Why Writing Online Is Different
I published my first article in November 2014. I had no idea what I was doing, but I had fun. Ironically, the only way to keep this fun around long-term was to consider writing the most serious job I’ve ever had. So I committed.
Now, over four years later, nothing is the same. Except that part. The fun’s still here. I even have a slightly better idea of what I’m doing. But writing online is different from anything I’d ever imagined or associated with that word.
Here are 3 lessons I rarely see others mention, but that helped me get to now.
1. People aren’t waiting to change their perspective. You have to do it for them.
No none walks around saying: “I wish someone changed my mind about productivity.” That’s not how humans work. We’re intensely focused on our day, ourselves, our next task at hand, zipping through everyday life with tunnel vision. Browsing the web and reading online are no different.
If anything, we hope to bump into ideas that confirm our worldview, not challenge it. This onus lies entirely on you, the writer. People don’t just underestimate it but, often, abandon this challenge altogether, going the easier route of telling people what they know they’ll want to hear.
This works for a while, especially when you’re just beginning, but it gets old really quick. Readers don’t know they’re driven by these biases, but from feeding them, even subconsciously, they still get bored. And that’s a feeling they know. So they move on.
What they might not know they want — but need — is an idea that cracks their perspective. A tiny fracture, just big enough for them to raise their eyebrows. To blink twice. To scroll up again. Presenting this idea is what I try to do in most of my headlines. The article is just the fulfillment center.
The line between offending people and making them think is infinitely small. But learning to dance on it is one of the most important skills you’ll ever learn.
2. The only agenda that works is to have no agenda.
That sounds weird. Of course I have an agenda. Everyone does. I want dollars. Followers. Views. However, the single greatest way to maximize all of those in the long run is to not care when you’ll get them and in what order.
Because that’s the only way you’ll be free to overwhelm the platforms you write on with generosity, consistency, and genuine care. It’s not about you. Great work never is. The sooner you can act that out, the earlier you’ll take off.
What does the host want? What do readers want? What does the platform want for its readers and what do readers expect for giving their invaluable time and attention to this place? Notice how absent you are from all these important questions. I know it’s counterintuitive, but it’s also liberating.
No one cares about what you want, but then you also don’t have to care about your own mess-ups. You can just try again. Whatever you do, if you start from integrity and maintain it above all else, you’ll never be in a rush to get yours.
Because you’ll know it’s coming to you. Maybe not tomorrow and definitely not today. But it’s coming — and you’ll know what to do with it once it does.
3. Change before you need to or you’ll adapt too late.
If you were to browse through my entire history of articles, you’d think it’s a collection of writing from at least five different people. Everything changes, all the time. Style. Voice. Content. Vocabulary. Structure. Formatting.
Sometimes, it’s me reaching the next level. Sometimes, it’s me adopting a trend early. Most of the time, however, it’s me experimenting on purpose. Changing for the sake of change. To set trends, rather than wait for them.
At first sight, this is a stupid strategy. Why give up what’s working? Why mess with a winning team? It means I’m alienating my fans. Or forcing them to grow with me. I’ll lose the people who just got here and I might not win over those who are about to. But it also means I’m staying true to myself.
Who wants to be one-dimensional? Who actually is? No one. Consistency of character is a myth. Just like content that confirms our views, it’s attractive on the surface, but boring and inauthentic underneath.
If you embrace your contradictions and allow them to flow freely, you still won’t get every shift in context right each time, but you’ll learn to keep an open mind. It’ll be easier to write more game changers (see #1) and reduce friction when you have to adapt (see #2). Most of all, it’ll keep writing fun.
And isn’t that what we truly want?