You’re currently living in the best possible time in history to be a writer. You have no excuses.
With an internet connection and a keyboard, the power is in your hands to spread your message as far and wide as possible.
Just a decade ago, self-publishing was a joke. Now? Not only are plenty of self-published writers making a living with their writing, they’re getting something even more valuable — respect.
Amazon — the world’s largest bookstore — actively promotes self-published authors. You have self-published books like Wool, The Martian, 50 Shades of Grey, and Choose Yourself, selling hundreds of thousands to millions of copies.
Why is this shift happening? Because the platforms and authority that comes with them are decentralized. People can carefully select want they want to read, watch, and hear. The gatekeepers can’t block the flow of information anymore.
This is both good and bad. It’s good because more voices can be heard. It’s bad because there’s an influx of wannabes, charlatans, and people chasing fame.
The question is — what are you going to do? Which side are you going to be on?
You can be a successful writer and make an impact. It’s up to you to choose how to use your power.
What follows are my observations and opinions. There are no rules. These are the themes I see and suggestions on how you can operate in this new landscape of the written word.
Good Writers Bleed, Bad Writers Preach
The subtitle is a quote from, James Altucher, one of my favorite writers. The tagline on his profile reads, “ For some reason, I’ve turned myself inside out and all my guts have spilled onto my blog. One day I’ll run out of stuff but not yet.”
If you can’t tell your true stories and your truth, you can’t be a real writer. If your writing comes with no risk, you have nothing worth saying.
I write self-help articles and books. I catch myself going into preaching mode — telling people what they need to do, how they should act, and speaking from a pedestal of my own experience — and I often have to pause, reflect, and make sure I add context to my thoughts.
You can have opinions and beliefs. But it’s important to explore those beliefs in your writing. I write for attention, self-interest, to grow, to become a better thinker, to understand myself, to make money, to question my thoughts, to indulge in naivete, to vent, to intellectually masturbate, to validate myself, and to invalidate myself.
All of my intentions are connected, contradictory, and symbiotic. I need to have and display them all at once. And so do you.
Writing should be a picture of what you believe at that moment in time, not a cement slab you’re unwilling to crack.
That being said, you don’t need to pander either.
Good Writers Are Themselves, Bad Writers Pander
Best selling author, Ramit Sethi, wrote an interesting piece about people trying too hard to be vulnerable.
He cites Altucher — a writer known to genuinely share the ugliest parts of his life — as a template other writers copy to get attention.
This is called virtue signaling — pretending to be pious for likes and views. It’s just as dis-genuine as being the untouchable self-help writer speaking from a pedestal.
Be yourself. People can notice when you aren’t.
He goes on in the article to say there’s nothing wrong with talking about excellence and peak performance. You can talk about how you’re making your own life better and how other people can too.
We need your viewpoint on the world, not one you constructed because you think people will like it.
Some people will dissect your viewpoint, disagree with it completely, or even troll you. Not only does this come with the territory, it’s the path through which good writing emerges. If you never piss anyone off, you’re not saying anything.
I’ve had my viewpoints correctly challenged. I try to combat my bias, change my mind, and share my updated philosophy.
If you do the same, you’ll find joy in the process. If you don’t, you might find your success, views, and authority come with a feeling of emptiness. Don’t build foundations on lies.
Good Writers Write Bad Writers Want to be Writers
I can tell pretty quickly which aspiring writers will be successful and which ones won’t.
I recall a reader who emailed me with a question about growing his blog. He’d been writing faithfully for a while, but he wasn’t getting traction. I gave him a few tips — start an email list, create something valuable and free to give away, and guest post on popular websites.
I told him I’d check in with him in two weeks to see if he made progress. He emailed me a week later telling me he did everything I suggested and his new guest post was scheduled to be published. He’ll be successful.
I have other aspiring writers who reach out to me who don’t write at all. They’ll ask me how to build a writing career. Mind you, they email me via a contact form of my blog that contains dozens of posts detailing the steps to growing your writing career — many of which have step-by-step instructions.
They’re not serious. They want to be writers, but they don’t want to write. They want the subscribers, the book deals, the TEDx talk, the podcast appearances, and let’s not forget the money.
Like all forms of success, getting what you want has little to do with chasing what you want. You get what you want by doing all of the things you don’t want to do — writing a bunch of words no one will read, struggling to figure out the technical aspects of building your platform, and pitching your articles through rejection until one gets accepted.
The best advice I can give? Keep writing. Write poorly until you write well.And take this piece of advice from Jerry Seinfeld:
Writer’s block is a phony, made up, BS excuse for not doing your work.
Listen to Me, But also Don’t Listen to Me
Do I think my advice is good? Yes. Do I think you should listen to it? Yes and no.
Your writing career is your job. Only you can decide what words to craft and what rules to follow. I realized there are writers and experts who give contradictory advice. This means I have to develop my own philosophy, and so do you.
We need your philosophy. We need a diversity of ideas and thoughts. The decentralization of authority means you’re allowed to have a voice, you’re allowed to be authoritative and fallible at the same time, you’re allowed to use the rules of the game to build a foundation and subsequently break them.
I look at old writing and cringe. I question the state of mind I was in while writing old pieces. I feel like a fraud some days and a genius on others.
I’m complicated. It’s complicated.
Your job as a writer is to distill the chaos and complication of the world into something that people can understand, use, relate with, and pull apart at the same time.
We’ve used words in this way to push society and culture forward. If you’re trying to do that, you’re real, and if you’re not trying to do that, you aren’t.
I don’t have to tell you if you’re being real or not. You know.
My advice isn’t something you’re unfamiliar with. It’s something you’re choosing to confront or not.
Writing is a fun process filled with flow that also comes with gut punches and struggle.
You have to want the yin and the yang.