How to start writing online: book notes on “The Art and Business of Online Writing”

Alice Heiman
8 min readMay 4, 2023

“You don’t become a writer by reading other writers. You become a writer by writing — a lot.”

🦁 The Essence

  • Writing online is a game like any other. You can practice and make strategic moves to win the game.
  • Write on already establish platforms to grow an audience. Make noise, lots of it, and respond to what resonates.
  • Answer the readers question while keeping them entertained. Become a category leader by finding your unique voice and perspective in a category all of your own.

🐨 Impressions

I’ve actually always been scared of having opinions.

What if I offend someone? What if I am not qualified to express my thoughts on the subject? What do I know… Online writing is my way of addressing this fear head on. Of putting myself out there in public. Being vulnerable. But also cultivating my voice in the process.

Writing for thinking.

Writing for documenting.

Writing for learning.

I believe I should rate a book also on the engagement it inspires. For example, this book is making me engage so much. It makes me want to apply what I am learning and really use the tools in real life.

‘Gamers, on the other hand, know that you have to play Level 1 over and over again in order to reach Level 2. And then you have to play Level 2 over and over again before you can reach Level 3. And if you can just keep on keeping on your journey, learning and mastering each level, you will eventually climb all the way to the top of the ladder. That’s how you “beat the game.”’

🐳 Actionable Takeaways

  • Blogging is waiting for people to come to your site. Online writing is sharing your thoughts, stories, opinions, and insights on already established platforms.
  • A lot is about observing how thought leaders in your chosen category act, and then imitate their behaviour. In the end, you will start develop your own niche.
  • You do not know what the audience want beforehand. Make noise, lot’s of noise, and see if something resonates. Then continue on that path. Making marginal gains, small improvements over time. Build up your audience to know what they want, THEN, create your product.
  • Do not assume. Listen. And respond.
  • “The number of hours I spend consuming should never equal or exceed the number of hours I spend creating.”
  • Use bolded statements. Make a VISUAL STRUCTURE that is appealing. Do not drown your message in big blobs of text. Separate out your main points. Make your insights clear.
  • Treat gaining skills like a game. One step at a time = one level at a time. You do not start a game at level 100, you begin at level 1 and work yourself up.
  • Document your learning: “I tried to think about exactly when I had learned the answer to each question, what had happened, what was said to me, when it had “clicked,” and then shared that.”
  • Practice in public! Share your work! Get the feedback! This is how you improve! Do not be afraid! Do not wait for the stars to align. Just DO IT!
  • Be specific. Be intentional about the audience you target. Instead of EVERYONE (or no one for that matter) going; meh. Make some go HELL YEA! and others go away.
  • Do not be shy to republish your content everywhere: “The beginner version of this strategy is to post every single article you write on every single social platform you can.” In short; you can republish your content on as many platforms as you like. You can get magazines to republish content from your site on their site.
  • Kill your darlings: “[…] if your story “gets better” four paragraphs later, delete your first four paragraphs. You don’t need them.”
  • Make it about the reader. Use yourself as a story or to give context to a point. Always include your promotion as a helpful resource, not shining a spotlight on it.
  • Valuable content -> more valuable content -> even more valuable content
  • Describe how to do something, and tell the story of how you learned it yourself. That’s the story and the context. Why YOU are credible.

🦄 Favorite Quotes

“The writers who become successful are the most consistent writers.”

“Somewhere, someone else is practicing harder than you, faster than you, longer than you. They want it more than you. And when you meet them, they will win”

“Give away 99% of your best writing for free.”

“People told me what they wanted — all I had to do was listen.”

“Categories are how we organise information in our minds. Know your category and you’ll know where readers “fit” you into their own minds.”

“You don’t become a writer by reading other writers. You become a writer by writing — a lot.”

“The number of hours I spend consuming should never equal or exceed the number of hours I spend creating.”

“Everything you write should, in some sense, feel like both a stand-alone piece and a piece within your larger library.”

“You are not the main character in your story. The reader is.”

“The secret to creating a unique writing style is by doing what would be considered “unexpected” in your chosen category.”

“The real question you should never stop asking yourself is, “Could this be more specific?” Because the more specific you can be, the more likely you are to resonate with your target reader MORE than your competition.”

“Everything you write should, in some sense, feel like both a stand-alone piece and a piece within your larger library.”

“Instead, just say what you want to say in this one individual piece, and be done. Let there be some dissonance in the air. Let readers feel like you could have said more, but didn’t. This is what gets them to come back again and again.”

“The Golden Intersection of great writing is: Answering The Reader’s Question x Telling Them An Entertaining Story”

“The best way to continue earning a reader’s loyalty is to direct them from a piece of written content they already find valuable, to a longer, more extensive resource they will want to bookmark forever.”

“Pillar Pieces” are the most valuable, most comprehensive, most insightful, and most engaging versions of pieces that have proven themselves elsewhere.”

🐡 Bonus

The Levels of Online Writing

Level 1: admit you are playing “the game” Level 2: chose a category (your nische) and learn its nuances. Level 3: create a style/personality within your category that is unique and unexpected Level 4: be conscious about your “Rate of Revelation”. Skip the mush-mush. Head straight for the main point. Then the next. And the next. Level 5: be specific Level 6: gain credibility by writing good content consistently, showing a willingness to play the game and improve. Then, leverage those signals. Level 7: create your own category

  • AUDIENCE x GENRE
  • GENRE x GENRE
  • AUDIENCE/GENRE x TONE

“My recommendation would be for you to get started writing, publishing, gathering data, “practicing in public,” and studying The Ladder of your chosen category. Over time, data will reveal which parts of your writing voice are resonating (and which parts are falling flat), and as long as you keep paying attention to the feedback you’re receiving, your voice will continue to grow and evolve.”

“Write fast-paced articles that use short paragraphs, declarative language, and subheads for every main point. Combine actionable advice for the reader with personal stories from your own life that illustrate how you gained the insight you’re sharing in the first place.”

Step by Step

  • Just start writing
  • Write consistently for six months
  • 2–4 times a month minimum, ideally every week (spin the wheel!)
  • Gather data! (Pick three categories and alternate between them, see what resonates with the audience)
  • Do more of what resonates, but use THAT credibility/leverage to “to optimize the former so you can introduce people to the latter.”
  • Follow the category leader

Questions to Constantly Ask Yourself

  • Who is this piece of writing for?
  • Could this be more specific?
  • Analyse the Top-Writers within your category: If they do XXX, why are they doing that? What do you think they’re trying to achieve? Was there a point in time when they weren’t doing that? What happened to their engagement once they started doing that?
  • What are the topics, subject matters, and categories you are most qualified to write within?
  • Does this idea fall within one of my three content buckets?” (If not, what can you tweak so that it makes more sense in the context of your library?)
  • Will this piece stand the test of time?” (If not, what can you change to make it less timely and more timeless?)
  • Have I already written about this? (If yes, how can you re-tell those same stories, insights, opinions, etc., in a way that gives the reader a new and different experience?)

What page data tell you

Likes = “This is something I approve of. Nice job.” Shares = “This is something more people need to know about. This represents me.” Comments = “This is thought provoking. I agree/disagree, and I want you to know why. Views = “This strikes a chord. There’s something valuable here.”

Endless idea generator

  1. What type of writing?
  2. What idea?
  3. Why me?

Types of Articles

Actionable guide

  • “Again, the goal of writing an Actionable Guide of any kind is to get someone to bookmark it.”
  • Quality
  • Perspective
  • Organization
  • Audience
  • Experience
  • Content

Opinion

  • data
  • Quotes
  • Insight
  • Clarity
  • Stories

Curated List

  • Specific
  • Speed
  • Examples
  • Structure
  • Subheads
  • Introduction

Story

  • Openers
  • Transitions
  • Characters
  • Language
  • Category

Credible talking head

  • Association (name dropping)
  • Context (why are you credible to say what you do?)
  • Argument (reframe!)
  • Perception (be unique, stand out)

Writing the article

Create the headline

  • “headline achieving all three of its goals: 1) telling the reader what this piece is about, 2) whether it’s for them, and 3) whether the PROMISE is worth their time.”
  • Start with the headline. Get it right. THEN, write the article. Gives you clarity on what to write and the scope of it.

Structure

  1. Introduction
  2. X Main Points
  3. (Conclusion)

Introduction

  • 1/3/1 1/5/1 1/3/2/1 1/5/2/1 1/4/1/1 1/3/1 + 1/3/1 1/3/Subhead/3/1 1/3/1 + Bulleted List 1 + Subhead

Main Points

  • Begin backwards = list main points first
  • More Main Points = Less Explanation. Less Main Points = More Explanation”
  • Use bolded statements. Make a VISUAL STRUCTURE that is appealing. Do not drown your message in big blobs of text. Separate out your main points. Make your insights clear.
  • 1/2/5/3/1 1/3/1 1/1/1+ Main point 1, 2 or 3 Bolded statements Short long long short Repetition First second third

Conclusions

  • “When it comes to online writing, conclusions are optional.”

A Note on Language

  • write for the everyday person
  • Write how you speak (record yourself and transcribe)
  • Avoid long sentence
  • Alternate sentence length
  • Declarative and confident with writing!

“As a rule of thumb, anyone who tries to sound professional ends up sounding inauthentic, and those who lean into their authentic voice end up being perceived as the most relatable.”

“The more declarative you can be with your language, the more you will force readers to make a decision. Either they will say, “I strongly agree,” or they will say, “I strongly disagree.” Either of these responses is far better than, “Meh.”

Create Pillar Pieces

Make proven articles into a “Pillar Piece”

  • combine content (a guide, a combination of XX tweets)
  • Curate expert opinions
  • Add statistics
  • Tell personal stories
  • Give more examples
  • Speak to 1 hyper specific problem
  • Curate credible case studies
  • Early/exclusive content (be specific, reader need to gain an idea of what they will be receiving)
  • Different levels of audience
  • Templates/worksheets (for example in Notion!!)

“Write content in each of your three Content Buckets. Use data to decide which specific topic deserves its own Pillar Piece. Create a Pillar Piece on your website. Continue to write about that proven topic in social environments, and regularly link to that Pillar Piece in everything you write that is relevant.”

Grow Audience

  • audience hacking (collaborations with content creators of equal size)
  • Trend jacking
  • Engagement hacking (go to other writers within your category and engage with them, showing your name to their audience)
  • Hashtag stacking (broad + specific, copy category leaders)
  • Publishing hacking (make the most of your content)

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