I remember the first time a piece I wrote was rejected by an editor.
The piece I wrote was about my porn addiction in my early teens. It was deeply personal, too personal, and it didn’t fit my voice or style at all.
Usually, Lance, my editor, would respond within a day or two with revisions to my submissions.
When I sent him this piece, I didn’t hear back from him for almost a week.
While I waited, I looked over my post a few times. It was an awful, incoherent stream of consciousness.
No wonder he hadn’t replied.
I wrote him an email suggesting the post wasn’t a good fit for the website.
I received a reply immediately.
“Yeah. I’m glad you came to the same conclusion.”
After that hiccup, I continued to work with Lance and we developed a great relationship. He helped me learn a crucial lesson early in my writing career.
The Fatal Mistake Most Beginning Writers Make
I’m in no position to judge anyone else’s writing, but I do see a common mistake among many writers, especially those who want to succeed in online writing.
Please, if you ever want anyone to read your work or become a successful writer in the commercial sense, let this next sentence sink deep beneath your skull and into the core of your being:
Your blog is not your personal journal.
If you want to document your personal life online, that’s fine, but don’t expect it to resonate with other people.
Yes, you need to tell stories. Yes, you need to share your personality. But if you make it all about you, nobody will care.
The same can be said for the topics you write about. There’s an audience for many types of writing, but don’t be shocked if people aren’t racing to read your underground heavy metal band review blog (this is an actual blog I’ve come across).
Write about what you want to write about, but know that certain ways of writing and subjects aren’t as appealing as others.
You can be authentic, unique, and sincere, but your writing has to do one of these three things to succeed.
Your writing isn’t just in competition with other writing, it’s also in competition with “movies, apps and free high definition pornography,” says bestselling author Ryan Holiday.
People love to be entertained. Life can be mundane, even painful. People need an outlet to escape from time to time. If your writing provides that, people will pay attention.
Tell stories, but tell stories that make people laugh, cry, or both. When you’re done writing, read over your work as an objective viewer.
Would you be entertained by your writing if you were a stranger? If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll know when the answer is “no.”
“How to,” posts are popular for a reason. People like learning new things. If you can help people improve an area of their life they’ll appreciate your work.
There’s no need to try to be an expert.
Share what you know about a certain subject people want to learn about.
Share “advice as autobiography,” as James Altucher puts it. Meet people where they are and share what you’ve learned through experience.
Even if you’re not teaching lessons overtly, you can write in a way that helps people understand something new about themselves.
The most popular stories — from sections of The Bible to The Alchemist — weave in a lesson or two about life.
Make your reader a better person for having read your work and they’ll become loyal fans.
People love feeling inspired. Ephemeral as it can be, inspiration lifts people up from their darkness, gives them hope, and every once in a while, leads to true change in their lives.
You don’t have to be a “rah-rah,” cheerleader, but if you can find a way to lift people up with your words, your readers will come back for more.
I wasn’t always an author.
I used to be a drug dealer, a womanizer, and an alcoholic — not much of a good person at all.
At one point I had enough of the depression and darkness and looked for sources of inspiration.
I started hanging out with more positive people, read inspirational books, listened to TED talks, and the inspiration I drew from these sources helped me become a better person.
Inspiration isn’t a substitute for work.
I still had to take action, but it started with inspiration.
When used wisely, giving the gift of inspiration helps people change for the better. Find a way to use your experiences to help others make a change in themselves.
The pros, the writers we all admire, manage to do all three at once.
Great writing is alchemy — you take bits of entertainment, mix in some education, and add a dash of inspiration, in order to create remarkable work.
Writers are like chefs. We all have the same ingredients available to us. The ones who set themselves apart master the mixture of these ingredients.
With practice, it can be done.
Tinker. Play around with the elements. Repeat the process.
You can master the craft of writing. I’m convinced that talent doesn’t mean much when it comes to being successful at anything.
You may never become a Hemingway, Vonnegut, Rowling, or R.R Martin, but if you commit to the craft, while also paying attention to your readers, you’ll become a bonafide wordsmith.
I continue to repeatedly learn the same lesson when it comes to writing:
You’ll never be successful until you get out of your own way.
The next time you publish something and it falls flat, ask yourself if it contained any of these elements of successful writing. Chances are it doesn’t.
Don’t fret. Go back to the drawing board. Use these ingredients as your checklist.
Your favorite writer had to grow into the writer they’ve become.
You have to grow, too. Keep going.