Don’t Obsess Over Headlines, Write More Posts
I used to think titles were everything—turns out you can change them
I wanted to be a famous writer and thought headlines was the answer. Fame became an ugly nightmare, and headlines sure as hell didn’t serve me.
Headline obsession is just creative masturbation in disguise.
If your headline is good and the article sucks, well, the whole thing sucks. Sure headlines are helpful, but there are plenty of good books and articles that have crappy titles. Take these book titles:
Can’t Hurt Me
I Will Teach You To Be Rich
The 4-Hour Workweek
These books are awesome, although you could argue that those are terrible titles. Their contents, though, are valuable and that’s what matters.
These book titles are legendary:
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck
The Magic Of Tidying Up
Yet if these awesome titles were nothing more than that and the advice or stories were useless, again, it wouldn’t matter. The title matters—just not as much as your obsession with it makes you think it matters. Getting stuck on titles is like making a single dollar from writing and not going any further.
That first dollar you make from writing becomes a metaphor for what follows.
If you can make a single dollar from writing, you’ve found a small audience that you can build upon. If all you do is masturbate over titles, you’ll never get to the real art of writing, which is doing it.
A Change in Perspective
There is so much to be said for getting out of your head and removing roadblocks like titles from the equation.
Here’s the thing: You can always change the title once you finish your piece, or even once it’s published. In my case, I’ve gone back and re-written articles from years ago that were unclear and had shitty titles.
The title is not the point of writing. You can change the title — what you can’t change is your lazy attitude or lack of willpower to sit down and do the difficult work of putting words on a page that make sense, have value, and help complete strangers. Learn how to help complete strangers and then you’ll have the secret to writing. It’s not the headline.
I used to be a listicle guy. Throw me a burrito and I’d write you a listicle in under an hour. Some were good. Some were total nonsense. Some were listicles that were no better than my shopping list.
From the listicle, a writer was born. Things got refined a little. The listicles became less of a thing. Writers such as Benjamin Hardy, James Altucher, and Tim Ferriss entered the scene. Some of the ways they write rubbed off on me.
With life experience, an understanding of good writing and hours and hours spent sitting at the computer punching the keyboard the way you’d punch a punching bag, stories are written.
Part of the magic, in the beginning, was that headlines and titles didn’t hold me back. No one was banging on the door of my office in their dressing gown, telling me to focus on the title. So I didn’t. I wrote trashy titles like “5 Ways to Be More Productive.”
The titles were uninspiring dog crap, yet behind the scenes, the writing was taking shape. Titles didn’t stop me from hitting publish. Ever. A title didn’t spark an idea for an article; a life experience did.
Life experience creates the best content for writing, not a title. I can give you a killer headline, but without the life experience added in, you have nothing. And it doesn’t have to be your life experience.
You could witness the life of someone else and use that to write with.
The thing is you’ll never go out there and live life if you are wasting away in your home office trying to come up with a title that is going to make you a millionaire.
No hack — titles, social media strategies, cute pictures, influencers, gurus — can replace the only hack there is: doing the work.
Go forth and write. That’s what counts.