How do you differentiate yourself in the marketplace, and start building the foundations of a globally recognised personal brand?
Well, you might start by publishing a blog post on a niche topic (APIs are pretty niche). Then, you might use this article along with some networking magic to land a job as a marketer/business developer without formal credentials, and without ever sending a CV. Next, you might publish a thought leading how-to article that lands you some consulting work, and voiala; that’s how you also achieve location independence.
Without the details though, it’s hard to know up from down, isn’t it? So do continue reading – there’s good stuff to come.
Blogging is a great tool to expand your reach, find paying work, and influence change, yet despite how effective it is, many aspiring bloggers never quite pull the trigger and actually start writing.
Why exactly is that?
After asking several wannabe bloggers, and reflecting on some of my own experiences, I realised that in many cases it boiled down to these three reasons:
- Fear of over-commitment
- Spending too much time fiddling with domains, CMSs, and themes
- Not knowing a writing process
In this post I’ll show you how to tackle each of these by sharing the 3 principles that I’ve used to quit procrastinating, and actually start publishing.
Reduce the Fear of Overcommitment by Giving Yourself an Exit
Many of us hesitate and even indefinitely postpone committing to new projects (especially those involving writing) under the assumption that once we start we’re not allowed to stop, even if we don’t like it. The good news is that we’re dead wrong. It’s perfectly fine to quit if you don’t enjoy the experience, so give yourself an exit if that turns out to be the case.
The idea is to set yourself strategic moments of reflection where you can decide to either continue or stop, without the guilt of feeling like a quitter. For now lets call these scheduled reflections exit points, because their function is to provide you an easy escape in case whatever it is you’re getting involved in really isn't your thing.
For first timers, three articles is a great place to start. It gives you enough articles to experiment with different formats, topics, and lets face it, the number three is a lot less intimidating than forever. So the next time you’re considering to start blogging, instead of seeing it as a permanent commitment, just think of it as a three article trial. The goal is to remove the belief that once you start, you can’t stop.
Publish Your Minimum Viable Article as Soon as Possible!
Entrepreneurs try to prove one of their most risky assumptions, “will ‘X’ customer buy ‘Y’ product from me”, by getting to the first sale as quickly as possible. Just like entrepreneurs, you should make an effort to publish your first article as soon as possible too. Only for you it serves to prove another set of assumptions. For example; will you enjoy writing, or can you write content that creates value for readers?
The vehicle to publishing quickly is the minimum viable article. Ask yourself, what is the bare minimum that you need in order to publish your first article? If you are not sure, I’ll tell you.
- A title, intro, body, and a conclusion
- 600 - 2000 words in between (nouns, verbs, adverbs, etc – you know…)
- A place to publish your finished article
And that’s it..
No more, and no less.
Thankfully, Medium, makes publishing your first articles simple, and it won’t take you more than a minute to create an account. Don’t get caught into the trap of deciding which content management system (CMS) to use, what domain to buy, and what theme to use. At this point in time you should have one goal, writing your minimum viable article. The rest you can deal with later.
Develop Your Writing Process, or Use This One
My first article took me 3 weeks to write, and roughly a total of 40 hours – I’m not kidding! The reason it took me so long is because I did not have a good writing process, and wasted time making many newbie mistakes. After publishing several more articles though, and after having had many conversations with other bloggers, I’ve developed a writing process which has cut my writing time per article down to 6-10 hours. If you haven’t got your own writing process figured out yet, I recommend you use this one:
[Step #1] Decide on a topic
I believe that behind every writer is someone who has a compelling need to share something, who wants to start a discussion, pass on knowledge, and help solve others problems using only words.
What do you feel like sharing?
Unfortunately, only you can answer that one. However, here is how I tackle that question.
My posts are very “how to” in nature, so I usually decide on a topic after having helped someone via email. This post is a great example. A friend reached out to me and asked if I would be able to give his brother some tips to help him start blogging. After sending a few paragraphs and seeing how genuinely grateful he was, I went on to turn those tips into this post, and in the process potentially help 10,000 others who are struggling to tackle the same challenges.
Another way I discover topics is by listing all my recent experiences, and choosing one I’d like to expand on. With that one experience written in the center of a blank piece of paper, I continue to jot down ideas around it until I find out exactly what it is that I’d like to share with the world.
[Step #2] Write a premise
”The premise is a two- or three-sentence statement of the book’s basic concept or thesis. Usually, it identifies the need and then proposes a solution.” — Michael Hyatt
The more I write, the more I believe that all “effective writing” starts with a strong premise. Don’t get me wrong, free-writing can also work wonders, but starting with a good premise is like driving with a good GPS; you will get lost a lot less often.
Depending on the article, this can take me several sittings to get just right, or I can write one in 30 seconds. No matter which one it is, I rarely begin writing a post without one.
Check out this helpful resource on premise writing if you’re still not sure what a premise is.
[Step #3] Write a working title
This usually isn’t the final title, but it does need to do a good enough job of framing the post. Pick the title that springs to your mind most naturally when you think about the post, and the topic you're writing about. The goal is to run with the title that puts you in the right mindset.
When you’ve finished your post, you can always come back to refine the title once you've honed in on your core message. I’ve found that my better articles can really only be named one way that makes me feel like I nailed it.
Remember that your post title will be the most read words of your article, so if you want people to actually click on your finished article and read what you have to say, then spend as much time on it as you did writing the post if necessary.
[Step #4] Draft 5-7 subheadings & main points
These days it is very common for readers to skim. Instead of hating them for doing so, you should write for these readers too, by having clear descriptive subheadings that communicate your core arguments, suggestions, or evidence.
Then under each of your subheadings, jot down the 2 or 3 key points that you would like to mention. This could be an experience you have had, evidence to support your arguments, or even instructions like what you’re reading now.
[Step #5] Write a shitty first draft
There’s a great book on writing (and life) called Bird by Birdby Anne Lamott, and one of the key takeaways is that most mortals produce shitty first drafts. So don’t get into the habit of editing while you write. If you have done a good enough job with your premise, title, and subheadings, you should be able to finish your first draft in 1-2 hours, depending on how fast you type and the length of the post of course. Write as fast as you can. Be messy. Ignore bad grammar and typos. The goal at this stage is to fill the article with editable content.
[Step #6] Write another draft
My first drafts are usually so shitty that the mere thought of someone reading them embarrasses me. So I suggest that, preferably a day or two after having written the first draft, you go ahead and give your post another try before asking friends for feedback. Don’t be discouraged if you find yourself trying to decrypt and figure out what it was that you were really trying to say in the first place. As you work through new drafts, you will find that what you’re really doing is finding new ways to make your writing more understandable, and thus more actionable for the reader.
[Step #7] Get feedback
By now you are probably going to be very stuck, especially if you are new to writing. That’s where it helps to know generous people who don’t mind reading your post and providing you with honest feedback. Remember to respect other people’s time when asking them to review your work. You can make the process as simple as possible for them by writing your articles in a Google doc, and giving commenting rights to whoever it is that you have chosen to crush your ego.
[Step #8] Repeat step 6 & 7
If you are able to receive feedback from someone without unfriending them on Facebook, then give yourself a pat on the back because not everyone can so easily listen to criticism. Now is the time to put that skill to good use by adjusting your post based on the feedback you’ve received. Remember that an outside opinion won’t necessarily always be right, and that you, as the writer, have creative autonomy over your work. I accept suggested changes about 50% of the time. Continue writing new improved versions until you are happy with the finished product. Remember that perfection is not the goal, clear communication is, so make sure your writing cannot be misunderstood and you will do fine.
[Step #9] Final editing
Good writing is like photography. What you leave out is just as important as what you leave in. The aim of this step is to remove everything but the essential. Personally I try to cut my posts word count by 10%, and then again by another 20%. You’ll also want to pay closer attention to grammar, spelling, and formatting during this step. Don’t be afraid to remove whole sections if necessary. Interesting content you choose to leave out might even lay the foundations for a future article.
[Step #10] The rest
As you publish to the web more often, you might want to start adding some search engine optimization (SEO) to your posts to help potential readers find them easier on the search engines, or maybe you want to start including images and downloadable content. If it hasn't been done yet, now is the time to do so.
This 10 step writing process does not always work in as linear fashion as I’d like, but hey, improvising is one of the many joys of writing.
Commit to 3 posts. Write with a Process. Publish next week.
There are very few experiences that have matched the joy I get from hitting publish, and seeing a day later that thousands of real people have read my words. There’s just something about getting a thank you email after, or having someone leaving a cool comment that motivates me enough to go through it all again.
After having experienced the gains first hand, I’m convinced that publishing high quality content is the best way to build a personal brand, land killer new job opportunities, connect with those who share similar interests, and establish credibility in any topic.
Just like with most things worth doing though, publishing to the web does come with few challenges. Fear of over-commit, spending too much time fiddling with technical details, or not knowing how to write an article are a few I highlighted here.
Luckily, they all have easy fixes, and as long you remember to give yourself an exit point, set a short deadline, and understand that effective writing is a process, you will be publishing in no time.
What topic would you like to write about? Let me know in the comments below, and please feel welcome to link to your published articles.