The 3 Main Skills That Helped Me Earn $373,000 Directly From Writing
Since I first started writing on the Medium Partner Program in September of 2017, I’ve made $317,000 dollars directly from the platform.
Since publishing my first book in 2016, I’ve made roughly $56,000 from book sales.
I’m not even counting the money I’ve made from other revenue sources like affiliate marketing, online courses, and coaching.
You can look at these figures in one of two ways. You could feel envy and resentment because you’re not making much money right now.
Or, you can feel inspired and imagine what your life would be like if you even made a fraction of that income directly with your words.
Let’s talk about the inspiration part. I’ve been on the other side of articles like this.
On the one hand, they pump you up because seeing someone get results makes you feel like you can do it, too.
But, on the other hand, you can feel envy and assume the person who publishes the post is doing so just to humblebrag.
I thought about a way to make this the most useful and inspirational article of this kind you’ve ever seen on the internet. And here’s how I’m going to do it.
- We’re going to go deep — I’m not just going to share a few empty tidbits and fluffy platitudes. I’m going to talk about these skills in a level of depth that will leave no stone unturned. I’ll share resources and examples you can use. This post is long enough and useful enough to be a book that I charge for, but I’m going to give it to you for free.
- I’m going to be brutally honest with you — I make it a point to make zero guarantees of success when it comes to my writing and I’ll never make any part of the process seem easier than it is. I’m also going to talk about the downsides of following this path because there are plenty of them.
- I’m not going to hold back extra information — I have paid programs that dive deeper into explanations of these points, but you’re going to get the blueprint, right now.
This is the type of post you can reference weeks and months into the future. You’ll have no excuses left by the time you’re done reading it.
While I’ll never guarantee success, this is about as close as you’ll get to a bulletproof method.
Are you ready to dive in? Grab some coffee, exit your other tabs, and buckle in.
Proceed With Caution
Before we dive into the skills you need to make this level of income, or even a fraction of it, with your writing, let me share a few serious caveats.
Your odds of making this amount of money are slim. You’re not going to hear me make a bunch of empty promises that you can do this because I highly doubt you will.
Not because you can’t. If you have the talent and desire, you can achieve similar outcomes. But I won’t deny the obvious truth about blogging you already know.
When it comes to making money blogging, or successful any other online business or project most people never do it.
I’m attempting to actively discourage anyone who believes in a get rich quick, or get rich at all, path.
Why? Because if you get into blogging with the wrong attitude, you’ll waste your time. I have an online course that teaches people how to earn money on Medium, but I prefer you not buy it at all if you don’t have the right qualities.
I wouldn’t have created the course at all had people not repeatedly asking me for advice. Feel free to go through as many of the valuable and free resources available.
You never need to take an online course. I. believe in the power of investing yourself, but don’t just let any random person on the internet sell you a dream. Be skeptical.
If I feel this way, why write a blog post with such a gimmicky headline? To get your foot in the door so I can tell you the brutally honest truth.
As you’ll see later in this post, as much as you say you hate clickbait, gimmicky promises, and absurd income reveals, part of you loves it too.
I wouldn’t use these methods to get you in the door if you didn’t need a little pizazz to get you to click. It’s cool to have high hopes and ambitions for your writing career, but you need one important trait.
Without This Trait, You’ll Fail As a Writer
You have to really enjoy writing and do it primarily for love, not money.
Mark Manson has an excellent quote about the path to making a living as a blogger:
As a business plan, blogs suck. They take years and thousands of hours of work to ramp up to a level where you can monetize them. And in many cases the methods you use to monetize them kill your brand and tarnish your writing’s credibility, making them impossible to turn into money-makers.
I don’t know the real numbers but I would estimate that 99% of blogs out there have no significant readership, and of those blogs that have a significant readership, 99% of those make little or no money.
He’s 100 percent right. I create this content knowing the vast majority of people won’t use it successfully. But, I got successful by being the one percent of people who do follow through.
And I’m writing this in the hopes that you’re one of those rare types. And don’t beat yourself up if you’re not one of these people. You don’t need to blog because it’s trendy or because you think it’ll make you rich.
Only start a writing career because you’ve always had that itch to write. If you’ve always had it in the back of your mind that you’ve wanted to be a writer, you’re on the right track. If not? You should quit while you’re ahead.
You don’t have to fall in love with writing the very first time you write a blog post to be successful, but to be a successful writer long-term, you’ll need to develop what is essentially a mental illness — this demon that possesses you and makes you put words on the page over and over and over again until you can build a solid audience and find your voice.
Now that I’ve been as discouraging as I possibly can, let’s talk about the skills you need to become a successful writer.
You Must Learn This Subtle Art and Science to Attract Readers
Be honest, if I titled this post “How to Gradually Build a Sustained Writing Career, Slowly, Over a Period of Years, Using Tons of Effort” you wouldn’t have clicked.
I had to ‘put some cheese on the broccoli’ to get you to digest the ‘healthy’ message.
You can write the most amazing blog post ever written, but without a solid headline, no one will read your work. I see headlines as the biggest sticking point for new writers, so I’m going to break down the process in as much detail as possible.
Before I talk specifics, you must get this lesson to sink into your brain first.
You have to write a ton of headlines to get good at writing headlines. I’ve written more than 15,000 headlines since I’ve started writing. Only one percent of them are really good.
Those one percent of headlines I’ve written created 100 percent of my viral successes. Every single morning, I write down 10 ideas for headlines. My blogging mentor, Jon Morrow, used to write 100 headlines per day.
When it comes to practicing your headlines, here are some helpful frameworks:
- People don’t buy drills, they buy holes: You want to focus on the outcomes and promises your post is going to deliver
- The two most powerful frames: When you write a headline, you want to speak to the readers fear and frustrations or their hopes and aspirations
- Listicles work: As much as people say they hate them, data shows that lists posts are still the most successful headline format
- How-to posts : This is the second most powerful headline format. People want to feel like they’ll learn or grow from reading your posts.
- Power words: Read this post that shows more than 800 different power words you can use to evoke emotions from your readers. I use a headline analyzer from the am institute that grades your headlines based on how many power words are included
- Contrast: A recent viral article I wrote had the title — 8 Really Small Things That Tell You A lot About Someone.
- Exclusive or ‘secret’ information: Check out this amazing headline from Zulie Rane for an example: The Psychological Trick That Lets You Subtly Influence Human Behaviour
- Sticky Phrases: If you can create a cool name to make a basic technique look like a unique process, it will stand out against other headlines, e.g, The Art of Detachment: How to Stay Focused and Reach Your Goals
- Numbers and figures: Using numbers and figures, especially ones the speak to saving time, attracts readers by providing a specific outcome. From blogging superstar Benjamin Hardy, This Morning Routine will Save You 20+ Hours Per Week
- Name Dropping: Using well-known names boosts your credibility due to a psychological bias called the ‘mere association effect’ Check out this headline from Matt Lillywhite (and notice he also uses the sticky name technique and power words in the same headline!), To Become Extremely Productive, Practice “The Elon Musk Effect”
Let’s take a look at some of my most successful headlines and break down why they worked so well:
- The 7 Habits of Highly Ineffective People — I added a small twist to a well-known phrase, The title of the best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. People will read the post to confirm they’re an effective person or because they’re afraid they’re ineffective. I also used a polarizing premise on purpose. If you read the comments there are just as many negative ones as positive ones. Controversy drives engagement.
- 7 Psychological Superpowers Few People Have You Can Use to Set Yourself Apart — I used over the top and gimmicky words in my headline to describe basic principles like being a good listener. Also, it makes for a shareable post because people share things that make them look good. Although the points themselves were simple, they were potent and profound enough to justify the headline.
- The 10 Most In-Demand Career and Business Skills for 2020 — People want to make money and be successful in their careers. 2020 also makes the post seem timely and relevant.
- 15 Signs Your Life is More on Track Than You Think it is — The word ‘signs’ attracts people because they’re superstitious and love to self-identity. Why do you think horoscopes are so popular? This headline reassures you. With 15 points, I’m basically guaranteeing you’ll find something in your life to feel good about.
- Use the ‘5-Year Rule’ to Create the Future You Want — I used a sticky name here instead of saying Work Hard For Five Years to be Successful. The subtle tweak of turning it into a ‘rule’ makes the process sound more proven and effective.
If you’re worried about feeling clickbaity, I’ll share a story of a conversation I had with a popular writer a few years back.
I told him I was struggling to grow my audience. He pointed out the fact that my headlines were weak. I told him I didn’t want to sound sleazy.
His response “I use clickbait all the time because…it gets people to click.”
Never listen to what people say, watch what they do. Everyone says they hate reading clickbait, but they won’t click on your articles if you don’t go the extra mile to persuade them.
You want to balance clickbaity headlines with stellar, in-depth, and solid content. I wrote a gimmicky headline, but now I’m giving you a highly tactical and useful article that will genuinely help you.
This is what you want to do with your writing.
You Need This Skill That Will Addict Readers to Your Blog Posts
When I first started blogging, I read a copywriting guide from a world-class marketing blog called copy blogger.
It opened with this premise:
The job of each sentence is to get the reader to the next sentence.
You need your points to move seamlessly from one to the next and you must understand that your readers are looking for any excuse to click away from your article.
Think about your own behavior when you’re reading blogs.
You think you already know what the blogger is going to say, but deep down you want those valuable insights. As a writer, you need to play on the cautious optimism of your reader and use techniques to keep them hooked.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Pacing and leading — If you can guess what the reader is going to think, especially an objection, and state it right away, you’ll hook them because you’re meeting them where they’re at. Once you’ve done that, you can lead them down the page to your valuable ideas
- Subheadings — Read this article on writing irresistible subheadings. It taught me most of what I know. When you write a sub-heading, you want to give the reader a hint of what’s coming next, but avoid giving it all away up-front. The same rules that apply to headlines apply to subheadings
- Transition words — Words like ‘because’ and ‘therefore’ keep your reader going along with your line of thought
- Pattern interruptions — You want to add little elements of surprise that keep your reader from getting bored. Sub-headings can work as a pattern interrupt. So can things like pictures, line breaks, bold, italics, and bullet points
- You vs. I ratio — Using the word ‘you’ makes the reader feel like you’re talking directly to them. I also will use the word ‘we’ to create comradery and make them feel like we’re in this together. You can use the word ‘I’ but avoid making the post seem like it’s all about you.
- Active voice — Instead of saying “John is the author of five best-selling books” say “John published five best-selling books”
- Sandwich technique — The beginning and end of your blog post and the beginning and end of each point tend to matter more than what’s in the middle. When writing list posts, use your best points at the beginning and at the end
- Contractions — Instead of saying ‘you will’ say ‘you’ll’
- Intros and conclusions — Your intro can make or break your post because most people use it to decide whether or not they want to keep reading. I love using the P.A.S. formula opener to keep readers hooked. When you end a post, you want to give readers a motivating rallying cry or leave them with a prompt or question that makes them think.
- Editing tips — Omit needless words. Read this book to learn top-notch editing skills. Also, remove redundant sentences. Say more with fewer words. Read your work out loud to catch odd sounding phrases.
I also use different tools to measure how readable my posts are. The Yoast SEO WordPress plugin has a ‘readability tool’ you can use to grade your blog posts.
Some other valuable tools you can use are:
- Yoast SEO — This WordPress plugin has a ‘readability tool’ you can use to grade your blog posts [screen shot below]
- Hemingway — An app that helps you write simple and precise sentences, like Ernest Hemingway
- Grammarly Premium — The premium version gives you specific insights to make your writing more engaging
If you can master just those two items alone, headlines, and streamlined content, you’ll stand out in a sea of average bloggers.
These next techniques I’m going to show you will help you consistently write popular and viral articles.
You Need to Study and Implement These Classic Mind Control Techniques
You learn one important truth when you study skills like copywriting and persuasion.
You learn that people respond to psychological tricks without their permission.
When you understand that people use emotion more than logic when it comes to decision making, you can add little wrinkles to your writing that will keep them engaged.
Think of some of the techniques you logically understand don’t matter but respond to anyways, e.g, creating a higher price then slashing it to make a ‘sale.’
Kohls once famously tried removing the word ‘sale’ from their marketing and opted to just lower the prices altogether. It backfired.
You can sell and persuade people even when they actively know you’re trying to do it.
Every writer should read these books and guides to understand persuasion:
- Copywriting 101: How to Craft Compelling Copy
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
- Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions
- The Boron Letters
- The Psychology of Human Misjudgement
At this point, I’ve learned dozens of different persuasion techniques, but some of my favorites are:
- Mere association — Citing well-known and popular people in your work makes you look credible simply because you associate yourself with them
- The P.A.S Formula — Describe a problem your reader is having, agitate the reader by explaining how their problem will get worse, provide a solution in the form of the rest of your article
- Future pacing — Describe a better future for your reader with your phrasing, e.g., “Imagine yourself six months from now” or “Picture what your life will look like if you accomplish ‘x’
- The 3 nod technique — Get your reader to silently nod their head yes to three questions or statements in a row
- Commitment consistency — Make statements to your reader about their positive character traits, e.g., “You’re a smart person.”
Use the popular S.T.E.P.P.S Formula Before You Hit Publish:
Jonah Berger detailed and shared this framework for understanding virality in his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On
- Social Currency — People share content that makes them look good. This is why a headline like “10 Qualities of Likeable People” works so well. People sharing this post are telling others they have these qualities.
- Triggers — You want to use phrases that are ‘top of mind and tip of the tongue.’ He cites the viral song Friday by Rebecca Black that triggered people to play it often once per week.
- Emotion — When we care, we share. This works both positively and negatively. You want to use high arousal emotions either way, e.g., anger, fear, outrage, inspiration, passion, and excitement.
- Public — You want to create content people want to share publicly. You can use current events and trends to create this effect.
- Practical value — Educational and how-to posts work well because people like to learn and grow
- Stories — Humans learn and share information primarily through stories. Great stories help the reader identify with them. People make the mistake of thinking that any story is a good story. People don’t care about your story, they care about the way the story makes them feel.
Now, you’re armed with the basic tools you need to create compelling articles that can help you build an audience and grow your income.
If you master this next skill, you’ll learn how to become so good they can’t ignore you.
Final Thoughts: The Next Wave is Coming
Don’t fall for the myth that you’re late to the game. Yes, it’s harder to succeed on Medium than it used to be. But I see new writers finding success not just on this platform, but in general, all the time.
Don’t be the person who says it’s too late then wastes another 5 years watching everyone else become successful.
Like I said at the beginning of the post, someone made $50,000 on Medium last month. Does that sound like a dwindling platform to you?
Look at the platforms and trends emerging as you grow.
Right now I see a trend where people are truly beginning to value and pay for, content. Ev Williams recently shared a press release about Medium.
Here’s what he had to say (and show):
As this chart shows, by the simple metric of page views, Medium has steadily (and then rapidly) grown over a long period of time […] Medium Membership (our subscription option) has grown rapidly in the three years since we launched it. With several hundred thousand members today, we are confident in the durability and scalability of the model. And, thus, we are continuing to invest in the long-term vision, for which we have much to do.
Medium is still very viable, you have platforms like Substack emerging where some writers are making upward of $384,000 per year, Medium will breed more competition, you can still publish books.
You can even reach the point where you do build a back end to your business and go from writer to true company owner. That’s what I’m working on right now.
I’m just sharing the process I used. I figure you build an audience and make a little bit of change at the same time, let it build, and continue to grow your career and income, well, forever.
You have zero excuses now. Zero. Everyone says writers are just out to make a buck. Well, I just gave you the damn near the entire for nothing. Be thankful. Hell, from now on, whenever someone asks me for writing advice I’m just going to send them this link.
Refer back to this often, check out the numerous sources and examples I started.
Write your ass off. And don’t stop. Until it works.
Learn how to become a top Medium writer with my free 5-day course.