I started my blog as a new freelance writer in 2015. Over the years I have published over 400 articles, 7 books and 7 online courses.
There have been disappointments and challenges along the way. But I’ve come to realize that new authors have a better chance of success if they avoid common mistakes and follow “best practices” from the start.
“Success” can mean many different things. To me, that means making a good living. It’s not necessary to get rich (which is also great, but not the main goal).
Here are 5 important lessons I’ve learned about being successful as a writer. These things may seem obvious, but I wouldn’t overlook them. Success is often easier than we think.
It’s all about execution. So we went.
Stick to limited research time
“Where do I get ideas?” “What am I writing about?” “I’m stuck with my writing!”
Whether you’re writing an article, a book, or an email, when you feel stuck, it’s usually because you lack ideas or insight.
This means you need more research. You may want to read a relevant book or article on the subject. Or watch documentaries and talk to teachers.
Just remember, try not to get too caught up in your research.
We always want to get things done as quickly as possible. For example, if you’re writing a blog post about meditation, you don’t need to read every book on meditation.
When you do your research, give yourself a reasonable deadline. And stick to it.
Think of 1 person
When people talk about writing for a target market, new writers tend to define a whole group of people, like, “I want to write for all millennials.” Which is normal. But that’s easier said than done. Unless you’ve published your work and received real feedback, it’s hard to predict what kind of work your audience will like.
I have also verified this on my own readers. My newsletter includes a wide variety of people from all walks of life: 70-year-old retirees, college students, middle-aged small business owners, twenty-something professionals, Fortune 500 CEOs, and so on.
The solution? Think of 1 person. This is a simpler and more effective strategy. Then ask yourself:
- Who is it for?
- What are the main issues/concerns on this person’s mind?
- How can my piece help solve my reader’s problem/concern?
When you focus on one person, your writing becomes more clear and direct. This is also how you can discover your unique writing style.
Try to avoid the natural desire to please everyone. You just might be surprised at how many people will enjoy your work.
Avoid “proving” your point
When I first started writing, I often made a mistake common among new writers: over-explaining. I was afraid that my readers would not understand or appreciate what I was trying to say. So I make up for it by proving myself with my words.
But it has the opposite effect. Earlier I talked about how tries too hard makes you less convincing. This is true for writing as well.
To borrow a phrase from Kevin Hart, writing “how to fart. If you push too hard, things can get messy very quickly.”
If you over-explain, you tend to use more words than necessary. Effective writing is about saying enough. Also, when people try too hard, they look weak or needy.
Sometimes we do this in natural conversations.
- “Here’s an interesting story.”
- “What I’m about to tell you will probably shock you.”
Sometimes we have problems let’s go straight to our business. We tell, not show.
If you’re used to announcing things rather than just moving on to your thought/story/idea, this can become a habit. So a good rule of thumb is to try to delete the first sentence or paragraph of your text while editing.
“Show, don’t tell,” as the cliché goes. Never ignore this lesson!
To serve the reader
Think of those salespeople who approach you on the street and thrust their leaflets or merchandise into your hand. Or how about car salesmen who use tactics on you. “Someone came in this morning who really wanted that car.” Yes, exactly.
Even if we need products, we probably won’t buy them from people who are trying to cheat us.
No one wants to feel like they’ve been sold something. The same with writing. Readers are smart. People will instantly tell that you are trying to trick them.
You need to write from the heart! It should be honest. Otherwise, it will never make an impact.
If you focus on the reader, your text will be heard. Dale Carnegie said it best in the classic, How to win friends and influence people:
“Talk to someone about yourself and they’ll listen for hours.”
When we write, it’s not about us. It’s always about the reader. When we focus on informing, entertaining or helping our readers, rather than selling, we actually bring value to our readers. And when we provide value, others will reward us for it.