MICHAEL THOMPSON

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Productivity

Every Day I Work with Successful Writers. These 8 Traits Stand Out.

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In 2019, I averaged 30,000 views per article I published. My work is regularly syndicated in renowned publications like Business Insider and I’m also in talks with an agent about a book deal.

When compared to the opportunities writing brought me during 2017 and 2018, the results are hard for me to fathom. Numerous times I came dangerously close to throwing in the towel. As the father of two young boys with bills to pay, the time investment was simply too much.

A big reason for this turn of events is because I made the decision in late 2018 to carve out just 30-minutes a week to speak with people who were writing things that I liked to read.

Getting to know writers I admired on a personal level was worth its weight in silver. What turned this decision to gold, however, was asking a handful of these people to play together under one roof as a way to meet like-minded people and support each other.

During this time, thanks to creating a mastermind group, my friends have not only taught me how to write articles that people want to read, but they’ve also shown me first-hand what it takes to make it as a writer today.

I could write a book about this experience, and maybe one day I will. But in the meantime, below are the 8 traits that show up again and again when spending time with people who have successfully turned their writing hobby into their profession.

1. They take great pride in helping other people

My grandmother once told me that you can tell how successful someone is by how generous they are. After starting this group, and spending time with successful writers, I now accept her words as fact.

The people in the group do not hesitate for a second to connect the other members with people who they may benefit from getting to know. They constantly share ideas on how other members of the group can improve their work. They make time to talk to someone in the group who is going through a hard time.

I used to define success as an artist by how much money someone made. Today, I don’t. I define successful writers by how many people they help. Caring about people is the ultimate competitive advantage.

2. They tinker with ways to keep writing interesting

Last year when my writing took off I received a message from someone in the group encouraging me to try new things. At the time, I thought he was nuts. I had finally hit my stride and here he was telling me to change direction. It took a few months for me to learn the lesson, but he was right — It got old. “If I do X, then Y will happen,” isn’t nearly as interesting as writing into the unknown.

Doing something because it works is the opposite of art. You have to keep tinkering. You have to keep experimenting. You have to keep pushing. Sure, you may have to sacrifice financial growth in the short-term, but writing is the long-game. If you aren’t trying new things not only will your audience lose interest, but so will you.

3. They have no problem charging money for their services

“I have never felt like someone was doing me a favor from buying from me. I thought that I was doing them a favor by making something for them at a discount.”

When I heard Seth Godin say the words above during a podcast interview with Debbie Millman I immediately thought about my friends in the group. Placing a monetary value on your work can be stressful and it can lead to serious bouts of self-doubt. This is especially true when you are selling your own thoughts and ideas. However, if you want to make it as a creator today, you have to stand behind your work and develop the mindset that what you are offering is worth more than it costs.

4. They know how to control their emotions

If writing for a living is anything, it’s unpredictable. When we create something that resonates with the masses, it takes us to the moon. But if you allow yourself to fly too high, gravity will punish you.

Distance your work from public opinion. Celebrate your wins by writing another article. Feel sorry for yourself by throwing yourself into another piece. Focus on your output and lean into your system. With a little practice, anyone can catch a wave. What my friends have taught me, however, is the importance of learning how to stay cool when you are held underwater.

5. They proactively ask for help on their articles

Prior to starting this mastermind group, the only feedback I received for my articles came from after I published them and rarely did the comments include suggestions regarding how I could improve my craft. It didn’t take me long after starting the group to realize that this was seriously hamstringing my growth.

“How could this be better?” “What am I missing?” “How could I improve this title?” “Is my grammar tight?” Successful writers ask other people these questions before publishing their articles to ensure they do not waste their readers’ time. Not only that, but experience has taught them the difference between a good article and a great one, more times than not, comes in the form of other people’s feedback.

6. They are constantly studying ways to improve their craft

“I can nerd out about grammar all day and I need to make it a regular thing if I want to get better.” I was shocked when I read this in our Slack group after someone suggested having a group call about technical writing. These words came from the best writer I personally know, and he’s still looking for help on grammar? Another member of the group, whose work has been featured in places like Time and CNBC, seconded this recommendation with a pineapple emoji.

Studying grammar or learning the ins and outs of how to tell a compelling story may not be on your to-do list today. But the successful writers in the group have taught me that making it as a writer isn’t only about sitting down each day to write. It’s also about taking the time to learn how to write well.

7. They know what their goals are and say no to everything else

Over the last year, as a relatively new writer, my friend Brian Pennie has gone from zero to a thousand. His articles have led to him giving talks at multi-national companies and he’s a few days away from launching his first book through a mainstream publisher. One of the main reasons why Brian, and so many other people in the group like him, are moving so fast is because they know exactly where they want to go and are crystal clear regarding the steps they need to take in order to get them there.

Will this make my boat go faster? Does this opportunity align with not only my goals but also my values? On a daily basis, Brian asks himself these questions, and if the answer is remotely close to no, he immediately declines. And you know what? By doing so, people respect him even more for it — even if it means saying no to someone he cares about.

8. They take care of themselves

Not once have I entered our space and been greeted with “Shit, I’m still wasted from the weekend.” I’m one of the oldest people in the group at 41 and it took me well into my thirties before I resigned myself to the fact that I’m no longer in college. But I’ve been shocked at how remarkably sober the twenty-somethings are in the group.

I have no doubt that they like to have fun. But they do so in moderation. Their desire to have their work bring light into the world overpowers their need to spend their weekends in a blackout.

Most of the members meditate. Some of them are vegans. They prioritize their sleep and they have the discipline to proactively step away from work to recharge. They do these things because they know that the quality of their work is a direct reflection of how well they treat themselves.

After spending a few hours every day over the 18 months getting to know and working with professional writers on a personal level, I’m convinced they’d be successful at anything they do. Writing just happens to be their game and they take it very seriously.

The beauty of their actions is that anyone can choose to do them. We can all lift up the people around us. We can all study ways to improve our craft. We can all ask for feedback.

But in order to move your work from good to great, you can’t just do these things when you feel like it. You have to do them when you don’t. The key is consistency — proving once again that success does indeed come to those who do the right things on a daily basis.


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