5 Pieces of Writing Advice I’d Give My Beginner Self
How to stay the course and build your writing career
Zero. Nothing. Nada.
I remember zero. You have no audience, no traffic, no connections, no experience, no plan, no strategies, and no idea what will happen in the future.
I’m not nearly done with my writing career nor do I feel like I’ve totally arrived, but I have done enough work to feel very far away from the starting point. It’s almost hard to remember.
One thing I do remember from the early days? You just feel so far away from success.
You look at the ‘big shots’ with their giant email lists, income reports, viral articles, and it’s hard to grasp that those results are even real.
It’s hard to grasp that these big-shot bloggers were once at zero. But, they were.
If you find yourself at zero, or close to it, heed this advice — the advice I would give to my former self when I just started.
Keep Focusing on the Fun — The Fun Will Drive You
Making a living writing is awesome. It’s the goal. The dream. But if you focus too much on that outcome, you’ll never get it.
You like writing? Good. Hold onto that and focus on writing for writing’s sake for a while. The money will come later. Focus on the deeper reason why you want to be a writer in the first place.
You want your voice to be heard.
You have a lot to say.
If you’re a writer, you’re a thinker. And exercising your thinking skills by getting your thoughts out of your head and onto the page will make you feel good, really good. Focus on doing that, take the joy you feel from doing it, and store it in your soul’s bank account.
Not to get all cheesy on you, but writing feeds your soul. Each time you hit that publish button it’s like you’re telling yourself “I trust you.” And that’s all you need to be a successful writer — trust.
Trust that you will get better. Trust that you’ll get the outcomes you want in the future and trust that even if you don’t entirely know what you’re doing, you’ll figure it out if you simply don’t quit.
If You Stick With Writing, You’ll Get Really Fucking Good At It
You can’t fathom how much better you’ll get if you just keep going. In the beginning, you’ll focus on mastering different techniques and you’ll be clumsy. The words won’t come out exactly the way you want them to.
And like Ira Glass said in his famous quote about the taste gap
“For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.”
Don’t beat yourself up for not being great yet. Don’t beat yourself up for sucking.
You’re supposed to suck.
Think about this deeply and logically for a second. Why would you be any good at writing right now? You’re a beginner. Why would you be successful right now? Why would anyone want to read your writing right now? You’re a beginner.
Do you watch movies from people who just picked up a camera for the first time? No? Oh. Why not?
Would you want to watch athletes who never practiced a sport? Oh. No? You prefer to watch athletes who relentlessly practice their craft since childhood? You don’t say.
I look at some of my old writing and it looks like another human being wrote it.
That’s how good you’ll get if you practice.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Other Writers
Here’s the thing about writing — it’s not a pure meritocracy. Some writers will get lucky, go viral, and build an entire career off the coattails of a single article. I’ve seen it happen more than one.
Some writers have to wait longer for their moment than perhaps they should. Bukowski wrote for 25 years before he got a book deal. Seth Godin got rejected by 900 publishers — 900.
A handful of publishers, who now hate themselves, passed on Harry Potter. 50 Shades of Grey probably isn’t in the top 100,000 romance novels in terms of prose quality, but it struck a nerve.
You just don’t know. Just like you can’t predict success in life, period, you can’t predict how your writing career will turn out.
I started writing on Medium in November 2015 and quit my job to become a full-time writer in June 2019. I’ve seen writers go from zero to $100,000 in less than a year. I’ve seen writers go viral and get book deals. Also, I’ve seen writers get hot and flame out. Throughout that time span, I only focused on being the best writer Ayodeji Awosika can be because Ayodeji Awosika is the only person I can be.
You can’t be me, so don’t compare yourself to me. You can’t be anyone else either, so don’t compare yourself to them.
As you progress in your career, I guarantee you’ll observe writers blow up who you feel more skilled than. You’ll wonder why certain articles hit and certain ones miss. You’ll see viral articles that don’t appear all that good to you. You’ll go through periods where you think people just don’t “get you.”
Regardless, you can’t control any of that shit, so don’t try. And as best you can, don’t focus on it. You’re human, so you’re going to compare yourself to others to a degree.
When you find yourself doing that, the best thing you can do is figure out how to reverse engineer their success. Don’t stew in envy. It’s useless.
Find the Best Match Between What You Want to Write and What People Want to Read
You have a double-sided problem.
On the one hand, you don’t want to pander to your audience and be inauthentic. On the other hand, you can’t just write whatever the hell you feel like and build an audience at the same time. Well, you can, but it’s a lot more difficult.
I look at it this way.
You don’t ever need to become wealthy from writing. Writing is one of the worst ways to make wealth anyway. But you probably do want to make a living from it. To do that, you’ll probably have to find a healthy medium.
Don’t write self-improvement articles if you don’t like self-improvement. Yes, it’s the most commercially successful form of blogging by far, but you’ll hate yourself for selling your soul.
Also, don’t write poems about your vagina and expect to make $10,000 months on Medium. Find the middle-ground that works.
I’ve seen plenty of writers on Medium who don’t adhere to any of the traditional blogging rules.
In fact: here’s a really good article about why you don’t need to do that at all.
Interestingly enough, the author of the article blocked me. That’s fine. Shame, though because I actually agree with her article wholeheartedly.
I get it. I’m one of the writers she’s talking about in the post — people who give writing advice that box you in. And she’s right. I do box people into frameworks on purpose.
Why? So you don’t quit.
You can definitely take a much more experimental route with your writing and you don’t have to take writing advice from anyone, but then you also can’t have it both ways and get upset at the readers for not liking your work, capish?
And when you don’t get the feedback you want from readers, odds are, you’ll quit. You’ll complain about how people don’t “get you” and you’ll fold like a cheap lawn chair. I’ve seen it happen over and over again. I’d rather give you frameworks to help you have a chance at a career than the alternative.
Learn the rules to break them. Or don’t listen to me at all. Not putting a gun to your head. It’s your life after all.
The message I take away from her article isn’t that you should expect people to read your work just because you wrote it. Rather, you should write your best work
Writing what equates to self-centered journal entries with a totally blind eye to your readers isn’t your best work. It’s easy to do, selfish, and counterproductive.
And it’s just as easy to fool yourself into thinking your random ramblings equate to “art” as it is to lust after commercial success.
Do the hard work to become great without compromising your soul.
Write Your Little Heart Out and Don’t Quit
This is one of my favorite quotes about writing. In her book Tiny Beautiful Little Things, Cheryl Strayed had this piece of advice for a writer who didn’t feel far along enough in her writing career at the ripe age of…26.
“Write like a motherfucker”
‘Just write’ is simultaneously the tritest and useful piece of writing advice anyone can ever give you.
If you want me to throw a number on it, fine. Write for 24 months straight before you decide whether or not to throw in the towel. Until then, no complaining.
Overall, if you want to write, then shouldn’t writing be a lifelong adventure?
Why are you in such a rush?
Relax, friend. Stick with it and you’ll have plenty of fun and adventure along the way. You won’t stay at zero and you will get traction. But only if you write.
One day, you’ll look back on everything you’ve done and you won’t even feel like you did it. All those little writing sessions add up to a career and if you focus on each session itself, the time as a whole will fly by.
I have no inflated promises for you. Odds are, it will take years for you to have the type of success you want.
But you’re not doing anything better anyway.
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