In the beginning, I knew nothing. I still don’t know anything, I just know more things that I don’t know. That’s the curse of learning. You get better at climbing the hill on the way to the mountain. You don’t even see the mountain from down below. You say to yourself, “That hill doesn’t look to hard.”
I wish I had enlisted the help of a writing mentor in the early days. It would have saved me a lot of trial and error. That’s another curse. I tend to try things the hard way first.
Over the past 9 months, I have written more than 100 articles. These have been posted on my personal WordPress blog as well as Medium.com. I didn’t have a strategy. I was trying a little bit of everything. I was throwing pasta at the wall to see what would stick.
Here are 10 things that I wish I had known when I started my journey.
Prepare for the long, dark teatime of obscurity
1 Prepare for the long, dark teatime of obscurity. This tip is inspired by the wonderful novel by Douglas Adams (no affiliation). I’m using a bit of humor because the nugget of wisdom is pretty dark.
It’s easy to be famous when you’re already famous. If you are known by your first name. Anything you create will knock it out of the park. If you aren’t yet famous, everything will be an uphill battle. Pushing a boulder. With a chain on your leg. At night.
You know you’re awesome, but nobody else knows (yet). It will likely take an incredibly long time to start getting traction with your writing. You need to prepare yourself mentally for the feat. It’s not for the light of heart.
Unless you’re already famous.
If that’s not enough cold water for you, read Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t, by Stephen Pressfield (no affiliation). Don’t let that convince you not to write. Just don’t have any illusion of instant-celebrity.
The avalanche of money will start slow.
2 The avalanche of money will start slow. The first tip was a bit of a downer. I’m going to throw you a rope of hope. While the going will be slow at first, it is steady. Your pennies will become dollars. Your dollars will become tens. Your tens will become hundreds. Your hundreds will become thousands.
You will eventually become stupid rich.
Hold your horses, partner. Don’t sign that lease for your new BMW so fast. This process could take years. As a bonus, you don’t know how many years it will take.
The important bit here is that you know for a certainty that it will happen. You will not give up until it happens.
That is what separates the haves from the have nots. While everyone else is quitting, you are soldiering on.
Pick a visualization to give yourself hope:
- You are rolling a snowball of profits.
- A wave of money is forming.
- Dollars are falling like rain. Soon, it will be a flood.
Success is welling up out there. You just have to wait for it. Be ready for a long wait. It will happen when you’re ready.
Ask “what’s in it?” for your reader
3 Ask “what’s in it?” for your reader. Readers are fickle. They need to sense value in what you’re offering. If you don’t promise to deliver in your headline, they won’t click. If you don’t deliver on your promise in the article, they’ll bail. If you don’t give away something of value, they won’t sign up for your newsletter.
Your mom and your closest friends will sign up for your newsletter (maybe).
Keeping this question in your mind will change your focus. As you write your headline ask, “What promise can I make to the readers?” As you write your article ask, “What value am I giving to the reader?” For this reason, write your headline last. Review your article looking for value. Then you can write a matching headline to promise what you already delivered.
Also, make sure every article has an intro and conclusion. Your intro tells a little bit about who you are, why they (the reader) should care, and what you are going to deliver. The conclusion should contain a reminder of what you already delivered (as a reminder).
It’s all about the reader. At the end of the article, do they have reason to read more from you? Follow a link to your bio? Sign up for your newsletter?
Remember these steps for article writing:
- Create the body of an article
- Make a solid intro and outro
- Write a catchy headline
- Have a bio with a promotion
- Edit, edit, and edit again (and then consider an edit)
- Did you edit your piece?
Send an email newsletter weekly
4 Send an email newsletter weekly. It doesn’t matter if there are only three people on your list. Send your email newsletter weekly. Your end goal is to have something to sell/promote. Unfortunately, you kinda don’t have anything at the beginning. What you are accomplishing with your weekly sends?:
- You are getting better at the process of sending an email newsletter. There is a small learning curve here. At the beginning, they won’t look so hot. This will get better over time. Would you rather have your crappy first few emails reach an audience of 25 or an audience of 1,000?
- You are getting over your imposter syndrome. You may not think your content is worthy of a regular newsletter. This is not up for you to decide. This is up for your readers to decide. Either make better content or get over yourself. I have found that a sense of being “not worthy” goes away through a lot of practice. Stand in front of people until you aren’t afraid of standing in front of people. Smile until you feel like smiling.
Send an email newsletter until you aren’t afraid of sending an email newsletter.
- You’re trying to be top of mind for your readers/subscribers. When your subscriber thinks of your niche, you want them to think of you. The best way is to be right there at the top of their inbox. Do you deliver enough value in your newsletter to spend a couple days in the list of emails? At the very least, can your name show up in their email? Even if they don’t end up reading your emails, your name enters their brain once a week (or as frequently as you send).
- Get rid of the luke-warm. You want your email list to be chocked full of your raving fans. You want these people to actively read your articles. You want these people to follow your links. You want these people to purchase what you recommend.
Let’s face it, most people on your current list do not meet these criteria. Honestly, the majority do not. Part of the process of culling your list down to the hard-core is the annoy the ones who are not so great. One way to do this is with regular, frequent email newsletter sends. Most people are lazy enough to stay subscribed to a one-a-month newsletter. Any more frequent than that, and people will unsubscribe in droves.
That, in this case, is a good thing. If you really produce enough daily content to satisfy the rabid fan, consider a daily send. Proceed with caution on this one.
The end goal (several years from now) is to make $x from each newsletter send. Revenue from an email newsletter is very consistent. I should know. I was an email marketing manager in a past life (before I got sick). Whether you send once per day or once per month, your subscribers will get used to what you adopt. They key is to stay consistent.
Would you rather make $x per week or $x per month. Be regular, either way. For me, I felt that a daily send was too much. I couldn’t produce value on a daily basis. Monthly was too long. People forgot about me. Decide on your “sweet spot” and stick with it.
Or, you can just take the advice of an “email marketer” and send once per week. Done and done.
Write with either sound or silence.
5 Write with either sound or silence. A writer is a creature of habit. Forming habits allow us to do the things we don’t want to do (like stick to writing every day or exercising regularly). If we didn’t have a habit, we probably wouldn’t do the things we should be doing. This becomes evident when the going gets tough, or the money is a trickle.
One thing that makes the process of writing easier is to find the right type of music for you. Some types of music can make you feel anxious. Other types of music can be distracting. Find what works best for you and stick with it. That’s not a cop out. What works for me may not work for you. Different writers swear by different music:
- Music with words may be hypnotizing. You want to reach a “flow” state. You might like music with words, especially if you know the album very well. These kinds of people usually have one set of music they listen to on repeat. What you don’t want is something that draws your attention.
- Music without words or foreign words. I like the sound and energy of pop music, but the words are distracting. That’s why I like Korean Pop music (K-Pop). Some people prefer classical, instrumental, jazz, and movie soundtracks.
- White noise or Binaural Beats. A good static can drown out the world and make it easier to focus. There are free apps that produce a variety of white noise for you to try out. Some swear by “Binaural Beats,” which are a variety of tones that help concentrated focus (for some).
- Absolute silence. For some, nothing beats no sound at all for focused work. Do you prefer working in a library? Do you dream of a cabin in the woods?
It is very difficult to achieve utter quiet (especially in the city). Try out some good, old fashioned ear plugs. There are also earmuffs for sound reduction (worn by construction workers). They are found at Home Depot and the like. I have found that they do not work as well as ear plugs, but when ear plugs aren’t silent enough, a combination of the two is a nice layer of comforting hush.
Sleep is important
6 Sleep is important. Boy Howdy, is sleep important. You can skip this whole section and just know that sleep is important.
Get yours. Find out how many hours per night you need to function well. You can get away with a lot less, but not while performing at optimum levels. A good test is to try things out on a Friday night. Go to bed nice and early.
Take precautions. Don’t eat anything that messes with your sleep (like heavy carbs). Don’t drink any coffee in the afternoon. Tell your family you are not to be disturbed. Turn off your alarm. Wake up when your body wants to wake up.
This is your optimum number of hours you should be sleeping. When you wake up at the right time, you will feel positive and energized. If you don’t, you either didn’t get enough sleep or there is something wrong (talk to a doctor).
Why is sleep important for a writer? Briefly, here’s some benefits of getting enough sleep:
- Better Mood. Writing is tough. Writing takes grit and determination. It’s hard to muster these things if you are not in a good mood. Think of a good night’s sleep as a shield for your hope.
- Subconscious at work. When you dream, your brain is working things out. A problem that seems difficult or impossible might be obvious on a good night’s sleep. For best results, mull over your problem as you’re going to sleep.
- Improved Memory. When you sleep, your mind is busy converting short-term memory to long-term memory. This is very important if you are keeping track of a long novel or a complicated plot.
A truly creative problem might need all three of the above. You might need a good memory to remember that there is a problem to solve. You need the workings of your subconscious to make a creative solution. A good mood full of hope will cause you to persevere and believe that a solution is possible.
Find the best time of day to write for you
7 Find the best time of day to write for you. Are you a morning person? Are you a night person? Do you know?
One way to find out is to ask yourself one question. If you need to finish an important project, would you rather stay up late to finish? Would you rather wake up early to finish?
All of us have a different “prime time.” Working during that prime time will just make things happen easier. For example, I’m a morning person. I do my best stuff in the morning. If it is too late in the day, most of my writing is non-productive. Something I write late at night looks like garbage the next day. If it’s too late in the day, I find it best to get a good night’s sleep and try the next morning.
Find out what the best time of day is for you to write. That could be morning, noon, night, or the middle of the night. That could be several short bursts. Some work best in many blocks with many breaks. Go nuts and find your groove, Stella.
Do you really like to write?
8 Do you really like to write? You may not know the answer to this question before you’ve tried your hand at writing. It certainly doesn’t pay very well for most writers.
If you like something else more than writing, do that thing. If you think you might like something better than writing, try something else. If you don’t know, try something else.
Bottom line, if you’re a writer, you just know. If you’re not a writer, you just know. It’s like being in love. If you don’t know, you’re not.
Writing is too hard of a job not to be passionate. If you’re not passionate, you won’t succeed.
You need a dose of harsh reality. I’m not here to blow smoke up your skirt/kilt. If your heart isn’t in it, anything else is a better option.
We all start at zero
9 We all start at zero. Do not be envious of a popular writer. You don’t know how long he/she toiled to get to that place. Remember, there are rarely overnight successes. Money quickly earned is quickly lost.
We all start with zero fans. We all start with zero email subscribers. We all start with no money. Our career is always a blinking cursor on an empty screen.
Make something of it. Fill that screen. It will take time. You’re worth it. We’re all waiting to read what you’ve got. Even if we don’t know it yet.
Writing will be a lot harder than you thought it would be
X Writing will be a lot harder than you thought it would be. When you’re a young writer, the world is your oyster. You’re sure that fans will read your stories, flock to you, and shower you with admiration. Of course, you will also be showered with money. It’s not about the money, you say to yourself, folding your hands across your belly with a self-assured smile.
The description “overly optimistic” comes to mind. At some point, writing will become a slog. It will not be as romantic as you thought. Suddenly, it will be hard work. This is magnified by the fact that you aren’t making anywhere near the amount of money you “should.” There may even be some desperation attached to that lack of money. You might need to make money now.
The optimistic young writer will either choose to wait for the “miracle” or stop writing. Don’t get me wrong, sudden fame and fortune does happen, but rarely. It’s like a lightning strike or winning the lottery. Please don’t count on it.
In this case, I think it’s better to be pessimistic. There are very few opportunities to be pessimistic for good rather than evil. If good thing happen, that’s great. If mediocre things happen, that’s great. If nothing happens, you were already braced for that.
You were expecting to work hard for little or no return. You got what you expected (maybe a little more, if you were blessed).
There you have it. In my past few months, here are 10 things that I have learned. I wished I had a mentor at the beginning. He or she could have told me these things.
Was this list helpful? Is there a specific tip you are going to use? Leave me a note in the comments.
Matt is a writer. Writers write. If you like what you read, sign up for the MWMcCabe newsletter. Great articles show up right to your inbox!