- Michael Thompson
If you walk long enough, you’ll arrive
Every week I get a few emails asking for writing advice — especially from people who don’t have the time or desire to publish an article every day of the week and 37 on Sunday.
With two young kids and bills to pay, I try to answer most messages I get. But writing isn’t my only job and I don’t move as quickly as some other people. Plus, I don’t see the point in spending my time — or more importantly, wasting someone else’s time — by writing a bunch of fast replies to big questions.
That being said, before I get into a few pieces of writing advice that have worked for me when it comes to moving fast by writing slowly, below’s a bit of my backstory.
I began writing for fun a few months before I randomly stumbled upon this platform in the late spring of 2017. Like a lot of people, I wasn’t getting any traction on my personal website so I decided to publish a few articles here and I fell in love with the ease of the platform.
Since that time, a third of the 225 articles I’ve published (roughly 1.5 a week) have more than 10,000 views, which blows my mind considering prior to 2019 my most read article maxed out at 8,000 views. Not only that, but I’ve had 27 articles featured by editors and another 30 or so syndicated in mainstream publications like Business Insider.
Unlike most people who say they do not talk about their stats to brag, I absolutely am bragging. I’m damn proud of the fact of what I’ve been able to accomplish. Having no idea what the future held, prior to making any money as a writer, I turned down lucrative positions to see where the words I wrote would take me for the simple reason that at the age of 39 I discovered that I loved it.
Not only that, but I’ve done things my way. If you get anything out of this article, I hope it’s the notion that you too should do things your own way. Like a wise man once told me:
“You’ll never make it if you’re not being yourself. So what’s the point in delaying the inevitable?”
If you too do not have the bandwidth to publish every day and want the quality of your work to compete with the quantity of others, below are a few ideas that you can either steal or twist around to make them more authentic to you as an individual.
Just a heads up, though, these secrets and tips look a whole lot like work.
1. I Collect Micro-Stories
Like a lot of people, when I first began writing I was eager to tell my biggest stories. But after publishing a few articles I realized most people didn’t really care about them unless it helped them solve a direct problem they were facing or it was highly entertaining.
So instead of focusing on the big moments in my life, I began collecting micro-stories of things that happened during the day that made me think to myself, “Hey, I bet other people can relate to this too.”
In addition to hundreds of notes regarding possible titles and article ideas, I have just as many micro-stories to draw from, which makes my life easier when I sit down to write.
Walking up the steps of my apartment one morning to find my son playing with his dinosaurs and laughing to himself while I was feeling stressed out made me think to myself, “I want to be like that!” And this two-second thought led to the backdrop for an article that editors decided to feature about how to wake up smiling.
- Collect these experiences.
- Keep a log of your thoughts.
- Think about the small experiences in your life that have ended up shaping who you are in a big way.
- Write down the interesting things people say to you.
If it affected you, the odds are high it will move someone else also.
Plus, if you want to write an article about the importance of a morning routine, having a personal story to kick things off lets readers know your “Why,” which makes it that much easier for them to connect with you.
2. I Talk Incessantly With People About the Topics I’m Writing About
I could not agree more with author Ryan Holiday’s logic that every article should first be a conversation. Why roll the dice on an article only to discover other people really aren’t interested in that topic?
- Share the stories you are thinking about writing about with your friends.
- Test parts of them out on social media to see if they resonate.
- Dig in with your partner over dinner one night to better flesh out an idea you have.
I primarily write about personal growth and it only makes sense to talk to people about what experiences or advice actually made them grow as a person.
Not only will this potentially save you from the heartache of seeing an article fall flat, but you may also pick up a few ideas or hear a few stories that help to make your article more unique and memorable.
Quoting Dale Carnegie or Marcus Aurelius is fine on occasion. But a quote from your partner, mentor, friend, or even enemy is much more interesting as it allows your audience to see you as a human rather than a content factory.
3. I Put Myself in the Curator’s Shoes
Putting yourself in your reader’s shoes is a must. But to move on this platform, you must also think about what curators are looking for.
Yes, titles are important and it’s worth the time to test out a few variations either with your friends and family or on social media. Of course, a clean and engaging introduction that hooks the reader plays a role.
But there’s one thing that I think influences their decision more than anything else:
Curators can see the notes that other people leave on your articles.
To clarify (in case you are new to this platform), if you ask someone for feedback on one of your drafts prior to publishing, the edits they leave can be seen by curators (so do not delete them).
I’d be willing to bet my duplex that seeing my articles littered with suggestions from other people has played a massive role in the fact that every single article I’ve written over the last 18 months has been curated except one.
From my experience, you do not need to be the most talented writer in the world to be successful.
But you do need to care.
Taking the time to get feedback on your articles shows the curators you’re willing to put in the work and you value your reader’s time.
4. For Every Article I Write, I Edit at Least Two Others for Other People
When I first started writing I joined a few large writing communities, and despite making some friends, I failed to find one that actually helped writers improve their craft.
So instead of accepting this, I asked a few people whose work I admired if they wanted to team up together to critique each other’s work.
Without a doubt, this has been the best decision I’ve made in my writing career. But this isn’t only because their feedback has helped me to write tighter articles. It’s also because somewhere along the way I began to think like an editor and I became better at cleaning up my own work.
In the beginning, you will be horrible at editing.
- Start by circling the sentences that look funny and try rewriting them in a more effective way.
- Once you’ve highlighted sentences that don’t read correctly, look for ones that aren’t necessary or are too long (I was told by both my editor at Crunchbase and Fast Company to keep 80% of my sentences under 25 words to make it easier to read — one idea per sentence).
- After you are done with that, scan the article again and identify the strongest or most interesting point and see how you can set it up better or how you can weave it into the introduction so their words can better engage their readers.
On paper, I’m not a writing coach, but this past month three CEOs have reached out to learn how to write more effectively. I have no problem taking them on as clients as it takes me just a few minutes to zero in on where they can improve.
Learning how to make other people’s stories better will not only help you as a writer — but it may also turn into an extra income stream.
Glorious things happen when people who have a similar interest come together to help each other improve their work.
5. I Watch a Ridiculous Amount of Speeches
Some people learn how to write an engaging story by reading. For me personally, I soak up a lot more knowledge by listening to people give interesting talks.
Give it a shot for yourself and instead of listening to a story, dissect it.
- What are the first words out of the speaker’s mouth (the odds are high they spent a ton of time thinking about it)?
- What is it about their introduction that grabbed your attention?
- Do they kick-off by telling a story or do they begin with a shocking statement or interesting quote?
- How did they successfully transition from point to point?
- What words did they use as signposts to let you know they were moving on to something new?
- Do they use metaphors or short stories to simplify complex ideas?
- Does their conclusion link back to their introduction? Or do they wrap up their talk by driving home their strongest points?
- If they ended with a call-to-action did their words inspire you to follow their flag?
When I’m writing, I constantly remind myself of the questions above. I focus on hooking my readers as fast as I can. I tinker with the first and last sentence of each section to make sure it flows and persuades people to keep reading. I make sure the conclusion leaves them feeling inspired.
Of course, people want to learn something new when reading.
But they also want to “feel” something and learning how to tell a compelling story is the most effective way to do this.
Stories are the world’s great connector and watching people give talks is an underrated way to learn how to get your words to better sing.
6. I (Generally) Wait a Week Before Publishing an Article
Have you ever been on an interview and after it was over you kicked yourself for not expressing yourself as well as you could have or even forgotten to say something that was important to you?
The beauty of writing is before we publish we get to go back and polish up our thoughts before sharing them.
Sure, there have been times when I’ve gone on a rant and I’ve been able to write exactly what I wanted to express in a timely and effective manner. But for most posts, especially the ones that have done really well, I took my time and the reason for this is two-fold:
- As human beings, we miss things. Disconnecting from an article and later coming back to it with fresh eyes before publishing will increase the chances that you’ll catch your mistakes.
- My ideas need time to connect. I can’t count the number of times I waited to publish an article and while doing a final round of edits I found a hole or discovered a section that needed sprucing up. More times than not, these same fixes turn out to be the parts that readers highlight or comment on the most.
Again, this is what works for me. But in the three years I’ve been publishing on this platform not once have I said to myself after making the hard decision to slow down, “Man, these changes made my article worse — I should have run it sooner!”
In the process, this has taught me a valuable lesson:
Sometimes patience is the silent confidence that separates what gets talked about and what doesn’t.
Plus, if you’re honest with yourself, you may realize the only person putting pressure on yourself to publish at a fast pace is you. So give yourself a week-long break and line up posts that you 100% stand behind.
From my experience, a handful of great articles is both more effective and valuable than having a ton of average ones.
7. I Remind Myself Every Day Why I Write
Why are you publishing on this platform? Is it to get rich? Is it to share your ideas? Is it to build a portfolio? There is no wrong answer to this question, only your answer.
For me personally, I have two big motivators:
- I think it’s really cool that in a few years my kids will be able to read about their dad and see not only what he did with his life but also the challenges he faced and the good people he met that helped him. In short, my kids in 10 years are my target audience and I do not want to rush the stories that are waiting for them.
- I like writing, but I get more satisfaction working with interesting people, and living in a small town in Spain writing is my conduit to these conversations and future opportunities.
A big part of me wants to push it and see how many articles I can get out into the world. God knows the money is tempting. But I feel like if I’m consistently trying to do the best work I can the money in some way or another will follow.
And if not, so be it. The only thought I want to have about my life when I am old and grey is that I did things my way.