Medium writers, this is everything I wish I’d known from the beginning.
I’m an established, successful, engaging blogger.
I tell myself this in the mirror a lot because sometimes I find it hard to believe. I’ve been sharing my stories for just over eight months, and in that time, I’ve had the highest highs and the lowest lows of my life. I’ve earned bigger paychecks than I could have ever envisioned, I’ve had ambitions of quitting my day job for good, and I’ve become friends with folks who live thousands of miles away, through the power of writing, not to sound too corny.
It’s been a wild journey that I couldn’t have expected when I began writing eight months and seven days ago, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing about it.
One thing that perpetually amazes me is that people ask me questions. They solicit advice and request my opinion on writing matters. And I have realized that because I am lucky enough to write and be successful writing, it puts me in the incredibly fortunate position of being able to help others who are just starting off on their journey.
So many folks, at the start of my journey, gave me time, motivation, energy and inspiration and asked for nothing in return. All I can do is hope that I can do the same for someone else.
Whether you’re just starting out, or you’re having trouble finding your feet, or you just want to know what I wish I’d known eight months ago, here are my top eight lessons I’ve learned from eight months of established, successful, engaging blogging.
1. Plan on success.
Listen up. You are going to feel like you want to start seeing results before you start investing time and money in things like mailing lists, Facebook pages, LinkedIn posts. You’re going to feel like you’re jumping the gun, to start doing these things now with no guarantee of success. You’ll feel presumptuous, like you’re foolishly and arrogantly banking on something that may never happen.
You are not jumping the gun. You are not being foolhardy. All you’re doing is planning on the fact that you will be successful.
That’s good for two reasons. First of all, these things are going to help you be successful. Every way you start building an audience is going to be one more step down the road of your dream life, whether that’s posting stories on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest.
Secondly, take it from me, you will never feel like you’re successful enough. I still haven’t learned how to use Pinterest even though I hear it’s incredibly beneficial for bloggers who want to spread their stories, because I have always felt like as soon as I hit the next milestone, that’ll be the time it’s worthwhile to get started on Pinterest.
I waited seven months before starting my mailing list. Even though every successful writer told me to start it now, I always felt like I was not successful enough to justify it. And I still don’t have a website because I found it hard to believe I’d ever be successful enough to need one. I wish I’d had one eight months ago.
Don’t make my mistakes. Plan on success and you will find it.
2. Diversify now.
Look, I wish I could say I’m successful now and I always will be. The truth is everything changes. Veteran bloggers and influencers have said time and time again, don’t count on static platforms. They will change, the rules will change, your audience will change. Sometimes you’ll have a warning, and sometimes you won’t.
The only way you can be resilient enough to survive changes in algorithms, paywalls, policies, and distribution is if you diversify.
How can you do this?
From a practical perspective, I suggest you apply to places like Copify for copywriting work; apply to write for Popsugar or other similar places. Build a portfolio of work from all over. This will give you experience, money, and of course, a diversified paycheck. It won’t matter if one fails because you’ll have several others there to take their place.
From a more theoretical perspective, this is where the first step will come in handy. A mailing list, a solid LinkedIn profile, and a website will throw opportunities your way. You just need to be ready and willing to catch them.
3. Invest in yourself.
I suffered mildly for eight months because I felt like writing was too silly a hobby to invest in. (By suffer mildly, I mean I don’t have a home office — I write from the floor, the couch, the bed. It’s not the most comfortable.)
I put off buying anything that would let me write more comfortably because I could not justify the expense in my head. Blogging is just my little time-wasting hobby, not nearly serious enough to merit any expenditure.
Don’t make my mistake. If you need a class, invest in a class. If a fancy coffee mug will help you write better, get it. And for goodness’ sake, if you’re hunched over the sofa, pecking away at your keyboard and massaging your wrists from the uncomfortable angle your computer’s at, don’t wait eight months like I did. Get a proper lap desk now.
4. Paying for good tools makes sense.
This is in theme with the point above. I actually started building my mailing list two or three months ago with MailChimp. I reached all of eight subscribers, I think.
I was struggling with MailChimp. It was free, but it was clunky, not very user-friendly, and difficult for me, personally, to navigate. It was free, sure, but I wasn’t using it.
Today, I happily pay my $30/month to ConvertKit because I want to keep in touch with the people who choose to. I hemmed and hawed about my purchase for ages because I knew I could do it for free with MailChimp.
But good tools cost money. I accepted that, bit the bullet, and made the move. Now I know how and when to reach the folks who’ve subscribed, and I’ve got a more personal connection with the people that matter to me.
You don’t have to switch to ConvertKit — maybe you can just invest time and/or money in MailChimp courses and learn how to use it, for example. For me, it just made sense to swap. And again, I wish I had done it from the start.
5. Analytics don’t matter as much as you think they do.
I get it. I really, really do. There is nothing more addictive than refreshing your computer screen, cheering a little every time you see you have a new like, follower, comment, whatever.
But you will have to believe me when I say that they don’t matter.
It’s great to get that affirmation that you’re doing well, and it’s good to get a kick up the @ss if you need the motivation to start up again, or reach deeper, or whatever. But for the most part, if I’d spent every minute I spent looking at my analytics actually writing, planning, learning how to use MailChimp, or setting up a website?
I’d be a lot farther along today than I am now.
You will feel like it’s a productive way to spend time. It’s not. You will feel like you need instant, up-to-date numbers on your latest posts. You don’t.
In a broad sense, analytics are helpful — see what resonates with your audience. Watch what does well and what doesn’t. Monitor the results of an experiment, or try to understand what you could be doing differently.
But for the most part? Every second spent analyzing your analytics is a second wasted. Sometimes things flop for no reason. Sometimes stories succeed for factors that are beyond us. Stop obsessing over the numbers, keep your head down, and write about what you love. The rest will follow.
6. Money is a good incentive but it can’t be your reason for writing.
Let me be upfront: I love that I earn money by writing. I, and I can’t emphasize this enough, love that I earn money by writing.
It validates me, it gives me alternate career options, and it’s just incredibly fun. There’s nothing bad about being proud about earning money by writing.
But I have learned time after time that when I write stories with the expressintent of hitting that jackpot? They fall flat, they don’t resonate, and they result in a big fat flop.
When I write because I care, because I’m curious, because I’m passionate, or angry or in love — that’s when I do well. Those are the stories that succeed.
Money is what keeps me writing. If I wasn’t paid, I wouldn’t write. But crucially, what drives me most to write is the fact that I love writing. And I wish I’d spent less time trying to game the system, and more time reveling in discovering my writing voice, exploring new topics, and developing my stories.
7. You will need more writing friendships than you think.
I first began writing with a kind of “go it alone” mentality. I would write without relying on anyone. I could do it by myself. I didn’t need to mingle or interact with anyone else here.
Reader, I was wrong.
For some reason, I thought it was weak or needy to ask for friendships with other writers. I don’t know why, but I resisted, initially, when it came to commenting, Facebook friending, sharing. I didn’t want to need writer friends.
To be blunt, the people in your life right now might not understand what it takes to write. They might laugh at you, they might misunderstand what you do. They might question why you bother. None of that is going to help you.
Other writers? They get it. People in the writing community, whether they’ve been there a day or ten years, will know what it takes to do what you’re trying to do. They’ll share the tools that helped them, and they’ll give you a leg up when they can.
Find your community. Find your people. When everything else is looking like crap (which it definitely will), your writer friends will be there for you with sympathy, commiseration, and friendship.
8. Persistence is everything.
This is the last and possibly most important lesson I’ve learned.
Things will go up. Things will go down. You’ll need to take breaks. You’ll have days when nothing goes as planned. I took a two-week break in November and again in February, and a four-day pause in April. I’ve had times when I could not think of a single thing to write.
All of those had their effect on my short-term success.
Road bumps are going to happen. Accept that and understand that the most important thing is to keep trying. Small hiccups don’t matter little fluctuations and deviations are not what you need to worry about. Keep your eyes fixed on the horizon because you’re thinking about your long-term plan. Persistence is everything.