All of these takeaways, and more, are recapped in a cheat sheet at the bottom of this page.
Personally, I'm ready to write a piece once I've reached two thresholds:
You don't need multiple novel ideas to start. Good ideas emerge in the process of writing:
If being given this process is not enough to get you to write, you might be struggling with one of the following blockers.
Writers fear having their posts judged.
Curiously, these same writers have no problem Tweeting strong opinions.
The difference? The medium. So the story goes: People read tweets as low-conviction and off-the-cuff whereas blog posts as interpreted as the author's rigorously researched, ironclad gospel.
Therefore, if a blog post contains errors, readers have license to intellectually attack the author — because the author is dangerously peddling nonsense.
At least, that's what half the aspiring writers I polled tell themselves.
Instead of worrying, strategize solutions to manage anxiety:
I have two shortcuts for finding topics you're passionate about:
If you find it hard to sit yourself down and open your faucet of ideas, talk to someone: Call a friend, tell them what's on your mind, and jot down the interesting remarks you both make. That'll generate talking points to write from.
If you're passionate about an idea but you lack the interesting insights, you need to consume before you produce: Read blogs and books on your topic, highlight interesting parts, and bank good ideas to pull from when writing your first draft.
Nearly every blogger started with an audience of one: themselves. If you feel it's not worth your time to start from the bottom like everyone else, I doubt you're truly passionate about writing. You're after fame. If that's the case, do something attention-grabbing on YouTube. That'll be quicker.
If you are in fact in love with the written word, know this: thanks to the algorithmic and discoverable nature of online distribution, all good work is eventually recognized. And, when it catches, readership growth can be exponential.
The audience building process is simple, but it takes persistence: continually write high quality posts then put a bit of time into spreading the word. Potential distribution channels include newsletters, SEO, reddit, Twitter, and so much more.
Finally, here's where to start: cater to a niche of passionate people. Write thoughtful, quality content that no one else is offering them. They'll be ecstatic that someone is finally speaking to them. They'll engage deeply and shout your work from the rooftops. That'll make audience growth a lot easier.
Once you've saturated your niche, incrementally expand: Let's say you began by writing for American bicycling enthusiasts. Next, you could expand to bikers across the world. Then to hikers and runners, and eventually to all outdoor enthusiasts.
If you procrastinate occasionally, that’s normal. Forgive yourself.
But, if you procrastinate endlessly, that’s a problem. Read on.
Procrastination is the result of two behaviors:
Chip away at your post by focusing on the parts that are fun and quick to write. Do this a few times until momentum takes over and you find yourself writing the whole article.
That's the benefit of writing your introduction first, as per my method: Your intro is a small, approachable step. The next step is simple too: gather feedback.
Iterate from there.
Have you noticed how much writing we get done on planes? Despite having our knees and shoulders scrunched together?
Why is that?
It's because there's nothing else to do. No one to talk to.
This reveals a contrarian truth about writing: Needing a comfy chair, room, or ambience is a myth. If you're waiting until your room is the perfect temperature to begin writing, you're lying to yourself.
What you do need is to be militant about the removal of distractions:
Sit yourself down and write a weak draft as fast as you can. You'll find yourself procrastinating much less during rewriting, because all the upfront tedium is gone.
Procrastination over the span of months instead of weeks is a sign that you chose a topic you’re not as passionate about as you first thought.
It's time for a new topic. A new direction.
Revisit my topic objectives and cross-check them with what motivates you today.
You should be a writer if two things are true:
My youngest child asked me the other day, ‘Mummy, if you had to choose between us and writing, what would you choose?’ And I said, ‘Well I would choose you but I would be very, very grumpy.’
Don't practice writing by aiming for a weekly output of words or posts. Word count is a dumb goal that measures your output volume instead of your output quality.
Heck, rewriting often reduces your word count.
Instead, focus on improving the clarity of your thinking and your eye for rewriting.
Writing persuasive essays is an efficient way to do this.
Persuasive writing requires logic and clarity. If you’re neither, readers cannot follow your arguments to become convinced of them. And if you fail to be succinct and intriguing, readers quit before digesting your full argument.
But what should you write about? Simply ask yourself, What's bothering you most right now? Write a post where you work through that—and get to a conclusion.
This is how I start every time. Writing is therapy that you publish for the world to learn from.
Note that I share a lot more advice on honing your writing on my Twitter feed.
Great writers make a game out of rewriting:
The more posts you run this process on, the better the writer you become. Personally, I believe I wrote 30 posts before rewriting finally clicked for me.
To learn what a job well done looks like, dissect your favorite posts: highlight the best and worst parts of each and identify what makes them so.
Writers who post frequently (say, twice weekly) are rarely worth reading consistently. I read for insights. And no writer can generate profound insights on a fixed schedule. I aggregate writers who publish sporadically. When they post, they truly have something to say.
From the writer's perspective, frequent writing is good for building a writing habit and improving writing skills. But that's mutually exclusive from my point.
If you love a writer because their work elegantly captures how you feel about the world, you're reading for entertainment.
If instead you love a writer because they challenge your perspective and expand your thinking into new territory, then you're reading for education.
With that in mind, here are writers whose work entertains and educates me:
First, read the post below in its entirety. Then, re-read it while referencing my commentary underneath.
Below are blog posts that exemplify the topic objectives:
One of my favorite moments of the year involved a beetle doing yoga on a desert dune. In the Namib desert in Africa, the darkling beetle's day begins with an ascent of a massive sand dune. A tiny creature faced with a Himalaya-sized trek. Undeterred, it marches on, its legs as skinny as a runner's, up towards the summit above which a fog from the Atlantic hovers.
When it gets there, the beetle inverts its body into a headstand and stands very still. Then magic occurs. No, wait, it is something more fantastic than magic, it is nature. This is a planet about to do some of its very best work.
Droplets of water form on its shell as the fog condenses on its body. Then slowly, using grooves in the beetle's casing, the water rolls into its thirsty mouth. This is how life is sustained on earth.
— Rohit Brijnath
Enjoy this read from Arthur Koestler.
What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you.
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First draft steps
First draft writing process