Some months ago, I was trying to come up with reasons why my writing career wasn’t flourishing yet. I brainstormed for some time and thought maybe I hadn’t met the right people in powerful places or I didn’t have enough followers. Maybe I wasn’t using social media purposefully and even entertained the thought that I was being blackballed by the people who make decisions, like editors and curators.
But then, the real reason I wasn’t a professional success occurred to me, and it all made sense.
I wasn’t a very good writer.
Since I started writing professionally years ago, my biggest goal has been to improve as a writer. When I published my first story on Medium last year, I had developed a big ego. No kidding! I thought I could post some of my old work and continue writing as I always have. I figured I would be an overnight success without even trying.
I thought because I had been freelancing for so long that my work was flawless. If someone paid me to write blog posts for them, I must be good? Right?
A few months in the trenches, publishing every day taught me I couldn’t have been more wrong.
When I didn’t skyrocket to success immediately, I didn’t worry — these things take time. But after months and months of low views and few followers, I took a long, hard look at what I was doing. I was getting curated and publishing my work in publications, but I wasn’t getting reads and fans (likes).
I knew by reading articles written by other talented writers, both on Medium and elsewhere on the internet, my work wasn’t up to the level they were.
Then, Medium made some changes. They weren’t curating as easily as they used to. They were looking for the highest quality stories possible, and what I was writing didn’t qualify!
At first, I raged and complained. I figured the curators had a vendetta against me. I must have written something they didn’t like, and now I was being blackballed.
After all, I was an awesome writer! Wasn’t I?
After blaming and complaining, I realized what was wrong. I wasn’t writing well enough to be a successful writer on Medium. The bar was much higher than I was jumping. It sounds a bit harsh, but I’ve never been one to pull punches when it comes to myself.
Bottom line — I sucked!
What was I supposed to do to be a better writer?
I started reading more. I was reading on Medium, going through a book a week, and searching articles on the web from the greats like Brian Clark and Seth Godin. I’d been learning the best practices and the insider secrets from people who are doing it right. I analyzed the work of people who I knew were fantastic writers, like John Gorman and Jessica Wildfire.
I started trying to emulate what I was seeing. I wrote more impactful sentences and paragraphs and started to figure out what my audience wanted to read. I was doing some things right.
But where I went wrong was I tried to pick more successful and controversial topics. I wrote about things I wasn’t interested in, but what I thought would get me more fans.
I didn’t realize I was spinning my wheels.
Then, I made a huge breakthrough! I read an article by Jessica Wildfire called “Punch Up The Volume in Your Writing.” I took her advice and picked up the style guide by Steven Pinker called, The Sense of Style, and I started putting all the advice into action.
The first thing I did was realize I focused too much on myself in my writing. All my stories were first-person accounts like the one I am writing now. I went back and looked at my stories and realized I had been writing with myself as the audience. I wasn’t concerned about my readers.
This was a problem for me because my work is mostly made up of personal accounts and essays. Instead of changing from the first person I thrive in, I started looking for ways to make the point of my stories or the message relate to the reader instead of making all about myself.
This change has been the hardest thing to do because it’s so easy to go back to writing selfishly. I know I’ll always be writing about myself, but I have to understand that the self-seeking pieces won’t do as well because they are not what people want to read.
The other thing I started doing was writing about things that move me. I can’t guess what people will like at any given time, so I have to write about my interests and things that concern me. When I am excited about something, I’m in the zone and write better. The readers will pick up on my enthusiasm and relate to what I have to say.
I am still reading Mr. Pinker’s book, and I know I will get other, better ideas as I go along. The book is a treasure-trove, and all I need now is the time to finish it.
Okay, so I know I don’t suck, but I’m not a great writer. I have a long way to go, but as long as I’m in good health, and am motivated, I’m going to work to make sure I get to where I need to be in my writing career.
Maybe I don’t have the raw talent others have, but I have hustle. What doesn’t come naturally, I can learn. I will practice. I will get better.
Will I be great? That remains to be seen.
But I know I will enjoy every minute I can spend time creating, and one day professional success will find me.
So, what’s the lesson for you, the reader? Simply this — if you are not where you want to be right now, take a long, hard look at yourself. It’s easy to have blinders on when it comes to your own work. Look at the pieces you are writing from the perspective of the reader.
It doesn’t matter how long you have been writing — no one is perfect. Don’t make the mistake of letting your ego get in the way of improving as a writer.
Be honest with yourself, and when you figure out the truth, do something about it.
Don’t give up! Learn what you need to know to be a great writer and take the world by storm.
I have faith in you.
This post was also published on Medium.