Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Three Critical Steps to Writing Success

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)

In conclusion…

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:

  1. By becoming a writer through a declaration: “I am a writer. I’m going to start acting like it.”
  2. By sharing what you know. Not just writing what you know, but sharing it, putting it out there, and finding ways to help people.
  3. 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.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Love the video, Jeff. Great addition!

  • Jeff you are such a great writer, teacher and inspiration. What did I love about this? Let me tell you.

    First: good enough. I have spent years getting to the place where I can let go at good enough. Most powerful teaching ever for launching, and growing, a business.

    Second: Become a writer. How often have I said “I am a…” without fully becoming/being that. Or being it but then not letting others acknowledge me for it because really I’m not, you guessed it, “good enough.”

    And third: generosity. I was very “generous” when I started building my business but I realized it was more of a “matchmaker” kind of thing – I do this for you, you do it for me. I have since learned to be way more generous just because. And am still learning that one.

    Thank you again.

    • Love that daphne. The giving is its own reward.

  • Loaded with nuggets:

    · Email subs from 75 to 1,000+ in a week!
    · Share and write what you know.
    · I paid attention to what resonated.
    · Generosity begets generosity.
    · Don’t focus so much on being good. Focus on being effective.
    · Here’s what I’m about. If that’s not for you, that’s OK. Hopefully it’s for somebody out there. I guarantee you it is. Because you are one in a million and there are over 7 billion people in the world right now. And that means there are over 7,000 people… a tribe of people, waiting for you to connect with them. Question is, are you going to reach them? Or are you going to wait like I did for many, many years? I hope not.

    Encouraging and empowering stuff. Thank you so much, Jeff.

    • Thanks Arlen! You are such an encouragement. 🙂

  • I definitely need to work more on building my community.

    • Ditto, Jon. 🙂

      • There are two major parts of this struggle. First, it’s a challenge for me to find time to build the community. And second, I struggle with knowing all the right answers to successfully build a community that sticks.

        • It’s an iterative process. Lots of trial and error. Sometimes lots of error. 🙂

          • I’m learning this. I just released my first book in late April, and I happy so far with the results, but I feel the overall reach could have been so much broader from the beginning if I had a bigger community before I launched the product. On the other hand, the book has given me an opportunity to connect with people who were not part of my community prior to the book. I guess there are two sides to the coin.

  • Love this Jeff ~ and it’s even more powerful with the Video! Nice touch 🙂 So much resonated with me… as I’ve started to realize that what I’m passionate about ~ which is storytelling ~ isn’t as narrow as I once thought. I used to think it could only be either a memoir or writing fiction books. But I’ve realized in the past few months that interviewing people on the Podcast/Video and haven them share their story is also a form of storytelling … just in a different way. Anyway, I just wanted to say I’ve learned so much from you Jeff ~ you’re an inspiration 🙂

    • Totally, Lorna! And thanks. It’s new for me but I’m learning to be comfortable with it. 🙂

      • That’s so great… and it fits you like a glove 🙂

        • Well, that’s nice of you to say. 🙂

  • Susan Sage

    I think it’s time to write my own manifesto. I think maybe, my focus has been off and could be honed to make it more clear to my 35 followers.

  • Erica Marie

    Identity. Calling. Passion. Purpose. Stance.
    Just wanted to thank you, just what I needed to hear today. Bless you.

  • LuAnn Braley

    I need to treat my writing more like a career. The others? Well, there’s always room for improvement, but I’m doing fairly well on those points.

    Tweeted your generosity quote: https://twitter.com/KentuckyGal/status/474659873473327104

  • I love your site, Jeff. It’s informative and inspirational. This is a great post. I have just recently declared the first key: I am a writer. It does seem so simple but it’s not. For years I thought I wasn’t good enough. I felt insecure and full of despair because being a writer was a dream I had since childhood. But something shifted in me this year… And I finally owned it, believed it, and began to live it.

  • Kathy Strong

    As always, just what I needed to hear, thanks Jeff!

  • I’ve been working on “I’m a good enough writer.” I thought I’d moved past this problem awhile back when I started telling people I wrote, getting published, feeling confident. But now I’m realizing the doubt is always going to be there. Because now I look at larger publications, other types of writing, etc., and still feel I’m not yet good enough or don’t know enough to attempt those (…attempting them anyways. Yikes! We’ll see what happens)

  • Kathy Storrie

    I know I’m ready for door #3. I want to give away something free so bad. My thing is love stories because I’m always asking couples how they met and fell in love. So, my first manifesto give-a-way is going to be a sweet, funny “Love Story”. This couple has 998 friends on facebook so hopefully i will find some natives with emails there!

  • Michelle King Eigemann

    I am also working on building a community. I’m pretty new to blogging and it’s been difficult luring traffic to my blog. I am working on an Ebook to give away in exchange for an email. I hope to have that ready to give away by the end of the month.

    I am a writer, so i’d better start acting like it!!!!!!

    • That’s a great idea, Michelle. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

  • This has been so helpful Jeff, thank-you so much. For a long time I have had the desire to be a writer when what I should have been saying is I AM a writer. Such a simple concept yet so powerful. I am in the process of setting up my new blog and I have been inspired by your excellent tips. Have been following your blog for a while and greatly admire what you do. You have given me the idea that I can be great too. 🙂

    • Well thanks, Tracey. I don’t know that I’m great yet, but I’m trying to get there. Thanks for reading. 🙂

  • Phumuzile M.

    Thank you Jeff” I will start by saying am a writer’ when friends call asking what are you busy with’ I always say am studying’ Ok you are good with studies’ am afraid to say that word’ Am a Writer’ because they are going to ask questions.”I must be brave say to my friends am a writer’must have confidence in myself first. I will start today:Thank you again Jeff.

    • Those questions are good. They keep you accountable. Don’t fear the brave act of becoming who you are.

  • Elias Schroons

    Oh, wow. This was extremely helpful.

  • Rebecca Stevens

    I’ve gotten into the habit of not mentioning writing much, sorry to say. Friends and family who used to express interest and support now hesitate to ask. If they do, I have to say yet again, “No, nothing published yet, but I’m hopeful about the (new, current, latest) manuscript.” Then they feel awkward and don’t know whether to say, “Keep at it – you’ll get there!” Or, “Isn’t it about time you, uh . . . .”

  • Jeff, this post is so powerful. Thank you for writing it and thank you for being such a nice and generous person! 🙂

    • Well that’s nice of you to say, Natalie.

  • Liz Morrow

    Oh my goodness, my favorite part was “stop worrying about being good.” Man, I needed to hear that. It’s hard to not strive to be loved and adored by everyone. I love to write so much, that I’m afraid I might fall apart if someone hates it. But I know I won’t, and I can’t think that way. Even Ernest Hemingway had haters 🙂

  • Brent Flory

    Great post Jeff, I am just getting familiar with your writing and I really appreciate your perspectives. I really liked your line, “when you stand for something, people will stand with you.” Keep up the great work!

    • Thanks, Brent! Honored to have you. 🙂

  • So true Jeff. We could be waiting forever if we’re waiting for all the stars to fall into place. I’m working on building right Jeff and have enjoyed the journey! It took awhile to find that audience that’s been waiting for me but I’m glad I did!

    • I’m glad you did, too, Kimanzi. 🙂

  • David Mike

    Great video blog, very natural. And of course your information is always relative and full of wisdom. Thanks for your willingness to share.

  • “Good writing is not always noticed until later”…I love the inclusion of video blogging. You are facing your fears and reaching more people. Thank you @jeffgoins:disqus for inspiring me with your journey. I love all the tips especially the last one. Generosity is essential. I also like how you talked about the concept of exclusivity.

  • Motivation to start to finally call myself a writer. I just started a blog and am onto other creative things. I needed an article like this. Thank you Jeff.

  • Maerahn .

    Ohhh, this post resonated sooo hard for me! Thank you so much for saying the very stuff I needed to hear.

    I spend most of my life worrying about being ‘good enough’ – and that’s not even just at writing. I’m at that stage where I can WRITE that I’m a writer, but not actually SAY it to anyone other than my husband and seven-year-old son (who has been watching your video with me and pronounced you ‘cool,’ by the way.) I have a blog, but every time I write a post which could be construed as passing on writing advice I’ve learned, the little voice in my head goes “Well listen to YOU, the Big I Am, talking like you know stuff about writing. You don’t know NOTHIN’, girl!” (I don’t know why he talks like that – I think he’s been watching too many reality tv shows…) Confidence is a large part of it, and that’s something I’m still working on.

    That’s why I loved your three steps, because they sound like things I CAN take control of, rather than plugging away at my current w-i-p and worrying that, after all the hard slog of polishing it to the best of my ability, it’s STILL going to suck. Thank you so much for inspiring me!

  • George McNeese

    Thank you for this post. I don’t have a blog, but your post resonated with me. I struggle with being good enough to be a writer. I struggle with thinking about what audience is right for my stories. I want to write more stories about subjects relatable to adults my age. I think it starts with telling myself that I am a writer and there is an audience for my work, no matter who my audience is. I think once I really believe that fact, then I can work on learning to tell better stories and, in turn, share what I learned to others.

  • Thanks to your post Jeff it just hit me that I have not fully embraced the title of writer. Although I have a blog and a book I suppose I always thought of myself as a coach first. I am a writer…I like the sound of that. Thanks for helping me shift my thinking Jeff.

  • Calling myself a writer is where I will start. Although I write, I’ve not been published (except on by blog – sherienamc.com), so I haven’t consider myself a writer. I shared my blog because you encourage us to be generous. And yes, I do write to specific people. In fact, I wrote a preteen book about human trafficking. An art teachers is working on illustrating it. Will it get published? I don’t know. I just had to tell the story. I guess I have to say that I write because I have to. Not to sure about the grammar of the previous sentence, but you understand what I am trying to say. Any, thanks for this message.

  • There is a lot of helpful advice in here–thanks! But I have to say I am hesitant about picking a tribe. I have a very small blog, but many of my family, friends, and acquaintances read it and affirm it regularly. I write a lot about issues of faith, but I also just write reflections on friendship and marriage and life. I like that those who are not persons of faith can relate to what I write, and I don’t want to lose that by becoming more exclusively a “faith blogger.” I may change my mind at some point and try to go big. But maybe it is good that sometimes our impact can be deep on just a few people who think differently, rather than viral on many who think exactly the same way.

  • Identifying as a writer was something I did quite recently which I spoke about on my own blog and it really has caused a shift in perspective for me. I feel more empowered now and don’t sweat a lot of the small stuff. I figure if people are reading my work then I have to be doing something right. Progressing as a writer both in skill and productivity is something I see as essential too.

  • You are indeed right about considering yourself a writer, Jeff.

    That ‘aspiring’ tag is a curse: the only way to dispel it is to drop it yourself. A writer does not need validation from others. All they require is the bravery to take control of their life and see themselves as a writer. (Though one should never define themselves solely by their career, either.)

    I knew for many years that I would be a writer, but the puzzle of ‘how to drop the tag’ stifled me. As soon as I did so, however, I became prolific. (You can see my works here: https://lukelabern.com/portfolio)

    If I may, I would sum up the three essential traits of any (successful) writer:

    * Be prolific.
    * Be voracious.
    * Be passionate.

    Never write for anyone but yourself. Read much. Write much.

  • Claudia H Gruy

    Well, I can hold a pen – which does become unusual these days – so I consider myself a writer. I may not be a ‘Professional Writer’ until I get these two manuscripts sold, but that’s just a nasty side-effect. Besides when you wake up three times a night because you need to scribble down what your characters tell you – you are either nuts or a writer. And these two go darn well together!

  • Daniel Valiente

    “…there are three things I wish somebody would have told me…” (0:13-0:15)
    Stopped watching right there. Somebody needs to brush up his grammar before teaching others how to write.

    • Can you tell me what you found so distasteful?

      • Daniel Valiente

        Of course. I found it regrettable that a person who endeavours to teach others how to be writers and actually charges money for his works can’t make it through more than a few sentences without making a glaring grammatical mistake — one that you might expect from a schoolboy, but not an adult, especially one that calls himself a writer.

        I am referring to this phrase, as I have already written above: “…there are three things I wish somebody would have told me…” Now, the correct way would be to say “…there are three things I wish somebody would had told me…”

        In fact, I have taken a few minutes to consult Michael Swan’s most excellent “Practical English Usage”, which indeed confirmed that I was right in my thinking. I have uploaded the page for you to see for yourself. You can find the link, as well as a reference to its author’s Wikipedia article, at the bottom of my post.

        Now, I’ve been a reader of your blog for a long, long time, and I’ve always found your language to be superior to a great deal — perhaps most — of the other personal blogs on the Web. I’ve even bought one or two of your books, actually — so I am not just a random person who wishes to get into an argument with a stranger. What I think is that people can generally be good at either writing stories, or telling them orally, but seldom, if ever, both. Perhaps you you should have stuck to writing?

        You may call me a Grammar Nazi if you wish, for making a fuss over such a trifle, but since you insist on being called a writer, please act like one — in your language especially. After all, it is this faculty that separates you from the rest. Thank you for your attention.



        • Thanks. I err on the side of clarity. To quote William Zinsser, “The chief virtue that language can have is clarity.”
          “Would had” sounds clunky. I understand that I was speaking in the subjunctive and misusing the verb tense, but of course, I was speaking. Not writing. Surely, you don’t expect someone to speak as they write? Isn’t that why we have a backspace option? 😉
          Either way, it sounds like I’m not for you. Which is fine. I appreciate the correction but believe there is more to writing than proper grammar.

  • I really need to get over the fact that my work is not for everyone. I seem to base my worth on all the rejections instead of all the positives. I see the importance of being exclusive. I personally enjoy that about groups that I participate in. It’s specifically for me.
    Thanks for this! You speak right to my soul in this catagory.

  • Catching up on your posts….and finding what I need to hear: effectiveness vs. good. Thanks to your encouragement (to just do it), I’m finally sharing what I know (www.foodgumption.net) and enjoying it. Thank you!

  • SeeW

    I just stumbled upon your blog, and I have to say that this post was incredibly inspiring to me. Re: calling yourself a writer, that’s exactly how my good friend started her journey to becoming a very successful full-time artist. One day, she started calling herself an artist, and every decision she made was through that lense. She had never taken an art class, and her more logical friends thought she was crazy. But she declared herself an artist, and that’s what she became.

    I’m not sure if you’ve ever read “The Artist’s Way,” but it talks quite a bit about the importance of declarations and affirmations.