In my first year of blogging I was read over 4 million times, mostly through a cunning strategy I call “screwing up and learning”.
Let me save you some time. Here are the 5 most surprising lessons I learned:
The cold, unfeeling universe does not give two shits about you or your writing.
Anyone can walk into a bookstore and pick from Shakespeare, Pratchett, JK Rowling and a million more. Tell me (a) is your writing more deserving of attention and (b) how would anyone even know?
This may sound dispiriting, and it’s meant to. We live at the centre of our own private universes, which can fool us into thinking the world responds to our merits, as we see them. If you believe this, you’re in for a lifetime of tear-stained keyboards.
If you acknowledge the truth, you can arm yourself accordingly.
You are in competition with every other distraction on the Internet. Your beautifully written sonnet must joust for attention against Miley Cyrus with a kitten.
If you want an audience, don’t write for yourself. Forget yourself. Start with:
Let’s say you’re writing for casual bloggers. It’s not hard to think of things that casual bloggers might struggle with (“How to win your first thousand followers”), find entertaining (“My blog cost me my job, wife and kids”) or inspiring (“How my blog got me a date with Natalie Portman”). Start there.
Brilliant intellectuals can appreciate content on a purely intellectual basis. For everyone else, there’s urgent news, sex, themselves, gossip and sex.
You know when you feel compelled to click on a link? You don’t have time to think about it. Hooks are entirely emotional:
These emotions can be conveyed in a headline. Your headline is where you will win or lose most of your audience. A title in a tweet is judged and dismissed by 99% of your audience before they see another word; ensure yours punches them in their emotional face.
Editing is a superpower which can turn charcoal into diamonds. Most people seem content to shovel coal.
Don’t mistake editing for proof reading. Editing is where you take your work apart in a blender, rearrange, rewrite and rethink everything. Everything. At a minimum, you must edit for:
I personally spend 2-3x as much time editing as writing. It makes all the difference.
If you’re searching for an audience, it doesn’t take long to realise that the famous get most of the attention. The mistake is to assume this dooms you to failure. You just need to become slightly more famous.
It’s slowest at the start, which is where most people give up. My writing did nothing for 4 months; later that year I had 4 million views. Write continuously, and test everything you can think of. Think of it like tuning a radio.
To win in the long term, your platform must efficiently convert readers into followers. Forget likes and tweets; followers are what you’re after. If you write something and it doesn’t clearly encourage people to follow you, you’re playing the wrong game. Also, follow me on Twitter.
Some writers may find this a bit dirty. Well, yes. Unfortunately, it’s also how people work. You must appeal to their nature before you can win them over with your writing. Otherwise, no-one will even know what wonders they’re even missing.
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