Maybe You’re Already a Writer

How to break through insecurity and just fucking publish your work.

Last month I ran an experiment.

I wrote 20 articles and self-published them on Medium. To be honest, I expected some combination of the following:

  • Silence punctuated by the chirping of crickets
  • Public shaming over errors or opinion
  • To run out of things to say

I felt like I needed a structured experiment, because I just couldn’t seem to finish an article.

I’ve sat for hours typing and deleting things again and again. The dread of no-one reading my words — or worse — reading and disagreeing, used to freeze me.

The weight of what “might happen” has tremendous stopping power.

So I threw pride to the wind, published 20 articles, and posted them on Facebook to see if a friend or two would read them.

By some miracle of algorithmic nature, I ended up a Top Writer in Design and Women in Tech categories on Medium.

Wait, WTF?

My Medium articles sure as hell aren’t Shakespeare.

I employ a publish-first-edit-later approach. I’ve found tons of typos when reading back through. Occasionally I write a boring article that hardly anyone reads.

I live through it.

Surprisingly, the people reading my articles have been patient, non-judgmental, and engaging. The comments have been really interesting and collaborative. I’ve re-connected with colleagues over article topics.

I’ve also started to suspect that I, like most people, was already a writer. I was previously just stopping myself from doing the writing bit.

This article explores how we stop ourselves from writing, and gives tips, tricks and formats for getting those first few posts out the door.

But I’m Not a Writer!

You’ll need to kill your portrait of the artist. Do you have a picture in your mind of what a “writer” looks like? Or what the act of writing involves?

Before last month’s experiment, I definitely had some opinions there.

I thought a writer was something aspirational that you become when the world decides your ideas and opinions are worth hearing. In my imagination, a writer was a romantic, reclusive semi-Victorian figure, sighing heavily and penning poetic truths in a leather notebook.

Me? I plunk down at my crumb-speckled kitchen table. In PJs instead of flowing Victorian garb. I flip open a streaked laptop instead of a leather notebook. And I type, type, type, type.

In two hours, I’ve produced an article that people will or won’t read. That part is less important than the transformation.

Somehow, magically, just by typing in my PJ’s, I’ve gone from random disheveled woman — to writer

Becoming a writer is as accessible as sitting down and writing a thing. Anything.

Don’t just stare at a blank document. Plan the topic, title, and subpoints before jumping in.

But I Don’t Know What to Write!

Personally, there’s nothing worse than my first article idea.

Usually my first idea is something like “How Design Works”, or something equally as broad, dullish and preachy-sounding.

Let me dispel a common misconception among new writers: no one wants to read a holistic treatise about every aspect of a topic.

They’re much more interested in your narrow, opinionated, personal take. Those articles are more interesting, and much easier to write. Think of what extra flavor your personal experience can add to the topic.

  • Have Multiple Ideas — When I challenge myself to come up with a second or third article topic, it forces me to look past obvious or simplistic topics and dig for an interesting insight to base it on.
  • Title Mad Libs —Cruise other Medium posts in your topic. Make yourself a list of fill-in-the-blank topics to inspire article ideas. You can try listicles or play with famous titles or catchphrases. For example: “Ten Things I Learned (doing X)”; “4 Reasons Not To (mistakeY)”; “The Unbearable Lightness of (z-ying)”.
  • Use Subtitles to Plan Article — Once I’ve come up with a main theme, I scribble down 2–4 sub-points that will form the body of the article. For example, Design is for Lovers covers 3 design methodologies you can apply to a relationship. I started with a personal anecdote, then describe each of the 3 methodologies as a subsection.

But No One is Clicking!

I poured blood, sweat and tears into my first 4–5 articles…I thought they were masterpieces.

And then I gave them boring titles. Few people read them.

Yeah, should have seen that coming…

Turns out, it doesn’t matter how good your content is if your title, tagline and featured image don’t inspire someone to click and read.

Unique angles, jokes, racy language and familiar quotes all increase clicks. High quality, mildly provocative images help too.

But No One is Reading It!

Sadly, there are a lot of highly shared, highly rated substance-less articles out there. There are also a lot of thoughtful, text-dense pieces that lazy readers just never make it through.

I find this maddening but unsurprising. Whatever the quality or topic, if you want to maximize the chance of people reading your writing, you need to make it pretty.

  • KSS — Keep It Short, Stupid. Instead of jamming everything you know into a single, 12-minute article, use the opportunity to split up the topic and publish several articles. Short articles get a higher ‘read’ completion, which I assume impacts algorithmic performance. You can also link between short articles in a series, upping the performance of each.
  • Support Your Local Skimmer — Subtitles and bolded words help people skim efficiently through large chunks of text. Consider breaking up large text portions into short paragraphs, utilizing bulleted lists, and clearly marking section titles.
  • Glue Some Fucking Macaroni to It — Every article should have some art in it. By far the best images are those that communicate data or illustrate a point in the text. If you don’t have any related images, choose a visual theme (like ‘space’ or ‘puppies’) and put a cute picture between each sub-section. If you don’t believe this works, my second most-visited article has a Jacques-Cousteau-sea-explorer theme.

If You Were Already a Writer — What Would You Write About?

Do you have topics you’d like to explore? An idea for an article you just haven’t gotten off the ground yet?

Perhaps you’ve broken the seal and you’re writing — what works for you? What tips would you provide writers just getting started?

Please share in the comments blow!