Everything I Wish I’d Been Told When I Started Writing Online
In one place, to help you cut through the BS
There’s a lot of crap that’s peddled to new writers as advice when they enter the wolves’ den that is online writing.
It’s been 5 months since I first started slapping the spaghetti of my ideas against the white wall of the internet, and in the hope of encouraging new writers and helping you avoid common pitfalls that will pop up at the beginning of your journey, I’d like to share what I’ve learned.
Here’s everything that, looking back, I wish someone had told me 5 months ago.
1. Just because everyone and their mom are selling writing courses does not mean that you are under any obligation to buy one
The fact that I’ve built a small following without paying for any writing courses is a personal point of pride.
Sure, I could have learned a few things about formatting, pitching publications, and editing from a course, but whatever I’d learned would not have been worth the hundreds of dollars many people charge.
Trial and error have been just as valuable in the last five months, with the rejections I’ve received teaching me far more than the successes.
If you’re just starting out, don’t buy a course right away. Give yourself the opportunity for trial and error, and learn from your initial failures. Most of the knowledge that you need has already been written about. Read these three pieces for a crash course:
Then ignore the rest of the “how to write online” advice for a while, and write from your heart. You’ll improve as you go, especially if you use the following tools:
Download Grammarly. Use Hemingway. Invest in the following books (used from Thriftbooks they should be less than $30). On Writing Well, Bird By Bird, The War of Art, and Wild Mind. Wear them out. If, after all of this, you still feel that you need to pay for a course, go for it!
2. No one is going to care for a long time (but when they do, it’s going to make it all worth it)
For the first 70+ days that I was writing here, I saw very little engagement (other than from my grandma, who’s my biggest fan). I’d pour my heart into a story, post it, and maybe 10–30 people would see it. Someone might say something nice.
But it wasn’t until I had a story go viral that I started to get real engagement. You’re going to have to resign yourself to writing for crickets for a while. It’s just part of the game. There are no shortcuts.
Write widely, figure out what your message is, and keep writing. That’s what it takes.
3. The most popular writers on this platform got lucky (after working their asses off)
Medium was a growing, though still fairly niche website until March / April of 2020, when, like most big tech companies, their traffic doubled as the world went into lockdown.
The writers that you see with 50–100k followers were the ones who’d already been writing on here for years, in a perfect position to succeed when lockdown came.
Many of them were already writing about how to write online, so when the gold rush of bored, stimulus-check-holding hopeful writers came, a lot of these writers made piles of money selling writing courses.
You won’t see this in most of their stories, however. Their writing-course sales depend on them giving you the promise that if you just “work hard” (armed with the knowledge in their $200–500 course) you’ll be making a living in a year, just like them!
This narrative completely discounts how big a factor luck is in online writing. Every writer with tens of thousands of followers got lucky at some point. Hell, I got lucky. This doesn’t mean that I’m qualified to tell you how to write.
4. Don’t start posting right away
As far as I know, I’m the only one advocating for this, but it paid dividends at the beginning of my time as a writer, so I’ll share it with you!
When I first started writing, I sat down and wrote out (in a notebook with a pen) 28 potential blog posts, without posting any of them. Once I finally started publishing, I had a backlog to work from that ensured that I could publish three times a week for at least two months.
This saw me through the early days when the only encouragement I was getting was from my grandma and a few scattered friends. I got discouraged a lot in those days, and I’d feel like giving up. But I didn’t, because I had articles in the arsenal ready to post!
Sit down and write 15–30 articles. Make them shine, then start posting. This will see you through those dark days at the very beginning.
5. ‘Niche down’ is only good advice if you, you know, have a niche
You’re going to see articles about this idea a lot in the beginning. “Pick a niche! Niche down! Eat, Pray, Niche!” This is total crap.
Disclaimer: If you are really, really passionate about saltine crackers and want to create the world’s most in-depth saltine blog, that’s awesome! Niche down.
But if you’re anything like me, and you have a lot to say in a bunch of areas, don’t worry! You don’t have to lock yourself into something. That’s what’s so awesome about this being an open-source platform, and no one caring in the beginning.
You can write/upload whatever you want. Write erotic poetry about Thanos. Write a squirrel’s Manifesto. You’re free! This is your party.
6. Don’t let anyone impose an arbitrary timeline on you
You’re going to encounter people who say you should only post once or twice a week. You’re going to find other people who say you should waterboard your readers with stories six times a day.
Here’s the truth: this is an open platform, and there are no deadlines. Your work is ready when you are proud of it. That’s all. There are no other rules.
7. Writing groups > Writing coaches
I’ve been in a writers group for about 2 months now, and it’s the best decision I’ve made for my career as a writer (shoutout to Neeramitra Reddy for putting it together).
Every day, our WhatsApp group talks about publications, editing, and titles. We ask each other for feedback. We read each other’s stories before they’re published. We trade jokes about how David Majister is a spy.
It’s awesome. I’ve never felt more accepted and supported by a group of people.
Writing can be a lonely thing, but when you and a few friends are going through it together, it can be much more fun and supportive! Start a writing group! Make those new friends, and talk about your writing with them, rather than forking over money to some sketchy writing coach.
It sounds cliche, but there is no substitute for sitting down and doing the writing. Stay the course, and try not to be distracted by snake oil salesman or demands that you stress yourself out trying to meet a fake deadline. Write what’s important to you. Be authentic. And keep going. At the end of the day, those are the only three “hacks.”
4x top Medium writer, educator, and vagabond. Newsletter: https://aaronjnichols.substack.com/ Email AaronJNichols77@gmail.com or send a raven south to contact him