7 Important Questions for New and Emerging Writers

Apr 10, 2020
 A photo of the author, created by the author.

 

I am only a few months into my writing journey and it’s overwhelmed me at times. There are so many different tips and tricks. I found it easy to become like a zombie. I passively read advice while not taking anything in and considered it productive. I’ve been lost several times and only had a fragile idea of what I even wanted. It’s useful to think of your writing as a startup. A solid plan can set yourself up for success. I adapt my plan as I learn more but my baseline guides me. This is the best type of investment: an investment in myself.

Peter Thiel in Zero To One outlines seven critical questions all startup owners should ask themselves.

 

1. The Engineering Question

Do you have the writing skills?

This may seem like an obvious question but we’ve all come across poor writing. I have started to read incoherent articles riddled with typos before clicking away.

Meeting the bare minimum standard isn’t hard and free tools such as Grammarly and the Hemingway app make this easy. These tools help me a lot because I’m not a natural. Not being perfect is okay as long as you try to improve. Being a good writer doesn’t give anyone a pass on this question. Being good can be the enemy of being great.

Let’s face it, there are millions of good aspiring writers out there. If you want success you need to aim to be great. Peter Thiel suggests you need to be ten times better than the competition.

This hyperbole does have a point though, and you can see it in the top writers. If they haven’t got complacent, their quality makes the average piece look puny. I’m not about to win a Nobel prize for literature any time soon. Yet I trust in two of my skills:

  1. My ability to explain complex information in simple terms.
  2. My ability to learn quickly.

Combined these skills give me the belief I can craft valuable articles. I try to play to my strengths

 

2. The Timing Question

Is this the right time?

I don’t know about you but my attention is constantly pulled in 100 directions. Writing is rarely a quick win and focus is needed for sustainable success. Writing takes me much longer than I expected. I’m starting to get faster now but there was a steep learning curve for me.

By choosing to spend more time writing means you need to spend less time doing something else. If you don’t want to give up anything else then maybe this isn’t the right time for you. That is completely ok!

You don’t need to write because Buzzfeed is telling you it’s a quick way to make extra cash. Write because it’s something you want to do now. There is no point in stressing out about writing if other things are of higher priority to you.

I have an addictive personality. I knew if I began writing then I sure as hell would end up spending countless hours analyzing my progress. I didn’t start writing until I had other habits in control. I waited until I was in a good place where I could enjoy my journey. If I had too much change going on in my life then trying to write would stress me out.

 

3. The Monopoly Question

Can you dominate?

This is tricky for writers. There are so many people writing in every imaginable niche. Yet it is not impossible. If your ambition is to make a full-time income from your content, you will almost certainly need to be one of the best if not the best in your category. You must believe in yourself for this to happen.

Check out who the current superstars are in your niche. Do you think you’ll ever be as good as them? I have a long way to go but I believe I can one day get there. The trick for this is to start small. Can you dominate a smaller segment of your niche? Try to be a top writer on one platform first for instance and use other platforms to support yourself.

A leader in one area will find it easier to move to another and keep fans. Sean Kernan who became a Top Writer on Quora in 2018 is a great example. When he writes on other platforms, he brings gravitas and self-belief.

I always read up on a topic before I write on it. It’s important to check out the competition. If there’s already something better than what I could write then I learn and move on. When I read other people’s work and think I can do better then I’m onto a winner!

 

4. The People Question

Do you have the support around you to be a success?

There is the myth of the stoic writer who locks themselves away and produces masterpiece after masterpiece. I’ve relied on many people so far. Every article I’ve published has been read by at least one other person before I’ve pressed publish. A family member will give it a read for sanity and spellchecking. Afterward, another writer will read and check my message is coming across how I intended.

I made a list of people I know who I could send my articles to. These people are awesome because they hold me to account. I know they will be honest when my writing needs improvement! All is not lost if you don’t know anyone personally who can help. Try to connect with other writers through social media. You may be able to find your perfect buddy!

Don’t be stubborn and ignore all help. How can anyone hope to improve if they are not getting any feedback?

 

5. The Distribution Question

How are you going to get people to read your work?

If someone knows a way to use writing to earn them a living wage without any readers, my ears are wide open! You could be a brilliant writer and be improving all the time yet getting nowhere. Producing good work doesn’t mean people will find it and consume it. A misunderstood version of Say’s Law is: “whatever is produced, will be demanded.”

It’s easy to see why this isn’t true. A cobbler can produce the best shoes in the world but if no one knows about it, he won’t sell any shoes. When starting from zero followers, the key thing for me was how to expand. The obvious answer is to use established publications. The wider the reach, the better. What publications are there in your area of expertise? Can you break into the mainstream with a publication like Forbes? Maybe your area is less popular but people are willing to pay for quality.

It is entirely possible a niche simply doesn’t have a valuable audience. If you want to write, this shouldn’t stop you but it should manage your expectations.

 

6. The Durability Question

Do you have the ideas and willpower to last?

I have no problem with generating ideas. I find it easy to come up with potential articles and currently have a list of over 50 titles that I’d like to write about. This isn’t the case for everyone though. If you can only come up with a couple of potential article ideas then content creation may not be your thing.

I often read advice telling people to write every day no matter what. Writing can be hard and it does take time to get comfortable. At the start, though there should be some motivation and enthusiasm. Otherwise, why bother?

If months go by and you aren’t enjoying writing or seeing results then what will keep you going? At the start, it is useful to set yourself a minimum target. Big time writers can give advice tinged with survivor bias. Many people will have tried the same things and not seen any growth. Yet you’re very unlikely to hear from them.

I set my expectations low and have exceeded them. I’m riding a wave of writer’s high. If my earnings were to fall below $X a month despite giving it my all then I would probably explore a different opportunity.

 

7. The Secret Question

What makes you special?

I strongly believe every person in the world could teach me something new. My life is unique and valuable and so is yours. My secret is my wide variety of interests which allows me to weave together lessons from different areas. Find me another person on Earth who has taught both martial arts and dance, traveled to nearly 50 countries and ran over a dozen obstacle course races. That’s without jumping into the way my brain works.

Be unique. Always think about how to bring your personality and your experience to your writing. There are millions of writers online, all of them are unique but so many don’t show it in their writing. Don’t be one of them because you’ll quickly be forgotten.

Study the people who are stars and see how you can tell it’s them writing even if you didn’t look at the name. The stars are still normal people just like me and you. We can get there too.

 

Summary

When in the early stages of your writing career, it’s useful to think of yourself as a startup. If you want to be successful, can you answer the 7 questions below?

  1. The Engineering Question: Do you have the writing skills?
  2. The Timing Question: Is this the right time?
  3. The Monopoly Question: Can you dominate?
  4. The People Question: Do you have the support and right people around you to be a success?
  5. The Distribution Question: How are you going to get people to read your work?
  6. The Durability Question: Do you have the ideas and willpower to last?
  7. The Secret Question: What makes you special?

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