How to Make Sure You’ll Never Make Any Money on Writing
I have psychic powers.
Every time I see someone complain that they’re not making any money writing or getting people to read their work, I know exactly what I’ll find when I visit their page.
I know all the mistakes you’re going to make before you make them.
I also know what will happen if you don’t take my advice seriously.
You’ll write articles nobody wants to read and you’ll continue to make pennies on Medium instead of hundreds or thousands each month.
Some of you won’t ever reach the point of consistently publishing your work. You’ll write in fits and starts and have huge gaps between articles you publish, which means you’ll never build an audience of loyal readers.
When you do sit down to write, you’ll often get writer’s block.
If you finish a draft, it won’t sound as good as you imagined it in your mind. Your posts will be jumbled and hard to edit, which will frustrate you and cause you to have a bunch of drafts that never see the light of day.
Sadly, many of you won’t write much at all. You’ll stay on the sidelines because you’re afraid nobody wants to hear what you have to say, you don’t know what to write about, or you’re just lost about how to get started.
9 out of 10 of you will get so frustrated with the process that you’ll quit forever. Only 1 out of 100 of you will ever become full-time writers.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You’re more than capable of succeeding, but you have to know what to do.
If you want to succeed at anything, learn how to invert – figure out what causes failure and avoid it. This post contains a list of easy-to-avoid pitfalls and mistakes pretty much all new writers make.
This Mistake is Fatal: If You Make It, Your Chances of Success are Zero
Let’s start with the first and most obvious mistake a bunch of new writers miss.
If you get into writing for the wrong reasons, you’ll fail.
Wrong reasons include:
- Your primary goal is to make money. There are so many easier and more efficient ways to make money. If you’re motivated by cash, you’ll fail because most new writers don’t make much money, to begin with
- You want to post your journal entries online. Journal entries are for you. If you want to make money writing, you have to write for an audience
- You’re just hopping on a trend. Whether it’s Medium, Substack, Twitter or LinkedIn, if you’re just writing because you see other people succeeding at it, you’ll fail
There’s only one good reason to write:
You like do it. You have a burning desire to share your insights and stories with the world
I’m Sorry, But Some of You Need to be Put Out of Your Misery
This next point is controversial and will piss some people off, but it needs to be said.
A lot of writers fail because they just don’t have the aptitude for it.
The only writers who make it full-time had ‘raw talent’ that needed to be refined. If you don’t intuitively understand how to write blog posts and essays, you’re going to struggle.
From day one, I understood:
- A post needed a headline to communicate what it’s about and get people to click
- Blog posts followed a certain structure with broken-out sections
- An essay or post needed to explain or tell a story about a specific argument, theme, or thesis
A lot of newbies just don’t get it.
Natural talent matters. The good news is most of you have enough aptitude to give it a try. But some of you just don’t.
I can’t tell you which one you are, but the idea of how to write a post shouldn’t be that confusing.
Why Most Writers Are Broke
You’ll fail as a writer if you refuse to learn marketing.
You’ll fail as a writer if you fail to understand how markets work.
Attention is the currency of the writing world. If you don’t know how to generate and capture it, you won’t build an audience. A lot of new writers suffer from Hemingway syndrome.
They think marketing and using clever hooks to get people to read their work is low-brow. They consider themselves above marketing because they’re true artists. If people don’t read their work, they blame the readers and claim ‘they don’t get it.’
Iron-clade rule of writing online: If people don’t read your work, it’s not on them, it’s on you.
If you want to make money writing, you have to understand you are selling a product, your words, to an audience. If you want to be an esoteric artist, that’s fine, but don’t get upset when the dollars come pouring in.
Cry Me a River…
You’ll fail as a writer if you expect anything to be handed to you.
If you feel the platforms you write on owe you something, you’re going to quit when you don’t get what you think you deserve.
I see this happening with Medium. The new crop of writers on this site is the most entitled I’ve ever seen. It’s nauseating. They complain, whine, and cry about their views and money instead of doing the work.
I wrote on Medium for free before the partner program even existed. I was just looking for a place to practice my skills and build an audience.
If you want a guaranteed living wage, go get a job.
If you want to make money online as a writer, it’s up to you to make it happen and no one else. Medium was never intended to be your sole means of making money online.
You’re going to eventually have to turn your writing into a business if you want to succeed. And just like any other business, there are no guarantees of success.
Now let’s take a look at some specific writing mistakes you should avoid as a new writer.
You Won’t Get Readers If You Don’t Learn This Core Skill
If I could pick one skill all new writers should focus on to the exclusion of all others, it would be writing headlines.
I’ve written dozens of blog posts that tell writers to practice writing 10 headlines every single day. My blogging mentor used to write 50-100 of them each day.
I keep telling people this cheat code over and over again, almost no one does it.
“When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” David Ogylvy
Most newbies write cryptic headlines that keep readers from reading their posts.
Here are some examples I found on Medium:
- Death Meditation X (???)
- Home Feels Like a Hug (Meh)
- Giving and Taking (Better, but still vague. Giving and taking what?)
They do none of the things a good headline is supposed to do:
- Give readers a clear idea of what the article might be about
- Speak to the benefits of reading the article
- Spark curiosity in the reader by creating a curiosity gap, which means you tell people what the article is about, but don’t give it all away in the headline
Check out these resources on writing solid headlines:
- How to Write Headlines That Make People Want to Click (Without Violating Medium’s Clickbait Rules) – Video
- A 9-Step Formula to Write Highly Clickable (But Not Clickbait) Blog Headlines
- Three Super Simple and Quick Techniques to Write Better Headlines
You Have to Give Yourself a Shot at Earning With Your Words
When I look at a writer’s profile who doesn’t earn much, I’m certain I’ll see a list of topics and blog posts that are just incapable of making any real money.
The type of writing that falls in this bucket are:
- Posts about topics that are just too obscure to earn money like heavy metal band reviews
- Naval-gazing journal-style posts about random things the writer is interested in
- Article styles that aren’t conducive to earning on places like Medium. Poetry comes to mind. Medium pays you based on the amount of time people spend reading articles, which means you have to write somewhat long posts. One-minute poems won’t cut it
Again, due to entitlement, these writers think that people should read their work just because they wrote it.
Don’t write about a topic just because it makes money, but you have to write about a topic similar to a topic that already earns well that you happen to enjoy writing about if you want to make money.
“The riches are in the niches”
Writing When You “Feel Like It”
If you don’t have a system for writing posts and publishing them consistently, you…won’t publish consistently.
I can’t think of a worse way to build a writing career than writing whenever you feel like it and then just opening up a blank document and trying to write a draft.
Yet this is exactly what most writers do.
This goes back to this poisonous mindset of fake artist types. They think discipline and structure kill their creativity when the opposite is true.
When you have a system for coming up with ideas for posts, mapping out the content, writing the posts, and editing them, you’ll produce a lot more, which will inspire you to create more.
My system is simple:
- Write 10 ideas per day
- Choose an idea to write for the day
- Create a mind-map brainstorming the ideas for the piece
- Make a formal outline in a google doc
- Write the first draft
- Edit three times maximum
You should either be writing, editing, or publishing something every single day.
You should work at the same time every day. Your process should look exactly the same each day, even though you’re writing about different ideas.
This doesn’t mean you have to publish daily posts. You can take a long time to write an article and only publish one or two a week, but you have to use a system and create a regular cadence.
This Mistake Shows a Total Lack of Self-Awareness
I’m amazed at how hard-headed some writers can be. They don’t listen or follow directions.
I’ve been writing for almost a decade. I know the ins and outs of the digital writing world. I know the pitfalls because I made all the mistakes on my own.
If I have the results you want, it makes sense to listen to me.
When I was a broke writer with no views, I didn’t question the advice of popular writers. I just listened to them. If I read a guide with 12 steps to follow to achieve a certain outcome, I’d do all 12, not just the ones I wanted to do, not just the ones that are easy to do.
I’ve gone out of my way to write detailed guides about almost every aspect of writing imaginable. I publish them for free. Yet very few writers actually do what I say in these posts and they’re surprised when they fail. Total lack of self-awareness.
If doing things your way worked, you wouldn’t be in this position, to begin with.
Listen to those that came before you or you’ll fail.
Developing This Addiction
When I get a comment like this on my posts, I cringe.
Something along the lines of:
Thank you! This was so insightful. I’m going to marinate on this.
I’m giving you highly detailed advice on how to make money writing, not steaks or chicken kabobs. What the hell are you marinating for?
There’s so much information about making a living writing, but if you don’t execute it, you’ll fail. Most writers fail because they just won’t execute.
There’s no substitute for doing the work. You can read all the blog posts you want. You can take courses. But unless you actually do what you’re told, you’ll fail.
The next time you read a blog post with tactics, do the tactics instead of skipping to the next blog post.
The Biggest Mistake of Them All
I learned about the concept of inversion from Charlie Munger.
This piece of advice on what to avoid was at the top of his list:
If you’re unreliable it doesn’t matter what your virtues are, you’re going to crater immediately. So doing what you have faithfully engaged to do should be an automatic part of your conduct. You want to avoid sloth and unreliability.
Most writers fail because they’re just lazy.
Let me destroy your illusions right now.
If you want to make real money as a writer, you have years of work ahead of you.
You have hundreds of days of monotonous routine ahead of you.
You will have to learn boring and tedious tasks aside from writing that you won’t want to do, but need to do if you want to have a career.
Your results won’t match your effort in the beginning. If you can’t make it through that period, you won’t make it, period.
If you want some roses and sunshine pep-talk about how it’s simple and easy to make a living writing, you got the wrong guru.
It is simple. It’s not difficult. It’s just not easy.
You have to get a few basic things right and repeat the process over and over again. You should be excited that the steps are simple and repeatable. It’s just a matter of doing them.
I’ll leave you with this quote:
You should do so much volume that it would be unreasonable for you to suck – Alex Hormozi
Put up more shots.
Get more reps in.
When I decided I wanted to be a writer I told myself I would keep working at it until it worked, no matter how long it took. Since I liked to write, burnout wasn’t an issue. I’ve been writing for eight years and I’m not tired.
You definitely shouldn’t be.
Get to work.