1 Year Later, I’ve Learned These Valuable Writing Lessons
Craft, credibility, and risk-taking matter
I’ve just crossed the one-year mark for writing and, looking back, I’m a bit stunned at how much I’ve learned. I’ve always been a writer: I was the person who consistently received the feedback “more bullet points” when it came to email at work.
As much as I knew that writing online would be a different writing experience, I’m surprised at how different it is. What works in a corporate setting is a kamikaze mission online. What works in one context doesn’t work in another. It’s been incredibly eye-opening.
I want to record these observations and my growth markers because I’m sure I’ll have grown as much next year as I have this year.
With that in mind, here are my top writing lessons
- Headlines and images matter.
But they have to be the RIGHT headline and the RIGHT image. I know if my Medium views/page views are lower than usual that something is wrong with either my headline or my featured picture. Usually, it’s the headline.
- Don’t be afraid to make changes even after the piece has gone live.
If I can tell a piece will underperform and I know it’s the headline, I’ll change the headline. If I find a typo (or receive a response that tells me a section is confusing), I’ll edit the piece.
My work isn’t chiseled into stone. At first, it took bravery to make a change. Now, it’s standard practice.
- Story-telling shifts based on the nature of the post.
Some stories are written to share an experience and create a bond; other stories are written to illuminate a point.
The number and type of details that should be included are different for each. In pure storytelling, detail becomes more important. Dialogue needs to be crisp and well-fleshed out. It should have a clear story arc.
When using a story to highlight a critical point, only the details relevant to the piece should come to the foreground. The situation should be set up in a single sentence. The entire story should be told as briefly as possible, and end quickly once the vital point is hit upon.
Readers won’t stick with you if you tell a complete story and bury the point inside it. At least, that’s one lesson I’ve gotten from writing on Medium.
- Write targeted content but cast a wide net.
Your core audience may be hiding in unexpected places. People who find me via an Entrepreneurship or Productivity tag are just as likely to read my backlist of posts on mental health as someone who finds me through a Depression tag.
Similarly, guest posting in unexpected places drives traffic to my website. I’m always surprised by the places people find me!
- Grammarly helps, but it’s flawed, too.
I worry about being grammatically correct. I don’t want to turn off readers because they stumble over misplaced commas or I overused a single word. Grammarly is a huge benefit here.
However, Grammarly is still a work in progress, and it doesn’t always recognize craft. I vary my writing with long, semi-colon connected sentences to flesh out ideas and use short, tight phrases to emphasize points.
Grammarly can’t always tell the difference.
It also suggests synonyms that are clearly inappropriate to a native English speaker or to suggest a rephrasing that deflates the inherent emotion. That said, I’ve improved my knowledge of grammar over the past year, and now I make better choices when presented with alternatives.
- Writing groups are lifelines.
Here I’m giving a big shoutout to the Tribe Builders Group and the 20BooksTo50k groups on Facebook. While the goals of the groups are different, in both cases I’m connected with people who write and are growing their audiences.
Writing and ministry can be solitary affairs. These groups make it less so.
As a bonus, people in these groups become your cheerleaders. They help you get your message out, and we become each others’ fans. The support is incredible and affirming.
- Guest posting helps your website.
I’ve learned a ton about do-follow and no-follow links, and it’s impacting my guest posting. I write enough now that I want to put my energy into the areas where I think will help me achieve the most good.
I’ve been featured on major websites like The Mighty, Thought Catalog, and a couple others with massive traffic. Those pieces haven’t helped me generate much traffic, and they use no-follow links, so I don’t get much SEO lift from them, either. BUT…I’ve gained domain credibility through these outlets, which is important for attracting new members to the flock.
Posting on smaller websites with decent domain authority who give me do-follow links is highly effective at helping me rank in search results, and their readership tends to be more engaged and click-through from the guest post to my site.
Speaking of which, want a guest writer? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Newsletters matter, but so does the format of the newsletter.
I watched my Open and Click Through rates on my newsletters vary as I grapple with the best way to connect with my readership. This is an area where I think I will never stop experimenting.
- Keep a working list of ideas and posts.
I use Scrivener for this. I have a Non-Fiction project that contains folders for my Website, Medium, and my Guest Posts. Each has a folder for Ideas, In Progress, and Posted.
Each time I have a new idea, I create a new Text document in the Ideas folder. I capture these on the fly using the Scrivener app on my iPhone. I also try to include a writing prompt that tells me what the core idea or message for the post would be.
Every time I sit down to write, I’m not stuck searching for ideas.
- Read something I like? Invite that person to guest post.
This is one of the easier ways I’ve encountered to minimize my workload and maintain consistency on my website.
I’ve also learned to have a backup plan for those weeks I have guest posts; not everyone will follow-through. I’m at about a 50% success rate in this area.
- Content calendars help, too.
The more I write, the more I see how my posts fall into specific categories. I’m creating theme months that I can use to brainstorm ideas on topics I can cover that week.
I use AirTable to track my content calendar. In a single table, I list the idea, the final title, the status of the piece, the URL, the shortened URL, the excerpt and a couple of other key details.
This means I have an easily searchable list of all my work. When I want to make changes to my posting structure, I can just create a new field and track my progress on changing all my posts over.
- Fans bring in more fans.
People who are helped or connect deeply with my work will share with others. 20% of my Facebook group growth is from people who added their friends and family.
- Smaller paragraphs matter. A lot.
It still bugs me to see my thoughts broken up in small paragraphs, but the numbers tell me this is appropriate and necessary. It doesn’t matter that I think it means my work reads more choppily than I’d like; it’s more consumable and that’s what matters.
- Don’t be afraid to write long pieces.
On Medium, My Read Ratio drops as my Views go up on Medium, but my Fan ratio is consistent against the number of Reads I have. I average 1300 words per post, so my readers invest roughly 7 minutes of their time.
My consistent Fan ratio tells me that those who need to hear what I have to say will stick with me. Those who don’t? Not my core audience. I’m grateful they checked me out and more grateful they self-selected away from me.
- Sometimes the smaller thoughts are what matter most.
I wrote a throwaway piece called “The Value of Stating the Obvious” just to maintain consistency. My husband read it and told me that it wasn’t my usual quality.
Guess which post has outperformed even my featured pieces? Yup.
It’s such a small thought, and yet it’s resonated with an incredibly wide readership.
I’ve found similar responses in other “small thought” posts. Maybe it’s because I’m writing about the stuff we usually keep hidden in our heads, or maybe there’s another reason. Regardless, the response encourages me to take more risks.
- Provocative ideas get the most attention.
But they have to be sincere and validated within the article. Being provocative for the sake of being provocative (or driving views) turns off audiences FAST.
Beyond all these lessons I’ve learned on the actual craft of writing, I’ve learned a lot about marketing and platform building. I’ll put those lessons in another post.
This first year has been amazing. If you’re one of those people who has supported me on any of my channels, THANK YOU. Your support means everything to me and encourages me to keep learning and growing — yes, as a writer, but more importantly as a whole person.