The Secret to Getting Noticed: Write Something Dangerous

“Write something dangerous.” That’s what I told a room full of 100 people the other week, speaking at a conference. Half the room looked at me like I was crazy, and the other half as if I had just set them free.

Photo of Danger Sign

Sharing my journey of falling back in love with writing, I told the tale of how two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I took the one most bloggers fear: I started writing for myself. Not attention or accolades. Just to write.

As I wrote without concern for popularity or prestige, something strange happened: More people paid attention. Oh, the irony. This is what we experience when we pursue passion and forsake public approval: Others join us in the journey.

When you do what you love, people will love what you do. Because we all love the idea of being caught up in an adventure. We love the thrill that danger brings. Which brings us to you.

The risk of caution

Of course, there’s a risk here:

  • What if no one cares that you just poured your heart into a piece?
  • What if people think it’s terrible?
  • Worse, what if no one pays attention?

What then? Well, at least you had a lot of fun creating it. And isn’t that what we’re all wanting more of — work we actually love, not just tolerate? This is a no-lose scenario.

However, more often than not, people won’t ignore you. They won’t loathe your writing; they’ll love it. Precisely because you do.

When your art comes from some place deep and true, people take notice of that sort of thing. So start digging.

Stop being safe

We’re all in desperate need of courageous, dangerous writing, work that inspires and moves and resonates. Writing that challenges us to step outside of ourselves and move beyond the status quo.

The world doesn’t need more safe, tame writing. It needs words that shake the heavens, that defy expectations and offend sensibilities. Isn’t this what we’re all longing for? To be moved? To be forced to grow and change? To escape and retreat and find our true selves within the solace of a story?

But someone has to go first. Maybe it’ll be you.

So what are you waiting for?

OK. It’s time. Time for you to write something you’re afraid to write. And then, share it.

Do what you were made to do. Don’t worry about marketing or audiences or best sellers lists. There’s a time for that. This just isn’t it.

Right now, you just need to write. Those rationalizations are good, old-fashioned stall tactics. They’re fear speaking, loud and clear. Everything will fall into its place. Trust me. Trust yourself. This will work. But only if you are brave. If you write dangerously.

Sure, you’ll disappoint a few people in the process. That’s a given. Might as well do it, doing something you love, right? Right. Better get started.

What’s something dangerous you’ve written? Share in the comments.

112 thoughts on “The Secret to Getting Noticed: Write Something Dangerous

  1. I would add that doesn’t intentionally offend. Sure you will, but I don’t think you should do that. I think that doing what you’ve suggested had helped me over the past few months.

  2. wish I could have made it there to hear you speak. One day… Thanks for this, as always Jeff. 😉

  3. Great advice, Jeff.  I smiled when I read that half the room thought you were crazy and the other half thought you just set them free.   I would have been in the set free camp.  Writing, not caring what others think or if others will “get it” is a good place to be. 

  4. The world doesn’t need more safe, tame writing. It needs words that shake the heavens — that defy expectations and offend sensibilities.
    Truth. The world is full of that stuff already. We need people who are willing to step out and change the world.

  5. Hi Jeff,

    It’s so true that we writers need to be bolder and braver – that’s what will make our writing better. So should we slowly get more daring each day or take the plunge and go for it from day one? In my case it’s a bit of both. Even writing something, putting your name to it and hitting publish is hard for many writers. In fact I named my first blog In the Hot Spot because it was a real challenge for me to do just that.

    As time went on it got easier and now that huge fear seems ridiculous although of course I still have other writing fears!

    Sometimes I do face fear head on and write posts like one called 35 Ways I don’t Fit In which is basically about being a misfit. You’re right, I flirted with danger and readers loved it.

    But mainly I take small steps and face little fears on a daily basis. I’m hoping that each of those small acts of defiance will lead to major transformation in the end:)

    It’s exciting to face your fears and great that we have such amazing support in the blogosphere:)

  6. We just started blogging and this is the philosophy that guides us. We are writing what we want to write and saying it the way we want to say it. Love this post! Thanks! Erin

  7. Dig it. I wrote something a little dangerous on Monday and didn’t get much traffic.That felt a bit like failure. But then I later have received some amazing feedback and I know it touched several lives. THAT IS WHAT IT IS ABOUT-NOT PAGE VIEWS! (Sorry screaming that back at myself.) 

  8. Love this. I just wrote a blog post today linking to your post about writing ugly. I’d be one of the people who looked like your words had set me free. 🙂

  9. I have definitely found this to be true. It takes guts to write from your heart, to expose yourself. I exposed myself by writing about my depression on my blog. I continue to hear from people about how my writing affects them. I can’t ask for anything more than to let other people with mental illness know that they are not alone.

    I’ll have to link back to this post at some point to encourage other mental health bloggers to give it they’re all. As usual, thanks, Jeff!

  10. I really like that. It’s time to stop planning and start doing. It’s also time to be true to oneself…that’s all we can do. You’ve helped me by knowing that creating with the results in mind is a setup for disappointment.  Create, build, launch, ship…I just need to work. You help me “show up” every day Jeff.


  11. You definitely reached me at Blissdom, and yet I need to keep reminding myself of this every day.  I still haven’t broken out and written the way I want to, though I feel myself being pulled towards what I know I need to say.

  12. I guess this is some  good shit, but remember that your life is not always interesting and so you needn’t write about your life everyday. just write about the things you dislike or liked most.

  13. Yes! This is the type of passion people that we need to instill into ourselves. Many colleagues and friends have expressed that my best writing happens when I take my filter off and stop restraining myself.

    Thanks for articulating it so well Jeff!

  14. Hey Jeff, I just discovered your blog a few weeks ago.  I like this advice.  I don’t want to put you on the spot, but what would be a perfect example of when you wrote something dangerous?

      1. Jeff, have you read What’s So Amazing About Grace?  One of my favorites, and your second post reminded me of the messages in that book.

  15. What is saying?

    “It’s better to offend and apologize…”

    We live in a world where emotional outbursts are seen as a character flaw.  Dangerous should be celebrated.

    Great stuff Jeff.

    Ryan H.

  16. When I rant I get the most comments and reactions.  Even if people disagree with my view they are compelled to comment, although some do it anonymously which is the chicken way out.  Sometimes you just need to clear your own head and writing is the best way I know.

  17. When the publishing house that had purchased my first two mysteries decided to pass on the third, I published it myself so my readers could have the final book in the series. Then I set off writing in a different direction than mystery–I chose to pen a lighthearted paranormal romance involving seven white witch sisters. Long story short, the book was picked up and will be released this month. It will also include a teaser for the second book in what will now be a series. Yay for different and dangerous!

  18. The best quote I’ve ever heard from somebody I interviewed Jeff was this. “The worst reaction somebody can have to your writing is indifference.”  Great article and some very true points. I’ve found the more risks you take with your content, the better it ends up being. 

  19. I find the timing of reading this perfect. Just last night I had a conversation not on writing something dangerous, but what does it mean to live dangerously. But it is all the same issue. To me, it is as you note, to act out of both your calling and your courage. In addition, it means stepping outside those familiar comfort zones. That’s almost easier to see when we talk about living (or, for me, traveling), but I think it applies as well to writing. The hard thing is to identify in our writing what those comfort zones are. Once we do that, we have a greater change to be dangerous indeed and to write in such a manner.

  20. Jeff, LOVE this!  I am in the camp that feels set free.  Thank you!  

    Have you ever read CS Lewis’ essay “The Inner Ring”?  He is a kindred heart in what you’re saying here.  Here’s a taste: 

    “If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it…”  

    Thanks again!

  21. This was what I needed to read today.  I’m coming off a month-long haitus where I spent a good amount of time struggling with what I know is an unhealthy concern with other’s perceptions of me.  I don’t know why it’s so hard! But I’m getting there.  Thanks for the push! 🙂

  22. Well, I just write for myself, and nobody reads my blog.  (To be completely honest and fair to the three or four faithful souls who actually do read it, I will insert this notice of exception.) 

    Sometimes I write dangerous things–once in awhile–and I don’t worry about it much, because nobody who cares is reading anyway.  I guess there is a sort of comfortable safety in having almost no readers… you can bare your soul and not worry too much.  (Mind you, I’ve been doing this for well over four years.)

    There are so many rules… and I’m always finding out I’ve broken more of them.  I do believe that keeping “dirty laundry” off the blog is important, and that we should be sensitive to the privacy of others.  But beyond that, I’m a pretty spectacularly bad blogger.  Fortunately, my husband has a job and I don’t do this for money.  Or we would be sunk.

    I suspect that blogging is not the right niche for my writing… but hey, it’s available, and what else is?

  23. I love this! I’m one of those writers that write for myself, and everyone says it’s something that you shouldn’t do. I tried writing for others, but I HATED it. So I stopped. Even if I never gain a following like yours, at least I’m doing what I love! 🙂

  24. I might not need this reminder today in particular, but there have been days in the past where I’ve needed to hear it. I’ll definitely be bookmarking this blog in particular to come back to for those times.

  25. This is perfect affirmation Jeff!  Today I published my most dangerous post yet.  In my quest to help people have amazing marriages, I’ve wanted to address issues surrounding money, communication and sex.  The money and communication are safe.  The sex is more risky yet it’s such an important component of a healthy marriage.  Thanks for encouraging me to step out and speak boldly!

  26. Do you think the problem of people “playing it safe” comes from writers now being much closer to the publishing side of things? When we are so much more in touch with what is selling then the temptation is to try to emulate that.

  27. Awesome words of encouragement Jeff! People have held back their greatness and coddled the masses afraid of what others might think.  Thank you for this call to action.

  28. Such a challenging, inspiring post….I wrote a dangerous post as a result, but it doesn’t feel dangerous (not published it yet), feels a tame attempt at being dangerous. How will I know what I should be writing? I don’t want to write something wild for the sake of writing something wild – but because it’s going to make a difference, and I don’t want to write out of anger, but because I’m passionate about something.

    Any words of wisdom here?

  29. I think I do worry about what others will think – people I see regularly, who I know well, read my work and I have to face them. Fear does cloud me almost without my knowledge…I desperately want to break free of it, but I want to keep writing intelligent, passionate, mature and challenging pieces, not rants. Can be a struggle…

  30. This couldn’t be more truthful or more relevant today. There is too much noise, everywhere we turn. But if people would stop producing what they don’t want to and focus on what they really should be writing (all else be damned) maybe the noise wouldn’t be so loud, it’d be more useful and more relevant.

    I’ve given up writing about stupid things. I’m now writing a novel via blog posts. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and now, because you’ve given me the courage to do so, I’ve started it. I cannot thank you enough for writing the things that need to be said, and for spurring people to action. Your words do mean a lot to the people who read them. Thank you.

  31. Or you could get crushed by people who you thought cared about you, but find out because of this they don’t have your back.  You fail to mention that if it’s a risk, that means things could go badly (otherwise it’s not a real risk).  And in some cases it will.  Then what?  What if it’s your family or close friends who abandon you and you are left with nothing?  I have some posts saved as “drafts” that I know would cause some serious problems if I ever decide to hit “publish”.  Maybe some things are better left unsaid.

  32. Great post.  I love danger and there is nothing more dangerous than writing about adventures through widowhood.  ( At least my niche is unique.  

  33. Its the best way to do this writing.  In the beginning it seems like negative stuff comes out, and the honesty offends some, just like writing a journal.  At some point it turns and takes on a different tone, becomes more logical and real to our own ears, then writing can be done with a new attitude that honors the work because it no longer feels dangerous.  We don’t have to turn into Walter Winchell to get to the meat of the issue.

    Thanks Jeff, for helping us all to start the real writing.

  34. Jeff, I have to say that I nearly fell out when I read this just now, and I am seriously wondering if we should meet, and I could pay you to be my friend and/or my mentor.  Read an article I wrote recently, and when you get about halfway through you will understand.  All kidding aside, I am thoroughly impressed with your thoughts and could NOT agree more.  Thanks!!

  35. As with life, you risk. When you start doing things that scare you, you discover more about yourself. When you write something dangerous, you find out what you are capable of as a writer.

  36. I think society drives us to be conservative and cautious. Thankfully you are out there to push us to the next level and expand outside of our comfort zone. Sometimes it feels like you are the zen master and I am the student… I still have much to learn.So I need to stop being safe and let go of the ties that bind. 

    Great post! Thanks for the awesome content.

    As a side note, I’m really enjoying your class on blogging!

  37. I was  struggling with whether I would write something very personal about a friend’s death. It was a dangerous feeling to consider sharing what I wanted. Then I got your email. I decided to write it. I even decided to publish it. Thank you for convincing me.

  38. There is a BIG difference between writing something dangerous and writing just to stir up controversy. One comes from a place of authenticity and the other is fake.  Be real, not a mannequin. You owe your art that. 

  39. Thanks for your post, well timed for me.
    Was just doing that this week when I posted, thought all my readers would leave me and instead gained some! : ) I have been struggling whether to post up first chapter ( not easy reading), now I have read your post I’m going to and I’ll see if I have any readers left after that! LOL

  40. Yay! At last something I am already doing! I’ve always written for myself. If I like something, there are bound to be other people out there who like it too. Plus now that I am publishing work for myself, not seeking the approval of some big publishing powerhouse, all the better. I write what I like and I sell it. Piece of cake.

  41. Jeff, I have been living this way, writing to follow my passion, no matter how “dangerous” or “goofy” to those immediately around me, ever since late last September!  And I am getting amazing encouragment, helpful pointers, and boosting the spirits of many others!  Hooray!

  42. Okay, I’m going to write something dangerous (and/or dumb). If I had this Twitter thing down, I’d tweet: “When you do what you love, people will love what you do.”

    Got to learn that Twitter thing. Just gotta.

  43. The more I work at writing, the more I think I understand the trauma of giving birth. Both processes are frustrating and painful and messy.  But in the end, I have produced a wonderful child – one that I wish was just a little bit smarter and more beautiful than everyone else’s.

  44. for too long I have played it safe because of the fear of disappointing others. and all that’s done is continually disappoint myself. I’m tired of that. thanks for such a powerful post, jeff. time to write dangerously.

  45. Hey Jeff! Just wanted to let you know I love your work! (Oh! And I just couldn’t resist being comment #100!)

    Hmmm…safe? Yeah, I’d been playing safe for far too long but I’m slowly revealing my authentic voice – ok, I’m still being safe. But my next post will be 100% inspired by this post!

    Thank you!

  46. I’ve been (hesitantly) writing a post about choosing Be Courageous as my personal theme for 2015. Courage in the way I live, which should then show in my writing. Your post is a great encouragement, would like to see more on this topic!

  47. For so long , I’ve been trying to decide whether or not to start my blog. Basically, fear of failing was the mountain before me. Now, i cant say i’m not even a little afraid, but i can say i will surely start. Sharing my heart and who i am has never ever been easy for me, and when i write, i write with all my heart, so i’m not so sure how i’m going to do this. But i absolutely am going to try.

  48. Having just joined the Goins Blog your emails Jeff have shaken me into examination of why and what I write. I’ve been trying to please a potential reading market. By doing that I’ve realised I will not be using my true voice.
    The three descriptions of oneself you challenged your readers to write down – for me was protest, humour and energy. My limited protest of social injustice among working class of my past & present has attracted much interest and discussion. Though pleased with the reaction I sailed on exploring new waters leaving the protest ship to founder and sink.
    I’ve now found my voice – thanks buddy for pointing the way to dangerous writing, motivation and energy.
    I can also use my humorous poetry as a relieving contrast to the fight for justice for all whether they be the put down or the comics of this world – in a working class community or tribe there are always comics!

  49. I’m not sure what to do. I think I have a voice, but I’m honestly not sure. I don’t write to please the market, but I also don’t write because I’m totally in love with it. I write because I love the creative process and because it makes me happy because I’m good at it. But I feel as if I’m still restricted somehow.
    Before, I didn’t really feel that I was meeting my full potential. And even now, it feels like there is a chain wrapped around my creativity, restricting me from writing as I please. And I can’t get rid of it. No matter how much I write, how much I plot and plan and create, it never goes away.
    So, is this my voice trying to break out? Or is this something else? Because right now, when I read my writing, I don’t really feel or see anything. It seems sort of empty…

  50. After reading this, and a quote by Frank Kern, I figured it was time to do something controversial, so I did, yesterday. In most Facebook groups it was received relatively well, except for one. The screaming started almost immediately. I was called every name in the book for what I posted. Had I been anywhere nearby I think they would have burned me at the stake.
    Eventually my post was removed and I was banned. The postscript, I might have picked up a couple of clients and one reader from the group wrote to me, thanked me for what I was writing, told me I was correct and asked for my Facebook page so she could continue following my articles. Here’s my Facebook page Scroll down for the post “The Number One Thing You MUST Do to End Your Anxiety and Depression” As you can see, it begins with a controversial headline, based on an idea I picked up from Andrew Warner, of Mixergy.

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