How to Become a Writer And Make a Living With Your Words

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Lots of people want to learn how to become a writer. And there’s a ton of information online that will show you the step-by-step methods to do it.

This post is no different, except that it’s going to talk about a critical element that gets missed by pretty much all of the articles that talk about not just how to become a writer but become a better writer.

What’s that critical element? Mindset. If you don’t come into the writing game with the right type of thinking, it’s going to be hard to succeed. All the steps in the world aren’t going to help you if you don’t have the motivation, will, and discipline to actually complete them.

See, I’m not one of these writing gurus who’s going to make the process seem like it’s all sunshine and roses. If you want to become a writer, it’s a process that’s going to push you mentally. Also, you’re going to have to make sacrifices in the process.

So before you get to the steps themselves, ask yourself, are you willing to pay the price? The rewards are plenty. I’ve made nearly half a million dollars from writing alone. My words have been read by millions of people across the world. I’ve published three books with hundreds of positive reviews for each.

But, it took me years to reach this point. Not only that but there were many times in the process I wanted to give up altogether. How’d I make it to the finish line? By being willing to make the sacrifices I’m about to share with you.

So, first, I’m going to talk about the basics of how to become a writer. Next, I’m going to talk about the mindset you need to become a better writer. Last, I’ll give you even more tips on how to get better at writing over time to the point you have a refined voice and an audience who loves your work.

Step 1: Become a Blogger (Even if You Don’t Want to be)

This is my bias speaking here. I can only teach what I know.

But even if you eventually want to write more esoteric, flowery, philosophical stuff, you should become a regular ol’ blogger first.


Because blogging teaches you skills most people with ‘Hemingway Syndrome’ lack:

  • Discipline – Blogging teaches you that boots and lunch pail attitude you need to build a writing habit
  • Audience – If you want to have a writing career, you need people to, um, support you. Traditional blogging techniques help break the habit of using the word ‘I’ 3,539 times per blog post
  • Marketing – Blogging (and promoting your stuff) rids you of the idea that you’ll get to sit in a cabin, drink whiskey, smoke a pipe, write your book on a typewriter, magically get accepted by Harper Collins, and become famous

Aside from the skills you learn, you also have a better chance of making a career as a writer through blogging.

How to Begin Writing For An Audience and Building a Habit

I suggest you start writing for an audience right away.

Why? Because you get useful feedback.

Of course, you never try to pander to an audience, but you can’t write stuff no one wants to read either.

If I had to start all over, here’s exactly what I’d do.

Start a Self-Hosted Blog

You want a self-hosted blog because it provides a home for your writing on the internet, which is important.

We’re going to soon talk about other places to publish your work and get an audience faster, but it’s important to have your own blog because platforms come and go.

In the beginning, very few people will come to your self-hosted blog, but you should still get it set up right away:

Here’s a quick guide to help you get started.

Sign Up for a Medium Account

Medium is awesome.

If you’re not on Medium yet, you’re missing out.

Medium is a website that allows anyone to sign up and start publishing your work right away.

You can even get paid for your writing. With Medium’s Partner Program, you can put your work behind a paywall and get paid based on how Medium members engage with your content.

I personally know people who went from zero to a full-time writer in a year using Medium. Those results aren’t typical whatsoever, but it’s a great jumping-off point for any aspiring writer.

Here are some guides to help you get started:

Medium Writing Tips

How to Get Thousands of Views by Publishing on Medium

Is Medium Rigged? How to Succeed If You’re Just Starting Out

Here’s what you’re going to do next after you’re signed up:

  • Publish blog posts on your site first
  • Republish those posts on Medium
  • After you build a catalog of posts on both, start linking back to your self-hosted blog posts from your Medium ones

Take a look at this post I wrote on Medium and then click on the links. They all point back to my personal blog. So I use Medium as the jumping-off point because they have a built-in audience, then I build my own blog views by linking back.

Make sense?

Ok. Now let’s get into the nuts and bolts of choosing a niche, generating ideas, and writing stuff people want to read.

Get exclusive access to your free five-day email course on monetizing Medium.

How to Pick a Niche

Don’t overthink this.

You don’t need to have this super-specific niche to succeed anymore. Especially in places like Medium where you have such a diverse array of voices.

Essentially, the big niches fall into the following categories:

  • Self-Improvement
  • Parenting
  • Personal Finance
  • Creativity
  • Business & Entrepreneurship
  • Marketing
  • Social Media and Blogging
  • Freelancing
  • Careers
  • Gadgets & Technology
  • News, Culture, and Entertainment (this is a very wide and broad category, plenty falls in here)

Then there are some little mini-topics underneath each of the big ones, but you should have a general idea of which one you want to jump into.

Jump in. 

You want to start writing. Not plotting out your perfect niche.

I wrote a guide that goes into this deeper, but the niche thing is overrated. It’s more important to start generating ideas and writing blog posts that follow a similar structure (to begin with).

After you write, let’s say, 100 posts, you’ll magically know your niche. Clarity comes through action, not the other way around.

How to Generate Ideas

Each day, I write down 10 ideas for new blog posts. You should do the same.

There are some basic blog post headline formulas you can and should use to start:

  • How To – These work if your niche is educational and instructional
  • List Posts – As much as people scoff at list posts, people read them, and they just make it easier to get into the flow or writing
  • Subject: Mini-Subject – An example would be something like “Flow: The Creativity Behind ‘Getting in the Zone’” Or something like that

Here are some resources that can give you an in-depth look at coming up with headlines:

Now, if you’re still struggling to generate the underlying ideas to create the headlines in the first place, try the following:

  • Pains, Hopes, Fears, and Desires – I learned this technique from Jon Morrow (read his post for a full explanation here). Essentially, you’re asking the question, “What keeps your readers up at night?”
  • Avatar – An avatar is a written out description of a single person that you’re writing for. What are their problems? How about their fears? What are their hopes and aspirations?
  • Swipe – Go on places like Medium, find similar writers who are popular and swipe headline styles. Don’t plagiarize, but look at how they formulate their headlines and ideas to reverse-engineer it

The bottom line here: If you don’t develop an intuition about what works and what doesn’t by observing other writers, you’re going to have a hard time. Most people don’t take the time to be observant because they get in their own way. That’s why I added the mindset section earlier. Don’t be that person. Observe, reverse-engineer, steal.

Want people to, you know, actually click on your articles and read them? Grab the headline vault here — 50+ headline ideas and templates you can use to write viral hits.

Become a Better Writer by Learning the Basic Structure of a Blog Post

Now you’ve generated some ideas and you’re ready to start writing.

So, how do you write a blog post?

Again, just use the basic and traditional formulas first, then you can move onto the esoteric later.

Here’s a synopsis.

How to Write an Introduction

Your introduction answers the question, “Why the hell should I read this?”

You want to tie it to the subject of your headline in a way that makes the reader curious to read more.

You can do this in many ways:

  • Ask questions – Questions, especially ones that make the reader nod their head in agreement, work especially well. Example: If you’re writing a blog post about productivity, you could start by saying, “Do you always feel like you’re busy, but never actually get anything done?
  • Twist the Knife – If your post is about solving a problem, play on that problem, show the consequences of the problem continuing to linger, then offer your content as a solution. Here’s a detailed post on that here).
  • The Story Hook – Open with an intriguing story that’s related to the content of the post

Some useful guides on writing intros are:

How to Write the Body of a Post

You can do this one of two ways.

If you write a list-post, list out your points and add short descriptions for each.

If you’re writing any other type of post, the simplest way to do it is to stick with three main points. A simple essay format works just fine.

Some tips on writing body content:

  • Use interesting subheadings – Here’s a really cool guide on this, but you want to write little headings that make the reader curious or either detail what’s coming next
  • Simple language – Some people say you must write super-short sentences. I don’t subscribe to that view, but simpler is better
  • Distinct thoughts – Break each distinct thought into a separate paragraph

In the end, your body content should look something like this:

[Section A]

  • Point 1
  • Point 2
  • Point 3

[Section B]

  • Point 1
  • Point 2
  • Point 3

[Section C]

  • Point 1
  • Point 2
  • Point 3

Start with a mind-map, a brainstorming session, and then solidify your ideas into a format like this, and it will be ten times easier to write a post.

How to Write a Closing

Your closing should motivate the reader to take the next step on their journey after reading your content. Or it should leave them thinking, pondering, even questioning what you just wrote or scratching your head a little bit.

You want the closing to tie back into the idea you started with and bring the post full circle.

Read these posts for great examples:

How to Start Writing, Keep Writing, and Create a Career From Your Words

I’m keeping this high-level because there are many little skills you’ll need to learn along the way.

You can come back to this post often and use the resources I linked to for assistance.

The goal?

Get your blog started and write until you get traction.

Traction is that point where you’re not in “start and stop,” mode. You write often and consistently, preferably every single day.

If you follow my advice and start a blog on Medium, you’ll start to build a following and you’ll have feedback in the form of fans and comments.

This will make you feel good.

You will want to keep going.

So how do you get there and stay there?

Whatever Your Routine, Make it and Stick With It

I write in the mornings.

My routine looks like this:

  • Write 10 ideas for new posts
  • Choose an idea to work on from my long list of saved headlines
  • Create a mind-map
  • Write out a simple outline
  • Write the first draft (one to two hours)
  • Edit the post for a second draft (half-hour to one hour)
  • Final-polishing edit (a half hour at most)

Some people write faster than others.

Some can deal with daily writing. Others weekly (you should never go below weekly).

In your case, you need a routine:

  • Write at the same time
  • Follow the same process
  • Repeat

Stick With Writing For An Audience for 6-12 Months

Most people don’t make it for six months.

If you make it six months, you’re in the top 25 percent of all writers. Pat yourself on the back. And, at this point, you should have some fans and a somewhat large body of work. That is, if you listened to me 😉

If you can make it to a year, you will make a dramatic leap in year two.

I published my first book in year two, a huge milestone for me, and started doing more advanced stuff like building an e-mail list.

I’m approaching year five and I’m a full-time writer. But the early days counted the most. Hitting the point of traction accounts for most of the journey. After that, you don’t coast, per se, but you know what you’re doing.

Hone Your Own Unique Voice and Style

Using headline formulas, structured outlines, and traditional blogging techniques seems formulaic.

That’s because it is.

But, after you write this way for a while, you develop a second-nature understanding of how to write for an audience.

Then, when you try different styles, you’re apt to write them in a way that connects with other people better.

Thanks to my blogging days, I do think I could write a memoir or even a novel. Not because I’m versed in those skills. I’m not.

But because being in blogging boot camp mode taught me how to get words on the page, which is the most important part of the process.

My blogger’s attitude helps me get through new learning curves.

Want three free writing guides to help you level up your career? Grab them here

The Things You Must Give Up If You Want to Become a Writer

Ok, so now you know the basics of what it takes to get started with writing and even become a better writer in a short period of time. But what do you need to do to make it full-time? How do you stop being an aspiring writer with little to no success and step into the big leagues?

Your success as a writer is predicated on the things you’re willing to give up in the process. I wondered if I should include this section in this post because you’re looking for the steps to become a writer. But I realized that most aspiring writers fail, not because of a lack of information, but because they can’t wrap their minds around what it really takes to be successful.

Also, if you can’t make it through a 5,000-word post about how to get into writing and stay in the game long enough to succeed, maybe writing isn’t for you. Trust me, I’ve had to both consume and implement a ton of information to make it here.

If it feels like I’m being hard on you it’s because I know how hard it is to make it. Don’t get discouraged by my words. Get inspired. If you make it to the end of this post and still feel like you’re ready to make it as a writer, then you’re ready to make it as a writer. Simple as that.

Let’s take a look at what you need to be willing to give up to become a true wordsmith.

Your Sense of Entitlement

Why should anyone want to read your writing, visit your website, or buy your book?

Are you a diligent writer? Are you making an effort to connect with people who’d be interested in your writing?


Let me guess, you think people should read your writing because you wrote it. That’s a horrible answer.

If you’re trying to make a living with your writing, your words are — by definition — a product. You have to create your best work and get it in front of the right eyeballs.

Nobody owes you their attention.

Less whining. More writing.

Your Romanticism

Writing is artistic. You think of writing as a craft. You want to pen beautiful words and become the next Kafka.

Good luck with that.

The romantic writer is the type who uses a ton of flowery language, thinks their book is going to get picked up by Harper Collins, and laments the lack of literary quality in today’s writing.

There is such a thing as a technically gifted yet boring and unsuccessful writer. Writing pretty words doesn’t make you a good writer. Moving people makes you a good writer. Entertaining, educating, and inspiring people makes you a good writer.

Writing to meet a market need doesn’t make you a hack, it makes you a person who actually earns from their writing.

Art and business aren’t mutually exclusive. They’ve bled into one another and the line is blurred. A little pragmatism will give you an opportunity to succeed as a writer.

So, please, discard your rose-colored glasses.

Your Counterproductive Thought – “I Want to Become a Writer”

Austin Kleon famously said:

Lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb. They want the job title without the work.

People complain about competition in writing, but the truth? There’s no competition.

Sure there are tons of people aspiring to write, but 99.99 percent of them want to be writers, they don’t want to write. These people aren’t my competition. They’re failed careers waiting to happen.

The air is thin up here, not for successful and wealthy authors, even, but for people who make it longer than six weeks to six months.

I’ve written hundreds of blog posts and have probably crossed the million-word mark. Still, I don’t think I’m that good. I doubt my skills all the time. But I use that doubt as fuel to work even harder.

The antidote to your lack of success is more work.

That’ll be $97, please.

Your Fear of Marketing

If any of the sentences below describe you, you have no right to complain about your writing career:

Another pervasive mindset among aspiring writers is the “build it and they will come” mentality.

How in the hell are people supposed to find your writing? Dumb luck? Extrasensory perception?

The recipe for success as a writer is simple — find people who want to read your type of writing and get your writing in front of them.

I get it. You just want to write. You think good writing should be enough on its own. It’s not.

Marketing isn’t a dirty word. It’s a prerequisite for success.

Your Time

What if you knew everything would work out? How much time would you devote to building your writing career if it was guaranteed?

A year, five, ten?

Building a writing career takes time. I read a post by blogging expert Jon Morrow that said you need to dedicate four to six years of your life to building a six-figure blog.

You have to wrap your head around the idea that it’s not going to happen right now, but it will happen eventually.

You don’t improve your writing skills at an equal rate. When you write consistently, your skills will grow exponentially. The key is to make it past the initial phase of sucking at it.

I promise you. If you put in the work consistently, you’ll get better.

Your Need for a Neon Green Sign That Says “Success Here!”

Successful authors, writers, bloggers, etc don’t wait for the perfect answer to fall in their lap.

The funny thing about it? Even if I give you the entire recipe, step-by-step, with an inordinate amount of detail, basically everything short of me ghostwriting for you, it still wouldn’t matter.

Derek Sivers once said, “If information was all we needed, we’d all be billionaires with six-pack abs.”

I’ve written in-depth articles on so many facets of writing – books worth of content for free – to no avail. I’ve come to grips with the fact that I’ll only be able to help a small handful of people who read my work.

I want you to be one of those people, but it will never happen for you until you stop waiting for all the answers beforehand.

There’s more than enough information to get you started. So start.

Your Envy

You won’t learn how to make it as a writer until you stop comparing yourself with other writers. I get it. You want to be where they are right now, but you’re not. Go to your favorite author’s blog right now if they have one. Odds are, the archives will stretch back 5-10 years.

Getting rid of jealousy is difficult, but there is something useful you can do with it. Use it as fuel. When I’m jealous of someone, I just steal all their techniques. I don’t plagiarize them, but I think about the thought process behind their headlines, watch where they publish their work and pitch mine to the same place and pay more attention to what they do then what they say.

Don’t let envy keep you stuck in the same spot.

Your Need for Approval

It took a while for my wife to take my aspirations seriously. Once I started making some money and gaining momentum, my progress opened her eyes to the possibilities. She never discouraged me, but deep down I knew she wasn’t sold yet, and that was okay with me.

You have to realize when you deviate outside the normal path, people aren’t always going to get it.

I didn’t announce my aspirations of becoming a writer to anyone. I just started writing and kept writing.

When it comes to successful writing, the only thing that matters is the page in front of you.

Now is the best time in human history to become a writer. You don’t need anyone’s permission to create and publish.

You don’t need a publisher to tell you whether or not you’re a good writer. Let your audience be the judge.

Your mission is to build a small empire around your words.

Don’t put your identity in someone else’s hands.

Your Laziness

You don’t write enough. Period. 

This is maybe my 500th blog post. One of my favorite writers, Seth Godin, has written 6,000.

How many blog posts have you written?

How many words do you have under your belt?

Do you write every day or just “once and a while?” Do you focus when you write or do you check the web and social media?

You know the answers and you know how to move forward.

I know sometimes the words don’t come out on the page the way you envisioned them in your mind. I know you sometimes feel like you’re not cut out to be a writer.

Suck it up.

Your Excuses

I just laid down the gauntlet. You have everything you need to know about how to become a good writer. It’s all on you now.

I sincerely believe everything you want in your writing career is possible. I want you to succeed, badly. But I can’t want it more than you do.

You will want to make a ton of excuses for yourself along the way. You’ll think success should come faster. You’ll wonder why your audience doesn’t just get it. All of the little tedious things along the way will make you wonder whether or not it’s all worth it.

It is worth it. But you’ll never find that out until you do the work. No amount of wishing, wondering, hoping, or excess thinking is going to get you there.

You have to write. Fortunately, if you’re able to master the skill of writing, there are unlimited opportunities for you to make a living doing it. I saved these for last because I wanted to make sure you’re committed before we got to the part everyone wants to get to.

It’s time. Let’s talk about monetization.

My Top 5 Recommended Strategies to Make a Living Writing

Let’s take a look at the income streams I personally use to make money writing.

My Number One Blogging Income Stream by Far

Pros of writing on Medium

Cons to writing on Medium

Resources on success on Medium

How to Make Money Writing and Achieve a Life-Long Dream at the Same Time

Pros to publishing books

Cons to publishing books

Resources on successful self-publishing

Share Your Wisdom With the World

Pros to coaching, courses, and consulting

Cons to coaching, courses, and consulting

Resources on coaching, courses, and consulting

How to Make Money Writing Damn Near Out of Thin Air

Image via Ryan Robinson

Pros to affiliate marketing

Cons to affiliate marketing

Resources on affiliate marketing

A Straightforward Path to Cashflow

Pros of Freelancing

Cons to freelancing

Resources on becoming a freelancer

The Bottom Line on Making Money Writing

Featured Download: How to Become a Full-Time Writer. Grab a PDF version of this blog post here to save and read later.

By Ayodeji