who you believe are truly extraordinary and look at what they’ve done. Nine times out of ten you’ll find that the only thing between them and you is a lot of hard work. So are you capable of working hard?
Define yourself. Believe it.
#4 Write an absurd amount by focusing on the intangible value
Tim Denning is the master of Medium, he’s the writer that pumps out the most consistent content on this platform. Week in, week out you can be sure that he’ll be pumping out 10 articles at least, which for a guy that has a 9–5, is pretty impressive.
Denning knows that unquestionably the biggest barrier to writing enough content to give your writing traction is, you guessed it, you. It’s you telling yourself that you are good enough. You might tell yourself you’re not good enough. You might tell yourself that your co-workers are going going to laugh at you. But what’s the reality of that? Simple.
You are getting in your own way.
But it’s advice you’ve heard before. Us humans have this annoying trait where we need confidence that what we are putting effort into will harness some sort of reward. It’s the reason most people don’t start the side hustle they’ve been wanting to for years. You are worried that you will put work into it and get no reward at the end of it and in 4 years time you’ll look stupid. If you’re really honest you are scared of failing. And so, that feeling comes with a load of advice you’ve heard all before.
- Get out of your own way;
- Write like nobody is watching;
- Don’t worry about what the critics say.
But yet year after year you never start. You say this is the year and yet the year is destined to be as uneventful as the last one. You are worried about what other people say, you still write like somebody is watching and you continue to get in your own way.
Denning puts it really simply. Start now. Don’t focus on the money and don’t focus on growing. Focus on sitting in the chair and putting your words into the world.
Look, it’s not all about the money. Contrary to what you might think, having the extra income every month won’t fulfil you after a while. Writing can give you so much more if you just look at it in the right light. Have you ever stopped to think about what writing gives you? Denning writes about writing giving him meaning, being his friend in the dark days, it’s like a therapy, it helps him explore his thoughts. Looking at writing in this light changes things because it shifts your thinking. No longer are you looking at metrics, views, money all that stuff, instead, you thinking about how writing made you feel today. How writing got you out of that dark place. It that sense writing becomes so much more.
Denning teaches us to look beyond the money and think about what else writing on a blank page gives you? Does it give you simplicity? Honesty? A creative outlet? Are you learning? Are you growing? Does it give you a sense of calm? Does it stop you from spending money? If you concentrate on what writing already gives you, you’ll stop chasing the money and be thankful for what it already gives you every single day.
For Tim, that’s support, a voice and consistency.
There are a million and one reasons to listen to these writers. They are clearly pretty brilliant at what they do. They are consistent, prolific and by that, they have created an audience that loves them.
There is lots of advice out there about how to write and what are the strategies to building a good audience and for me, the one that stands the strongest is the one grounded in identity.
Figure out who you are as a writer, figure out what you want to tell the world and why. Then the world is yours.