There are three things I wish somebody would have told me when I got started writing. It would have saved me a lot of grief. But before I share those keys with you, I have to tell you about a mistake I was making that held me back for years.
The mistake is simple. You focus on wanting to be good enough instead of finding the audience that’s already waiting for you. A lot of writers I talk to tell me:
I don’t know if I’m good enough.
That’s the wrong question to ask.
Tell me this: Is Ernest Hemingway a good writer? Because in some people’s books, he’s not. And what about James Joyce, whose own wife said he didn't write books people could understand? Now, Joyce is considered one of the most important people of the 20th century. Genius is rarely recognized by its contemporaries.
So here's an alternative strategy…
Stop worrying about being good
Good writing is relative. What one person thinks is great, someone else gives a 1-star review on Amazon. It’s less important to be good and more important to be effective.
How do you write a message or story that’s going to connect with an audience? Some people will like it, and some won’t. That's the nature of having something important to say. And it's true for the world’s most popular communicators.
Each person's definition of good is different, especially when it comes to art. Start focusing, instead, on being effective.
And how can you do that?
By following these three steps I discovered when starting my writing career a few years ago. And the first step that I learned was the one that changed everything.
I became a writer.
Become a writer
I know that sounds kind of silly, because how do you become a writer? For me, it meant calling myself a writer, even if I didn't feel like it.
When I began to do this, something funny happened: Other people did the same. And they began introducing me to their friends and relatives, saying, “Meet my friend, Jeff. He’s a writer.”
I didn’t have any business cards, and I didn’t have a job description that said writer, but it was who I wanted to be. So I started owning my identity, and slowly I began to believe it.
Over time, this dream became more of a reality. And as it unfolded, I thought, “Man, I’m calling myself a writer. I had better act like it.”
This led me to write more than I had ever written before. I began getting up every morning at 5 AM to put my fingers to the keyboard, groggily typing away. I didn’t want people say, “Well, you call yourself a writer, but you’re not writing anything.”
So I got to work.
The unexpected fruit of this habit was I got better. I began to bring my “A game” every single day, which allowed me to focus and hone my craft — something I sorely needed.
That was the first step for me, and maybe it will be for you, too. This writing life begins not with grandiose moments but with a simple affirmation: you are a writer; you just need to write. You must believe you already are who you want to be.
Activity always follows identity. (Tweet)
Share what you know
When I launched my blog, I didn’t know what to write about. What would people be interested in? What could I talk about? So I started sharing what I knew.
What did I know? Not much. All I knew how to do was help other writers, something I had done at my day job for seven years. I also wanted to become a better writer and was reading a lot on the subject, so it seemed to make sense.
This was a passion I could share.
By no means do I think every writer needs to write about writing — that's a common misconception amongst bloggers. That was something I fell into. It was also something I knew, something I had been practicing for years. So it just made sense.
That’s what you need to do. If you’re trying to figure out your calling as a communicator, what your purpose in writing is or what your subject you should, you need to write what you know. And for me, that was writing.
As I shared what I knew, I eventually released a manifesto. It was a short statement of purpose, which basically said, “Here's what I’m about, and I hope it can help you.” When I put more content out there, I paid attention to what resonated with people. And when I noticed that something struck a chord, I would explore that topic a little more. It was an iterative process.
Over time, more and more people started reading my blog, which surprised me. I was just writing what I knew, but it seemed to be helping people. And as more people showed, I realized what was happening was this: I was building a community.
Before releasing my manifesto, I had an email list of 75 people. After I released it, that number grew to over 1000 people in a week — all because of a decision to be generous. I also encouraged them to be generous, offering free articles or e-books or whatever I thought might help. And I would say, “Feel free to share this with your friends.”
One of the things I learned through that process is generosity begets generosity (tweet). If you help other people, they are going to use that information to help even more people. And that help is going to find a way back to you.
“What goes around comes around,” my dad used to say. And it’s true. You can attract attention by being generous and encouraging other people to do the same by sharing your content. Which ultimately allows you to reach more people and helps your influence multiply.
Build a community
The last key is to build a community by being exclusive. Now I say that and winc, because what I don’t mean is you should build something based on who isn’t allowed. That's wrong.
However, if you say, “Hey, this is for everybody,” or, “I want everyone to read my blog,” then no one will.
But if you focus on a single topic or idea, if you target an area of passion, you will find people who agree with you, who resonate with your worldview. And they won't be able to wait for what you have to say next. They'll want to tell others about it, too.
Here's the really interesting thing: even though you think you’re special, there are actually a lot of people out there just like you who think similarly about certain things that you think, feel, and believe.
When you draw that line in the sand and say, “Here’s what I believe,” there is a certain amount of unavoidable exclusivity. Not because you are trying to push people away, but because you are trying to take a stance. And it will attract an audience.
When you stand for something, people will stand with you. (Tweet)
When it comes to writing success, don’t focus on being good. Instead, focus on being effective. And how do you do that? By exploring these three keys:
- By becoming a writer through a declaration: “I am a writer. I’m going to start acting like it.”
- By sharing what you know. Not just writing what you know, but sharing it, putting it out there, and finding ways to help people.
- By building a community through generosity and exclusivity by saying, “Here’s what I’m about, and if that’s not for you, that’s okay because it’s for somebody out there.”
And I guarantee you, it is. Because if you are one in a million, and there are over 7 billion people in the world, then that means there are 7000 people, a powerful tribe of followers, waiting for you to connect with them.
The question is, are you going to reach them? Or are you going to wait, like I did, for too many years? I hope not.
That’s why I started my online course, Tribe Writers, to help writers use their words to reach the audience their messages deserve. To find out more about that, check out TribeWriters.com and there plenty of information there.
Which of these three keys do you need to implement? And how can you get started today? Share in the comments.