- Michael Thompson
There is no right or wrong way to write — just your way
Last December I sat down and I added up the total number of views my articles had received over the year. When the dust settled, my numbers sat a touch under 160,000. I can still remember the excitement in my voice when I shared the news with my wife. I was stoked. Never in a million years would I have thought that over 10,000 people a month would read my work.
Fast forward to today, and the 70 articles I’ve written this year have received over 2.2 million views — which averages out to a touch above 30,000 views per article. I’m also in talks with an agent about representation for a book, I’ve gained 17,000 new followers, and my work has been featured over a dozen times and across several renowned publications, like Business Insider.
I’m thrilled about everything that’s happening. When I began writing three years ago, the idea of making a living as a writer wasn’t even on my radar. It was simply something I did for fun and to slow down my ADHD brain and gain some clarity.
But what I’m even more thrilled about is that I did all of it my own way. I didn’t compromise my process. I stuck to what I knew would work for me. I ignored all the haters and most of the advice, and I broke through. Looking back, here are the main things I did that contributed the most to 10x-ing my views in the span of a few months.
1. I Work at My Own Pace
I cannot count the number of times people have told me that I’d be doing even better if I published more often. Maybe this is true. But my gut tells me it’s not.
I’d love to be one of those people who lives to write. Or one of those people who can sit down and knock out a coherent post in a few hours. But I’m not. I’ve gotten faster. But generally, my best writing and ideas do not come out until at least the third draft.
I like to take a topic or two a week and challenge myself to write the best article I can about it.
I like to research other posts on the topic and ask myself what’s not being said.
This is what works for me. This is what allows me to be consistent and not burn out. This is what keeps writing fun. Maybe publishing more often works for you. Maybe what I’m saying resonates too. There is no wrong answer here. Only the one that feels right for you and your circumstances.
My dad said it best — “The fastest way to become the writer you want to be is to embrace the kind of writer you already are.”
2. I Talk to People About the Topics I’m Writing About
Some writers attribute their success to what they read. I don’t. I attribute any success I’ve had to the people I speak with.
If I am writing an article on relationships, in addition to thinking about my own experiences and lessons learned, I ask the people around me about theirs.
If I am writing an article on leadership, I speak to not only the leaders I know, but also the people who follow them.
If I am writing an article on creativity, I talk to Todd Brison.
The reason for this is fourfold. First, I enjoy it. Secondly, people are smart. Thirdly, I’ve found that whenever I quote someone I know, instead of Tony Robbins, people tend to really like it. Lastly, the majority of my best-performing posts start with a story and asking people about theirs helps me to better write my own.
Author David Sedaris hit the nail on the head when saying — “If you’re writing about people, you have to be interested in people.”
3. I Watch an Obscene Number of Speeches
This not only helps me to get ideas for articles, but I’ve found it to be the most effective way to learn how to write not only engaging stories but well-rounded articles.
How do the best speakers grab the attention of their audience in their introduction? Do they tell a story or do they lead off with a shocking statistic, fact, or quote? What is their first sentence? How do they transition smoothly from their introduction to the points they want to make? How do they lead up to their main point(s)? Do they just come out and say it, or do they make the audience wait for it? Does their conclusion link back to the story in the introduction? Or do they simply reiterate their best point?
When I’m writing, I constantly remind myself of the questions above. I focus on hooking my readers as fast as I can. I fiddle multiple times with the first and last sentence of each section to hopefully persuade people to keep reading. I make sure the conclusion leaves them feeling inspired.
My articles aren’t exactly rocket science. I’m not going to cure cancer with them, and this is probably the closest I’ll ever come to feeling like I’ve won an award. But that’s fine with me. My goal is to write clear and memorable articles in a simple way that’s easy for people to digest. From my experience, watching people take their ideas and tell them in a way that’s relatable for other people is an underrated way of accomplishing this.
4. I Started a Creative Mastermind Group to Learn From the Writers I Admired
If I could only share one piece of advice to share with aspiring writing without hesitation I would encourage them to get involved in a mastermind group. If I need help with a title, usually within an hour I have a handful of suggestions from people with more experience than me. If I need help editing, usually within an hour someone in the group lends me a hand. If I need to talk an article out, usually within an hour I’m on the phone with someone.
Not only that, but every day I do the same for others. Helping them to write better titles has helped me to write better titles. Helping them to edit their articles has helped me to better edit my own articles. Helping them to clarify their thoughts has helped me to clarify my own thoughts.
Sure there are some writers who prefer to go at it alone. But if you want people to read your work, it sure helps if you’re friends with people who are doing what you want to do.
A not-so-quick but important aside: If you don’t have time to properly contribute to a group, testing your ideas on social media before you post your articles is also effective. Most people use Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin to share their work. But why not do a survey with your working titles or throw out an excerpt of what you think is your best point to see if it connects with people? Up until 2019, the only feedback I received from my work came from after I published it. I regret this.
5. I Write Listicles to See Which Ideas Connect With People
Some people don’t like listicles. I am not one of those people. I love to read them and I love to write them. They help me to organize my thoughts. Not only that, it allows me to test out a bunch of ideas to see if they’re as good as I think they are.
Give it a shot for yourself. Write down the most important lessons you have learned in your life and career. See what people like. Then expand upon the parts that get highlighted the most and write a standalone piece going into more detail. Nobody said we can’t start a conversation in one article and dig deeper into it in another.
6. I Spend an Exorbitant Amount of Time on My Titles
If you want to write articles that people want to read, you have to give them a reason to click on them. This was true yesterday and it will be true tomorrow. I’ve written about this in the past, but it bears repeating.
For every article I’m working on, I write out at least ten titles. It doesn’t matter if I love what I see after the third option. I don’t stop until I have ten. If I’m still not happy with what I have in front of me, I’ll write out ten more. This will not only grow your creative muscle, but it will also give you ideas for future posts.
Once I have a few solid options, I’ll ask both readers and writers which one they like. Yes, this takes time. But the post I wrote took even more time, and the last thing I want to do is waste a perfectly good article by skimping on the title because I’m eager to publish.
7. I Stopped Marketing My Work
I know, I know, this is a cardinal sin and I’ll probably regret it in the future. But few things drain my energy more than social media, and as the father of two young kids who works from home, I only have a few hours of uninterrupted time each day to get my work done. So instead of spending some of that time doing something I don’t enjoy, I use every second I can to write and learn how to write.
Is running around sharing your work on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin really making a difference? If it is, by all means, keep at it. But if it isn’t, why not take a few months off from social media to really focus on your writing? You may find that instead of having to share your posts, other people are doing it for you.
Plus, now that I’m feeling like I need a break from writing, I can sit on my sofa and market my old articles to see if I can get them wings again.
8. I Ask Myself This One Painful Question Before I Post Anything
At the beginning of 2019, I sent my dad a draft to review. I thought it was pretty good, and as I scanned his minimal edits, I thought for once that he did too. But then I saw a giant comment in big red letters at the end of the post— “Michael, if your writer crush were to read this article are you confident they would find your best work?”
At the time I was furious and I wanted to fight back. But the more I thought about his question, the more I saw his point. This comes back again to what you want to accomplish as a writer. For me, writing is my main lead source for coaching, and I’ve seen firsthand how effective having a bunch of highly viewed articles can be.
This may change tomorrow and I’ll focus more on pushing ideas out the door. But as of today, I’ve decided to listen to my dad for once.
Quick but important aside: Over the last few months, I’ve been offered the opportunity to collaborate with my favorite business leader, send every article I write over to my favorite publication, and potentially write a book. Every single one of the messages I received included these words — “We’ve read every post you’ve written recently and we love what we see.”
Maybe this would have happened regardless. But maybe it wouldn’t have. I can’t help thinking though, that sticking to my guns and working as hard as I can on each post has played a role in these opportunities.
When it comes to writing, there is no wrong or right way. There is only your way. Some months we can be prolific and push articles to test our ideas and get our work quickly out into the world. Some months we can grab a few topics and really dig into them.
What I love most about writing is that each of us gets to make our own rules. So the only question that remains is — What are yours?