I sucked at writing so I spent a month writing for 4 hours a day
How a couple bad articles and a lucky break got my sub-par writing 13,000 views
I sucked at writing
I’m a great verbal communicator, give me a podium and I can deliver an enthralling speech but give me a pen and I’m useless. Writing was always my weak point and after 24 years of feeling like I’m awful at writing, I decided it was time for a change.
“If you can write one short story a week — it doesn’t matter what the quality is to start — but at least you’re practicing and at the end of the year you have 52 short stories and I defy you to write 52 bad ones. It can’t be done.(2.50)”
The best way to get better at something is to do it, so I made a month-long writing course for myself. I would spend 4 hours a day for a month learning how to write better.
What does success look like?
The first step was to figure out how I would measure success. What would a successful outcome look like?
That’s where Medium came in. I would judge if I was getting better or worse based on the number of views and quality of the comments.
Along with the metrics I gave myself 3 goals and 2 stretch goals:
- Get 10 views
- Get 1 positive comment
- Write an article a week
- Get published by a publication on Medium
- Get 100 views
These might seem like very modest goals but at the time I couldn’t believe anyone would want to read something I wrote. In all honesty, it’s still a weird concept to me.
Now onto the content.
The Course Content: Using Medium to my advantage
Here’s how I structured my 4 hours:
Hour 1: Scour Medium for well-written articles
- Read popular stories on Medium
- Comment on at least 3 stories
- Make notes about what made these stories great
Medium is filled with great writers and I wanted to learn from them. I reasoned that reading and analyzing why I thought a piece was good would be a solid way to learn.
I gave my self the commenting rule because I wanted to become part of the community. If I want other people to read and comment on my work I should do the same for them.
Hour 2: Search google for any questions I have about writing
At the end of every four-hour session, I would write down roadblocks I hit. Then I would use this time the following day to figure out how to get around them.
Hour 3 and 4: Write, Write, Write, and Write
“You only learn to be a better writer by actually writing”
My First Article
The beginning of my course was tough. The first two hours were fine but when it came to actually writing I hit a wall. The self-doubt started to creep in.
Is this good?
Do I want other people to read this?
You’re not actually getting better
I can’t believe you’re spending so much time on this
Why are you writing so slow?
When I read a great article and the author said they wrote it in two hours I felt awful. At this point, I had spent ten hours on my first article and still wasn’t done. How did people write so fast and so well?
Learning from the masters
After a couple sessions of hitting my head against the wall,I needed to find a new strategy. I started to research how other writers succeeded where I was failing.
I found a great post by Mayo Oshin titled “The Daily Routine of 20 Famous Writers (and How You Can Use Them to Succeed)”
It had a lot of great tips, but the biggest takeaway was that writing is hard and that’s ok. If these famous authors struggle then it’s normal for me to struggle too.
Other than that I picked up a couple tricks that increased my writing speed.
1) Write an Outline
I would spend so much time not knowing where to go with my writing. Spending an hour or so creating an outline helped me more than double my writing speed.
2) Put the phone in airplane mode
I found myself looking towards my phone to alleviate the pain from writing. Putting it on airplane mode helped me quell that urge and focus on writing.
3) Just Write
This is the hardest of the three to do, but by far the most useful. I realized I was spending too much time trying to make up the sentence in my head. I had to just write it down,I was afraid it would sound awful but it usually turned out well.
I can always go back and edit but I can’t edit whats not there.
Submitting to a Publication
At the end of the first week I finished my article but wasn’t sure what to do with it. I wasn’t sure if it was good or not. I was afraid of getting judged for producing sub-par work.
At that moment a guiding axiom popped into my head, life begins at the edge of your comfort zone
Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone
So I said screw it, let me take the plunge and get people to view this thing.
Luckily there’s a simple way to get people to view your work on medium, get published in a publication.
Finding publications to submit to turned out to be a nightmare. Medium doesn’t list them anywhere. Eventually, I found a list of the top 100 publications and went about searching for ones that might accept my work.
Tip ->Some publications hide their submission requirements but you can find them by searching “submission” on their homepages.
After going through the list I found 10 or so publications that were looking for content similar to what I was writing . I followed their submissions guidelines and crossed my fingers.
After three days I had been rejected by two and the other eight never responded so I self-published it.
The article wound up getting 5 views and I felt so happy, people were reading my work!
It’s the small things in life right :)
Article number 2
The second Article only took me two days to write. I wrote it about a lesson I learned when interviewing people on their deathbeds for a documentary. It was a topic I was passionate about it and the words flowed like water.
I tried submitting to more publications but the same thing happened a couple rejections and a lot of unanswered inquiries.
So I self-published this one too, but then something big happened.
After a day of it being on Medium, I had 15 views and one comment!
The comment was from a writer whose work I had been commenting on since the start of as this course. It looked like being a good community member was starting to pay off.
Goal 1 and 2 were accomplished and I wasn’t even halfway through the course. It was time to try and shoot for the stars!
I was feeling good and thought I could hit my stretch goals of 100 views and getting published
So I came up with a plan.
Step 1: Pick an interesting topic
I thought back over my past year and searched for interesting things I’ve done or had expertise in.
I decided to write about an experience I had this past summer. I made a cryptocurrency course for myself and invested any extra money I made that summer into the cryptocurrency market to incentive me to keep learning about it.
I thought cryptocurrencies were interesting so I figured other people would too.
Now I had a topic but how would I turn it into a good story?
Step 2: Write a quality story about the interesting topic
Again I turned to the masters and after a little searching I learned about the hero’s journey. What do Star Wars, the four hour work week,and almost every Disney and Pixar movie have in common? They all follow the hero’s journey.
A man named Joseph Campbell researched hundreds of popular myths and legends and found a common story arch. He wrote down the story arch into several steps and this became the hero’s journey.
It took me some time but eventually I figured out a way to adapt the hero’s journey to my story. I would write my story like this:
- How I got inspired to start my cryptocurrency journey
- The start of the journey
- The first disaster
- How I overcame it
- A second bigger disaster
- How I overcame it
- The results
Step 3: Edit
It took me a week to write the third article but it still wasn’t close to being done. I was happy with the article but I knew it could be better. I had to edit it.
“The first draft of anything is shit”
This means I would be behind schedule. I wanted to write four articles during my course. If I cleaned this one up I wouldn’t have time to write the fourth.
I felt like this article had real potential so I adjusted my goals. I took out the write 4 articles goals but made my two stretch goals of getting a hundred views and getting published mandatory.
The first thing I learned about editing was the great free resources available. Running my work through Grammarly and The Hemingway App helped me tighten up my sentences and fixed most of the punctuation and grammar issues. Both of these tools are absolute lifesavers.
- Checks for grammar, punctuation, and spelling
- Highlights lengthy sentences, identifies the use of passive voice and gives you the reading level of your writing.
Asking Friends for help
After using The Hemingway app and Grammarly I thought the piece read well but what about others?
I thought about it and realized I had a couple friends who like to write so I sent my article over to them and asked for some pointers.
The biggest critiques I got were a lack of pictures, a lack of bolded words and that the paragraphs were too long.
I added some pictures, bolded a couple of words, and split up the paragraphs. Now it was time to shine, getting published here I come.
Getting into a publication
Feeling confident I submitted to three of the largest publications on Medium.
- The Mission
- The Startup
- Better Humans
After a day of waiting I got a reply from Better Humans, it said…
“Passing on this just because it doesn’t fit our topics”
I was a little crushed, but I told myself “hey, at least you got a reply”.
I waited another day but didn’t receive any replies so I decided to self-publish it.
Then an hour later I received an email from The Startup saying
“Hey Joe, the article looks great we’d like to publish it”
I couldn’t believe it, I got into one of the largest publications on medium. People wanted to read my writing.
“How I turned my summer into a cryptocurrency investing course” was getting published!
Things started to move fast after that. I spent the first 5 hours replying to messages and comments. Friends were saying congratulations and strangers were asking me for cryptocurrency advice. I didn’t know how to respond.
The comments and messages keep flooding in and I felt the need to respond to everyone. These people took the time to read my work, I should honor that. I wound up having to spend an extra two to four hours a day to respond to everyone.
After a week the dust started to settle, comments stopped, and the number of daily views dwindled. I could finally breath again.
Here are the results, my first month on medium yielded just barley over 13,000 views and lots of writing experience.
Stretch goals of getting 100 views and getting published, check.
End of the course
Writing the cryptocurrency article and replying to the messages I got about it drained me. So I ended the writing course early and took some time to reflect on the experience.
Below is a list of some of my biggest takeaways.
1) Why are you writing:
- Writing is tough if you don’t give yourself a good reason to stick to it you will give up
2) Become Part of the community
- I learned so much from reading and commenting on medium articles. Plus it made me feel like I was part of the Medium family. I started rooting for authors and when they wrote a great article it gave me a boost of motivation to finish mine.
3) Step out of your comfort zone
- Don’t be afraid to be judged on your work. Do your best, get your work out there, learn from the experience, and repeat
4) Make an outline
- I hated doing this in English class but man does it work wonders. Layout a plan for your writing and then fill it in.
5) The Hero’s Journey
- Use The Hero’s Journey or a variant of it and you’ll have a good story
6) Grammarly and Hemingway App
- Run everything you write through these two apps!
7) Ask Friends
- Friends are the best. We all have a couple who like to write. Ask them to review your work and for any tips they have. I’m sure they will be more than willing to help
Did the experience make me a better writer?
I’m definitely better than before I started the course but I still don’t think I’m that good. I got lucky by having an experience in an area a lot of people were interested in.
Whenever I sit down to write it stills feels like I’m banging my head against the wall, but now I’ve grown a little more used to the pain.
“You fail only if you stop writing”
Thanks for reading :) I’m interested to hear about your experience with writing. If you have the time let me know about your process in the comments.
Thank you to the awesome people who’s articles I learned so much from
If you want any help designing your own writing or another skill based course shoot me an email at Joe.Robbins.email@example.com