In this essay, I break down the early stages of writing and discuss ideas to help find your unique voice. There are three parts: the basics, authenticity, and creativity/confidence. Enjoy.
Part 1: THE BASICS
When you first enter the world of blogging as an outsider, it can feel overwhelming. Where do I post? Is it free? Should I buy a site? What’s the best platform? You’re flooded with a hundred questions only to realize they’re all incredibly basic. You might think, this is just too much. Knowing that you’re not even considering writing styles, promotion, engagement, or anything else that comes with the territory.
That’s the thing though. Just because it can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s just a lot to process and that’s fine. Give yourself some time to digest the information. If you have reasonable expectations and take it step by step, you can improve and progress.
I’ve read dozens of articles about blogging. How to start, tips for beginners, how to make your first $100, what to do, what to avoid, what to say, how to say it. I’ve read them all. I’ve found many of them helpful but I would like to focus on the one piece of advice that every single article about blogging touches on.
That’s right, writing.
Everything starts with the fundamentals. The fundamentals are the foundation on top of which your skyscraper of writing will be built. So taking the time to understand and develop your fundamentals is the best approach to eventually producing great pieces.
“Learn to walk before you can run”
In the context of blogging, the fundamentals would be the writing.
This can be described by the pareto principle aka the 80/20 rule. This states that 80 percent of the results come from 20 percent of the causes. The 20 percent in the case of blogging is the writing. The writing is by far the most important component of your blog and will be deciding factor in whether it succeeds or fails.
You can spend hours on SEO, design, color scheme, marketing, and promotion. But if your writing sucks, nobody will want anything to do with you.
But where to begin?
JUST START WRITING
Writing can be broken into numerous categories: grammar, style, structure, format, topic, etc. While these are all important in their own right, I think that the best strategy to improve across is the board is to just start writing.
If you want to become an author, start writing. If you want to become a blogger, start writing. If you want to become better at writing, start writing. If you want to learn to write, start writing. If you think you might be interested in writing, start writing.
The more you write, the better you’ll become.
I’ve spent hundreds of hours researching writing, blogging, and content creation. I did the research under the guise of trying to find the most efficient way to do things so that I don’t waste my time. Ironically, spending so much time researching and refusing to execute, I was doing precisely what I set out trying to avoid.
I wanted to learn how to write, so I spent an unnecessary amount of time over-researching how to start writing. After all my research, by far the most important (and most obvious) piece of advice I found to improve your writing is: to start writing.
HOW OUR WRITING GROWS
Once we’ve built up solid fundamentals, we get to start coming into our own as writers. We’ve learned and experimented with shorter pieces and now we can expand into longer ones with additional depth and added authenticity.
It’s been a great experience so far blogging the past few months and getting to read through so many different blogs and perspectives.
When I started, if I saw someone else post about a similar topic or idea that I had in mind, I’d get a bit discouraged. I would think, “aw man, guess I’m too late. Someone’s already done this.”
Now, after reading thousands of posts in the past months, I’ve come to realize that actually yea, most things have already been done — in the sense that the broad topics and ideas have all been discussed on some level. Happiness, sadness, motivation, inspiration, life, death, growth, etc.
Someone somewhere has probably written about almost anything you can imagine. So odds are, they’ve already written about the same idea as you, too. It’s even possible that they’ve used the same picture or exact phrasing.
That’s totally fine. Don’t let that dissuade you from trying. Understand that it comes with the territory when we’re talking about hyper-saturated spaces, such as blogging.
Funny how quickly and completely my view has shifted.
I’ve come to realize that there are a finite number of topics to write about similar to how there are a finite number of opening strategies in chess. However, like in chess, after fives or so moves, an entire world of possibility emerges. What was standard and dull just moments ago is now teeming with possibilities. The opening moves in chess corresponds with the first paragraph of a piece. Once you’re passed that, it’s wide-open spaces.
Some of the ways I’ve noticed people create great pieces is through authenticity, creativity, and a willingness to be different.
Part 2: AUTHENTICITY
“Escape competition through authenticity.” — Naval Ravikant
For anything worth having, there’s going to be competition. That said, most people don’t actually know what they’re doing. They just grab a hold of the person in front of them and follow suit. So while everyone else is stuck jockeying for position for the low hanging fruit, you should learn the space and make your own path.
You can avoid competition through authenticity.
THE STANDARD PROGRESSION
I think most new bloggers, depending on the niche, go through a pretty typical progression. They start by just testing things out. Maybe some shorter posts or minimal formatting. Then they start figuring out what works and what doesn’t. They might find their niche. Their posts become a bit better. And so on.
The thing about short posts is that if they’re too short it can result in unoriginal content that’s unlikely to gain much traction. For example, I like to write about motivation, mindset, positivity, life, and all that good stuff. But as I’m sure you know, the internet is bursting at the seams with the same positive platitudes shamelessly parroted by everyone interested in the space.
While I understand why this might annoy some people, to me it’s perfectly reasonable and I get it. It’s just people in the early stages of posting, experimenting, and trying to learn what works.
But it’s like taking a picture of a page in a book — it’s nice and all… But it’s not your content.
If you take a positive platitude, slap a couple sentences underneath, and call it an article, there is a legitimate chance that what you just wrote may already exist verbatim. This isn’t me trying to be a buzzkill, I just think it’s an interesting way to think about it and important to realize.
The shorter the piece, the less time you have to differentiate yourself from others. It takes time to develop your ideas and cross into uncharted territories. One of the ways to set yourself apart is through authenticity.
If there’s one thing you’re better than anyone else in the world at, it’s being you.
That idea may seem trite, but it’s true.
WRITING LEVERAGES AUTHENTICITY
Writing is the perfect medium to leverage this idea. Pick a topic, it can be the most common thing in the world. There could be a billion different pieces already written about it. However, if you think authentically, act creatively, experiment fearlessly, and follow the things that pique your interest; an original piece will be born.
I think of it like a thread. Have you ever been researching something when all of a sudden you get distracted and start down a different rabbit hole?
Only to snap out of it five minutes later to realize that you just wasted a bunch of time?
Well what if it wasn’t a waste of time at all? What if following your mind as it crosses through different ideas is a great way to produce interesting content unique to you?
Or perhaps not.
Metacognition is the awareness of one’s own thought processes. Watching our attention and seeing which way it pulls us allows us to uncover connections we wouldn’t have otherwise noticed. Instead of seeing it as a negative thing, transmute it into a positive.
There’s a fine line between procrastination and creativity. However, I think it’s fair to say that creativity can spawn from procrastination.
It’s so easy to fall into cookie-cutter templates, top ten lists, or outright copying others. I don’t mean to imply that there’s anything wrong with these; imitation is how we learn and innovate. Not to mention that we’re all doing it in one way or another.
That said, I do believe that progressing into a more authentic style that can better capture your unique perspectives is the goal — or at least our first mountain.
Writing, like anything else, is a skill. You learn as you go and get better with practice. You could sit there and think and theorize about writing 12 hours a day, but until you take that first step and start executing, you’re just stalling. Writing can be a vast journey that spans decades. But as with many things, starting can be the hardest part.
It’s like staying at a base camp and acclimating. They have a bunch of great resources, facilities, and support. You’ve read all the books, taken all of the classes, and you’re comfortable. But you know that eventually, you have to get out there and go. You have to take that leap of faith. To put yourself out there, step into the arena, and accept everything that comes with it.
You’re here because you want to climb the mountain. You want to experience that journey, but the comforts and the illusions of progress can be paralyzing. You’ll always have a million excuses not to do something.
But all you need is one great reason to.
Start small. Start slow. Begin with the fundamentals and build from there. Learn from others. Use your favorite pieces as templates or as inspiration. Eventually you will grow into your own as a writer and you’ll start to experiment with you own unique styles and perspectives.
Once you’ve started, you’ll start finding answers to questions you never knew you had.
At least this is the process I’ve followed so far, and it’s served me well.
Part 3: CREATIVITY AND CONFIDENCE
Authenticity and creativity go hand in hand.
To be creative is to be different.
When it comes to great writing, I think there’s one more important factor: confidence. Creativity, authenticity, and confidence are the trifecta. Confidence might sound like a weird one, but it’s necessary if you’re going to put yourself out there, stand behind your work, and risk being different to the point of making people uncomfortable.
“An essay is a place to meet honest readers. You don’t want to spoil your house by putting bars on the windows to protect against dishonest ones.” — Paul Graham
I love this quote by Paul Graham from his piece “How To Write Usefully.” He describes the inevitability of readers misinterpreting, misconstruing, or outright exaggerating your positions from your pieces. His point is that there’s no reason to spoil the beauty of the piece by riddling it with unnecessary clarifications. Even if some minority believe those clarifications to be necessary, remember: it’s your piece. Sometimes you just have to trust your intuition and judgment as a writer. Once you reach enough people, you’re bound to find people who disagree with you. That’s just part of it. If they have valid points, address them. Otherwise, move on. Not everybody agrees about everything and that’s what makes life so interesting.
CONTINUE FORWARD WITH CONFIDENCE
You owe it to yourself, your audience, and your work, to be confident. I don’t mean confidence that you’re always right or never wrong. I’m referring to self-confidence. To put yourself out there, bet on yourself, and take risks. Part of entering the arena is opening yourself up to criticism. Constructive criticism and feedback are some of the most valuable things you can get as a writer. However, along with the constructive comes the negative, unhelpful, and mean-spirited criticisms too. Accept that criticism will happen and then deal with it as you must. The way I try to go about it is: learn from the people trying to teach me and ignore the ones trying to bring me down.
More importantly, don’t succumb to the critics. If you do well enough, you’re guaranteed to be on the receiving end of some very messed up interactions and assumptions. People will try to project motives and beliefs onto you. They’ll try to tell you how to feel, who you are, or your motivations. Just remember, nobody else gets to dictate any of this about you — unless you let them.
Misery loves company and some people just can’t help themselves.
TOO ALL OVER THE PLACE?
One of my biggest fears so far as a writer is being too all over the place. Jumping from one topic to another without sufficient transition, explanation, or reason. Rereading what I’ve just written I wonder to myself, “Is this too much?” or “what am I even talking about?” But I believe that it’s all a part of the creative process. Experimenting, creating, and testing. Trying to connect seemingly unrelated topics through common themes or threads. It’s possible that nobody cares. Maybe people will think the piece sucks. Or just maybe it will be my most successful piece ever and lead to all sorts of new opportunities.
You never know.
I strive to maintain a level of comprehension to my pieces. I described earlier that I think following threads and letting yourself become a bit distracted can be useful for creativity. But I also realize that just jumping around random topics is of little value or interest to the reader. I strive to fall somewhere in the middle. To stay relevant enough to the central idea or theme, but to be bold enough to cross into different fields and disciplines — searching for connections never before made.
REASONS TO BE OPTIMISTIC
Now, this piece has been all over the place, but it’s time for the best part. I would like to leave you with a couple more quotes from the essay by Paul Graham. They’re great reasons to be optimistic about writing and the opportunities available to us.
The limitation of great essays isn’t due to there only being a finite number of great essays. Historically, it’s been due in part to the lack of ability. Now, the greatest limitation is self-imposed and due to the lack of people pushing the boundaries, being authentic, and following their hearts. There are gems still out there all over the place, just waiting to be discovered. But in our case, they’re just waiting to be created. Writing is a land of limitless opportunities and potential — you just have to be willing to look for it.
“Now, thanks to the internet, there’s a path. Anyone can publish essays online. You start in obscurity, perhaps, but at least you can start. You don’t need anyone’s permission.” — Paul Graham
Probably the most important, most relevant, and most powerful reasons of all to be optimistic. Fifty years ago, the entire landscape for writers was completely and utterly different. There were these things called newspapers and book publishers and they were the gatekeepers of writing and message spreading. If you wanted any shot at becoming a writer, you had to play by their rules. You had to appease them because refusing to could result in your job. Now, we’re playing by a whole different set of rules. Sure it’s still the same game, but we’re on version 50.
Publishers are still important. Companies with deep pockets can push their pieces around at a rate that can make it hard to compete with. But in this day and age, there are very few barriers to entry. If you’re reading this piece, chances are you’ve already qualified. Just by having internet access and a device to write on, anyone can become a writer and start publishing whatever they want.
We’re living in an age with totally permission-less publishing. An 8-year-old can post, as does the president, as can prisoners. What a time to be alive.
The majority of the quotes that I used in this article are from a short essay I highly recommend by Paul Graham called “How To Write Usefully.” Another person that inspired a section of this piece was Naval Ravikant, one of my favorite thinkers. If you’re interested in more about him, I’ll link his site here.
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