5 Things Successful Writers Don’t Do
What makes you a successful writer?
People have had that debate for, well, forever. And it’s not a debate I’m interested in having myself because there are too many different definitions of success.
Often, instead of trying to figure out what will make you successful, it’s better to avoid the things that will definitely cause you to come up short.
You can write stuff people want to read in many different ways, but if you try to do it in the ways I’m about to share with you, you’ll either end up frustrated because no one reads your work. Or, even if you do manage to get people to read your work, you won’t feel good about your results because of the way you went about your work.
I see writers, especially aspiring writers, make the same simple and easy to fix mistakes over and over again. So, the solution is simple. Don’t make these mistakes.
If you avoid these pitfalls and focus on your craft, you’ll do just fine.
This Mistake is Huge, and Almost Every New Writer Makes It
I add this point to damn near every single one of my posts about writing. And it seems to bear repeating because new writers make this classic mistake constantly. Worse, they don’t seem to want to budge and change their strategy, even though their strategy isn’t working.
Successful writers don’t make their work entirely about them.
Does this mean you have to use the word ‘you’ in every other sentence like I do? No. Does it mean you have to write advice articles instead of personal essays to get ahead? Nope.
You don’t have to write the way I do, or even the way other ‘traditional bloggers’ do. But you do have to keep your audience in mind when you’re writing. And far too many newbies have a huge blind spot that causes them to focus only on themselves.
Ok. You want to share your story. But, what’s interesting about your story to other people? Do you have truly unique life experiences? Are you sharing aspects of your life other people can relate to? Would you be interested in reading your work if you weren’t you?
You have to be able to answer yes to all of those questions. And, honestly, you just have to avoid the critical mistake of vomiting out random moments in your life for no apparent reason other than to read your own thoughts.
The Mistake That Causes a Mismatch Between You and You Work
Successful writers don’t pander or pretend to be something they’re not just to get people to read their work.
My colleague Shannon Ashley is great at telling stories — top tier. Her personal essays sometimes include intimate details of her life. They’re not the type of details I’d personally share. If I tried to write like her just because I saw her style got a lot of fans, it wouldn’t land the same. I have seen a bunch of writers try to copy her style and it didn’t work for them because they don’t have the sincere urge to share that way like she does.
You don’t have to pigeonhole yourself into one style. It’s okay to experiment and you should. All writers borrow ideas and styles from others until they eventually come to their own. But they choose the ones that fit them best as opposed to the ones they think will work the best.
I write about subjects like self-improvement, psychology, business, marketing, etc because they fascinate me. They’re also subjects other people are interested in. You find success by finding the intersection between what people want to write and what people want to read.
When you write about the stuff you like to write about and you’re sincere, people can tell. If you pander or chase clicks, people can also tell. There are a bunch of self-improvement writers who write because they think it’s a hot topic. But you can tell they’re just going through the motions, slapping together headlines they’ve seen before and writing regurgitated content with no energy, no flavor.
So, on the one hand, you have to step outside of yourself to get an audience interested in your work, but you don’t want to create a fake persona either because, if people like the persona, they don’t actually like you. You might get the clicks, but you’ll feel inauthentic. Ultimately, they’ll feel it, too.
The Mistakes That Keeps You From Reaching Your Full Potential
Successful writers don’t hold back the truth. At least, they don’t hold back their version of the truth. Often, the best writing comes when you share the things that make you a little nervous to share — the ideas that push you to your edge.
If your writing doesn’t offend anyone, ever, then you’re probably not at your edge. You have a unique worldview and so does everyone else in the world. You’re more likely to build a loyal tribe of readers by standing firm in your beliefs instead of pandering to the masses.
Like all of these points, there’s a fine balance to this. You just want to avoid ever expressing opinions you don’t think are true, deep down, just because you want to get along. Some of my best articles are the ones that pissed the most people off.
I once wrote an article called the 7 Habits of Highly Ineffective People. It ruffled some feathers because I had the audacity to call people out who aren’t living up to their potential. But that’s the way I really feel about people. I do think there’s such a thing as mediocrity and below-average results. I do think people short change themselves by living in an ineffective way. I am against the idea that we should never offend anyone or hold them to high standards. So I shared the piece — a lot of people hated it but a lot of people loved it.
As long as you’re not going across the line, e.g., inciting hate, run with your ideas, and don’t be afraid of the crowd.
The Mistake That Kills Most Writing Careers Before They Get Off the Ground
Successful writers don’t let the opinions of other people keep them from writing altogether. So many people have reached out to me and said they wanted to write, but were scared of rejection, negative comments, and the feelings of embarrassment that come with both.
Instead of sugarcoating it, I tell them the truth just as I’m about to tell you.
You will get rejected many, many, many times. And it will hurt your feelings. People will leave negative comments on your articles. Hell, some of them will personally attack your character as a human being and say truly mean things.
I got called a ‘neo-nazi’ by a commenter on Thought Catalog in one of the first handful of articles I ever posted on the site. On Medium, a reader called me a ‘privileged white male’ even though I’m black. I’ve been called an idiot, an asshole, an entitled prick who has no right to give advice to other people — you name it, I’ve read it.
You can take the negativity other people send your way in one of two ways. You can let it phase you. And usually, you’ll only get phased if you believe the things that are said about you. Or, you can take the initial blow and then decide what to do next.
Negative comments still sting, but I put them through a few filters when I react to them:
- Often, the commenter is projecting. They’re taking their negative feelings and pointing them back at you because your article exposed those feelings. In this case, I just let it slide. They’re human.
- Sometimes, the comment hurts because it carries a partial truth to it. You will be wrong sometimes. If you write hundreds of blog posts as I have, the chances of you being spot on all the time are zero.
- Every once in a while — and this is rare — you do come to find out that you were way off base. If you’re mature, you can take that critical feedback and use it to move forward.
But, nine times out of ten, I don’t take negative comments seriously at all. Neither should you. In fact, once you have a large enough platform, you’ll stop paying attention to them altogether because there will be too many comments to deal with period.
The Ultimate Mistakes
Successful writers don’t make excuses for themselves. They don’t place the blame for their lack of success on other people, even if they’re justified in doing so.
There are many elements that contribute to your success in writing. The one few ever choose to talk about is luck. Yup. Sometimes certain essays just blow up for no apparent reason. Some writers ride the wave of a viral post and make a killing, even if they’re not the best writers. There are writers who are less technically gifted and write lower quality work but have huge audiences because they’re good at marketing and writing headlines.
You just never know. For every 50 Shades of Grey, there are hundreds and thousands of romance novels that never move the needle. Even on platforms like Medium, I’ve seen writers of equal caliber have entirely different trajectories. It happens.
You can’t predict the future. You have to live with the outcomes you get from your writing and work to get better. Maybe you need more practice. Maybe you’re on the verge of a big breakthrough if you just stick with it. You might not be featuring your work in the right place. There are so many different variables.
At the end of the day, you should write because you enjoy doing it. You can carry that feeling of enjoyment throughout your entire career, through the ups and downs. If you’re really in it for the love, you should write for the rest of your life regardless of the results.
I remember listening to an interview with the now uber-famous Elizabeth Gilbert. She made the conscious decision to choose jobs like waiting tables so she could have time and flexibility to write. Also, she said she was content to do that for the rest of her life as long as she was able to do what she loved. Yes, of course, she wanted to be successful. We all do. Obviously, her ultimate goal was to write a best seller. Most of us have that goal. But, the underlying energy of wanting to write for the sake of it carried her to the finish line.
Keep a similar energy. Enjoy the climb up.