How To Become A Successful Writer - Minutesmagazine
I tell everyone that my college education was
great for two reasons: it taught me how (and
what) to read, and it taught me how to read my
work aloud–a skill that reveals more about your
writing than any amount of silent reading ever
But my college education did not teach me about
the underlying business model of the writing
world. It didn’t explain to me how blogs and
major websites make money through digital
advertising–and how writers can earn money by
driving page views. I didn’t take a class called
Personal Branding 101, and I definitely didn’t
learn about email marketing funnels and lead
magnets and landing pages in my class on
Russian literature. Nobody walked me through
the formal publishing process, explained what a
typical royalty contract looked like, and certainly
didn’t compare that old-world approach with the
possibilities of self-publishing through Amazon.
And most of all, there was no class for the fast-
paced writing styles that drive, quite literally,
every single viral piece of writing on the internet.
These were all parts of the “digital writer” path I
had to teach myself–and all ended up being more
valuable than the hours I spent notating Crime
and Punishment .
Becoming a successful writer in the digital age is
not just about writing. That’s the foundation, of
course, but in today’s world–just as musicians
have had to become their own marketing
managers and creative directors, and even play
the role of entrepreneur–writers have to do more
than just write.
Here are the 7 skills you need to practice if you
want to become a successful writer in the digital
1. The habit of writing.
If you want to be a writer, you have to write. There
is no simpler way to say it.
If you want to be a painter, you have to paint. If
you want to be a cook, you have to cook. If you
want to be X, you have to practice X–far more
than you “think” about how badly you want to be
All through college, I watched the majority of my
peers wait to write. They were waiting to feel
inspired, waiting to see what the teacher thought
of their last piece, waiting for some outside nod
of approval instead of just getting on with it and
putting pencil to paper (or fingers to keys).
I’m here to tell you that unless you can establish
the simple practice of writing into your daily
schedule, you will never succeed. Period. Stop
reading here, because nothing else I tell you will
matter–unless you can first firmly establish this
habit into your everyday life.
If you want to become a writer, you have to write.
Every single day.
2. The art of personal
People don’t buy writing. They buy you.
In the digital age, the single most valuable thing
you can create for yourself is a brand around
who you are and whatever it is you write about.
You could be the most incredible wordsmith the
world has ever seen, but unless you have an
audience, nobody will read it–and even if you
want to go the conventional publishing route, a
publisher will see you and your work as a
gamble. You don’t have a following on the
internet. You don’t have an e-mail list of people
ready to read your next piece of work.
Nobody knows who you are, and that’s a problem.
I attribute a lot of my success as a writer to my
working knowledge of branding, positioning,
marketing, and social storytelling. And as much
as we writers would love to hide away and not
have to “put ourselves out there,” we don’t have
that luxury anymore. We are now competing
against YouTubers, Instagram stars, and viral cat
videos. People are either reading our work, or
they’re watching two cats swing from a ceiling
To attract (and keep) people’s attention, you have
to give them something to feel loyal to–and that’s
3. The patience to play the
There are two types of writing: the kind you
share, and the kind you sell.
Ninety-nine percent of artists–whether you’re a
writer, a musician, a filmmaker, a painter–want
to come out of the gate and have someone
(they’re not quite sure who, but someone) pay
them to create whatever it is they want to create.
As an independent writer, I’ve learned that
consumers buy only two things: things they like,
and things they need. Everything else, we
ignore–no matter how “brilliant” someone else
says it is. Which means, as creators, it’s our job
to adopt a similar mentality: here are the things I
create for myself (that someone else might like),
and here are the things I create to solve a
consumer need (and turn a nice profit, which
allows me to spend more time creating things I
The poetry I keep in my journal? There’s probably
a very small market for that.
A book that teaches aspiring writers how to
become successful in the digital age? Much
Now, this doesn’t mean I should never write
poetry. But this also doesn’t mean I should only
write poetry and expect to make a fortune.
4. The confidence to practice in
Nothing has done my writing more good than
regularly sharing my work on the internet.
When you publish something out in the open,
when you “practice in public” (as I like to call it),
you receive immediate feedback. You feel
vulnerable. You fear judgment. You see your work
and read your sentences with a heightened
awareness (“I can’t believe I didn’t catch that
before …”). And most of all, you practice the most
important underlying habit of all: the confidence
to admit, “This is what I wrote today–in all its
I mentor a lot of aspiring writers. Some of the
most frequent emails I receive come from those
who want to turn writing into their career–but are
afraid to share anything they’ve written: “I just
feel like I’m not there yet. I want to make my
debut when I’m ready.”
Can I give you a brutal truth?
Nobody is waiting for you. And you will never be
All artists have this fear that what they made
today isn’t good enough–and if they share it,
what will happen five, 10 years later when they
look back? Won’t everyone laugh at how bad it is?
Won’t it be a disgrace?
That’s certainly one way to look at it. But in all
honesty, I don’t see it that way at all.
In fact, there’s nothing I enjoy more than looking
back at something I wrote years ago and seeing
where my writing style was at, at that time. It’s
like witnessing a younger version of myself–and I
can, with infinite more clarity, see how I’ve
improved since then.
5. The humility to cut what
wastes the reader’s time.
I had someone reach out to me recently who
described my writing style as “minimalistic.”
I’d never thought about it that way–but that’s an
accurate word for it.
Some writers love description. They want you to
see every blade of grass, every leaf on the tree,
every long and winding grain in the tree trunk
turned kitchen table. Other writers love dialogue.
They want you to hear their characters talk, and
talk, as if their voices were lined with gold and a
pleasure to listen to indefinitely. Some writers live
by the facts, and color their paragraphs with
statistics and footnotes and miscellaneous
information intended to add further depth to the
topic at hand. And some writers just want to float
on their stream of consciousness, letting their
words guide the way without ever intervening and
making a conscious decision to stop and move on
to the next point or moment in time.
To each their own, but from my experience (and
I’ve written close to 2,000 pieces online), readers
in the digital world have only so much patience.
They just want you to get to the point–Netflix
shows do this addictingly well.
Part of writing in the digital age means
understanding your audience–and today’s
readers barely have the patience to sit through a
two-sentence tweet or a seven-second Snapchat
Paragraphs and paragraphs of static description
is a lot to ask of today’s readers, and a good
many writers fail because they refuse to adjust.
6. The mastery of multiple
As an independent writer, the ability to write with
a range of voices will be your most valuable (and
easiest to monetize) skill.
There are dozens of different voices a writer
should hone throughout his or her career–
including all the writing voices that need to be
deployed to effectively market yourself as a
There is an art to writing sales copy, an art to
writing e-mail sequences, an art to writing social
media posts that can leave an impact on a
reader in three or four sentences. There is an art
to writing articles that subtly promote your work,
an art to writing e-books that readers will want to
download. And the reason why it’s so important
to nurture these business-focused voices is
because either you’re going to learn how to do it
for yourself, or you’re going to have to hire
someone (like me) to do it for you.
Part of being a successful writer in the digital age
means being more than just a writer.
You have to be the creative director, the marketer,
and the social media strategist too.
7. The willingness to be both
an artist and an entrepreneur.
I really do believe that every artist today has to
also become an entrepreneur–if he or she wants
to be successful independently.
This dual-specialization is probably the hardest
skill for an artist to acquire. They are two
opposing forces, both striving toward very
different goals. As an artist, you want to express
yourself and write what feels most truthful. As an
entrepreneur, you are always searching for
what’s going to perform well, resonate with
readers, and ultimately sell.
As someone who spent years facilitating
imaginary conversations between both sides of
myself–the artist and the entrepreneur–in search
of balance, it took me a long time to fully
understand that you can’t have one without the
You cannot become a successful writer (or artist
period) in the digital age without some sense of
awareness of how the business world works.
The entrepreneur in you is the part you want
showing up to meetings. The entrepreneur is the
one you want negotiating deals, contracts,
opportunities, and more. The entrepreneur is the
one you want to empower to protect your inner
artist, and to have the working knowledge of the
business world so you don’t find yourself giving
up 80 percent ownership over your work–or
worse, writing for minimum wage.
I am a writer, through and through. It’s who I am
in my heart. I couldn’t imagine going a single day
without finding a quiet place to write something,
anything, that I feel.
But had I not honed my skills as an
entrepreneur, I might still be scouring Craslist
for the next opportunity to write articles for $25 a
I've been trying to up my pen-game for a while now without success. There's nothing more brain stimulating than a good write-up with the words flowing seamlessly. The problem has been consistency. Hopefully I'll have time these days to practice more.