There are so many different routes to writing success. That’s why I love it. You never have to be boxed in. As long as you’re able to find the intersection between the things you love to write and the things people love to read, you can have a successful writing career.
But you have to have both. Look, if you spend a long-time writing a certain way and it still doesn’t resonate, it might be time to look in the mirror. It’s not the readers’ job to love your writing, it’s your job to write stuff people love to read. Most aspiring writers who fail misdiagnose the problem. In their minds, they’re this ahead of their time artistic genius who readers just don’t get. In reality? They’re entitled and unwilling to change.
They’re unwilling to fit their writing into one of these three frameworks that work for every single genre of writing. These three frameworks don’t miss. If people aren’t reading your stuff, it’s because you’re not hitting these marks, period. Put your work through the lens of these three types of writing to see if you’re on the right path.
Entertainment: Captivate Your Readers With Your Stories
A lot of writers are just boring. Instead of telling a fascinating tale of their adventures, they just write random stories about their lives that have no connection.
Take my main genre of self-improvement. Everybody already knows what they need to do to improve. If you want to stand out in that field you need a bit of flair. I lace my advice articles with dark humor, sarcasm, random pop-culture references, and other little techniques the address the truth about the self-help industry — it’s partially an entertainment industry.
When it comes to capturing in general, just know how far down the list reading is, even for people who like to read. Like Ryan Holiday said:
“Your writing isn’t just in competition with other writing, it’s also in competition with “movies, apps and free high definition pornography,”
People love to be entertained. Life can be mundane, even painful. People need an outlet to escape from time to time. If your writing provides that, people will pay attention. Tell stories, but tell stories that make people laugh, cry, or both. When you’re done writing, read over your work as an objective viewer.
Would you be entertained by your writing if you were a stranger? If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll know when the answer is “no.”
Education: Help your Readers Become Better
It’s interesting, on the one hand, people can fall into the trap of endless entertainment, but we also have this desire to learn, to level up, to grow. So we seek out information. We’re always looking for answers because humans are a curious species — this curiosity drove us to build what we have today.
“How to,” posts are popular for a reason. If you can help people improve an area of their life they’ll appreciate your work. There’s no need to try to be an expert. Share what you know about a certain subject people want to learn about. Share “advice as autobiography,” as James Altucher puts it. Meet people where they are and share what you’ve learned through experience.
Sprinkle in the experiences of others who’ve been through the journey themselves, cite sources, and add your personal mix to an already established canon:
“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” — André Gide
The desire for help and education through writing will never go away, even if some people criticize the industry. Even if you’re not teaching lessons overtly, you can write in a way that helps people understand something new about themselves.
The most popular stories — from sections of The Bible to The Alchemist — weave in a lesson or two about life. Many of the great novels teach you something about yourself or about life as a whole through the process of reading them. Entertainment can educate — think of comedians who tell deep truths. Make your reader a better person for having read your work and they’ll become loyal fans.
Inspiration: Fill the Craving Readers Have In Their Life
Medium has cracked down on click-bait. Much of that crackdown has gone against articles in my realm — articles that aim to inspire. That’s okay with me because I believe in the power of inspiration no matter how much other people will try to tamp it down.
People love feeling inspired. Ephemeral as it can be, inspiration lifts people up from their darkness, gives them hope, and every once in a while, leads to true change in their lives. You don’t have to be a “rah-rah,” cheerleader, but if you can find a way to lift people up with your words, your readers will come back for more.
I wasn’t always an author. I used to be a drug dealer, a womanizer, and an alcoholic — not much of a good person at all. At one point I had enough of the depression and darkness and looked for sources of inspiration.
I started hanging out with more positive people, read inspirational books, listened to TED talks, and the inspiration I drew from these sources helped me become a better person. Inspiration isn’t a substitute for work.
I still had to take action, but it started with inspiration. When used wisely, giving the gift of inspiration helps people change for the better. Find a way to use your experiences to help others make a change in themselves.
If Possible, Hit all Three Notes At Once
Great writing is alchemy — you take bits of entertainment, mix in some education, and add a dash of inspiration, in order to create remarkable work.
Writers are like chefs. We all have the same ingredients available to us. The ones who set themselves apart master the mixture of these ingredients. With practice, it can be done. Tinker. Play around with the elements. Repeat the process.
You can master the craft of writing. I’m convinced that talent doesn’t mean much when it comes to being successful at anything. You may never become a Hemingway, Vonnegut, Rowling, or R.R Martin, but if you commit to the craft, while also paying attention to your readers, you’ll become a bonafide wordsmith.
I continue to repeatedly learn the same lesson when it comes to writing: You’ll never be successful until you get out of your own way. The next time you publish something and it falls flat, ask yourself if it contained any of these elements of successful writing. Chances are it doesn’t.
Don’t fret. Go back to the drawing board. Use these ingredients as your checklist. Your favorite writer had to grow into the writer they’ve become. You have to grow, too. Keep going.
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