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I used to think writing was boring. I thought writing was only something writers did.
So why did I write over half a million words in 2014?
I realized that everything I did started with writing. Blog posts, videos, courses, speaking engagements, podcasts—all the best pieces of content began with writing.
If it all starts with writing, why not begin my day with writing? 100 episodes ago, I talked about starting what I call Early Wake Daily Write.
This habit of daily writing a couple thousand words a day has drastically changed my life. Everything I’ve accomplished in the past year I owe to writing.
In this episode, I talk about:
- Why you need to write.
- Why you don’t write.
- How to start writing.
- What to write about.
- Where to use what you’ve written.
- Getting better at writing on purpose.
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- 00:43 Sean: At the very beginning of 2014, 100 episodes ago, I did a podcast episode (Related: e039 It All Starts With Writing). We’ve come a long way since then! Go back to that episode if you want to hear the difference a year of practice makes.
- 03:55 I wanted to revisit this topic because:
- Writing is important.
- People don’t always listen to old episodes.
- You should put something out there even if it’s already been said, either by someone else or yourself (Related: e053 The Magic of 7 & Why Your Voice Matters Even When Half a Dozen People are Saying the Same Thing).
I’ve written between half a million and a million words since January 1st, 2014.
I owe everything I’ve accomplished in the last year to writing.
Why You Need To Write
- 12:38 Sean: A lot of people in the Community chat right now are talking about how much of an impact Early Wake Daily Write has had on them.
- 13:24 I’ve seen people take this advice from a year ago, stick with it, and watch it change everything for them. I’ve seen their content take off. Sarah and Kyle in the Community have multiplied their followers by many factors simply by staying consistent with posting. People are applying this and seeing the results.
- 14:30 Ben: Starting with writing is what sets people apart.
- 15:28 Sean: People who have been writing know the power, the mental clarity, and audience building capabilities of it. Maybe people who don’t write like the idea of it or they think it’s boring.
- 15:57 Ben: People think, “If I’m a logo designer or a painter, why would I need to write?”
- 16:10 Sean: You’ve got to write! There are so many things you can write about. You might feel like there isn’t because you’re not a writer, but people are writers because they write.
- 16:34 Ben: They’re not writers because they have something to say, they’re writers because they show up and write.
- 16:45 Sean: One of the big things I learned this past year, is writing doesn’t have to be for a specific purpose, like a blog post or newsletter. Those are good ways to keep yourself accountable, stay consistent, and committed, because that’s a big part of it. You can’t write whenever you feel like it. If you only write whenever you feel like it, don’t expect any results from it. People want consistency.
- 17:22 Maybe you have good thoughts every once in a while, but if you want those good thoughts to be heard you have to commit to showing up with regularity. Sometimes, that means saying things that aren’t super amazing, but the fact that you’re showing up consistently means you’ll have peoples’ ear when you have something really good to say. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can write when you have great insight and it will go viral on it’s own.
- Write To Clear Your Head
- 21:03 I’m very systematic and logical so I tend to think I should write when I have a message to transmit to people. Aaron Dowd said something that stuck with me: “You can write just to get thoughts and feelings out of your head. No one ever has to see it and you don’t have to post it anywhere, just get it out of your head.”
- 21:34 I had never though about it that way. I thought that if I was going to take the time to write something, I needed to publish it. Otherwise what’s the point? Writing helps you process the way you think, and gives you insight into why you’re feeling a certain way or what you’re thinking about.
- 22:18 Ben: When I know what I want to communicate to people, I free-write first without thinking about the medium. Then, instead of copying and pasting to the medium, I start over with a blank page and rewrite it for the medium after the initial thought is out of my head. Writing freely, without editing for a medium, is so important for you to be able to express your ideas concisely.
- 24:30 Sean: It creates this source material to pull from in your mind. I agree, that’s really powerful. I’ve found a lot of benefit from working out that rewriting muscle. That practice helps you condense long-form messages.
- What are we not saying?
- How are we saying it?
- How are we taking advantage of the unique properties of a specific medium?
- 25:33 Ben: Imagine if you had the time to rewrite one idea for every possible medium—rewrite it as if it were a speech, a blog post, a video, a Facebook post, a tweet. Think about the clarity you would have about that specific idea by the time you’re done.
- 26:15 Sean: I can speak firsthand to that because I’ve done it a lot. It’s amazing. That’s probably why I was so surprised going back and listening to the earlier version of this podcast. I have an idea of what I talked about then, but it’s so colored by what I think now, and the experiences I’ve had between then and now.
- Get It Onto Paper
- 26:45 You forget how different things are when you recall back. Write your thoughts now and write your experiences now, because memories get blurred together. Things get jumbled in your head, they change, they fade, and they eventually go away, but your writing remains. Writing is something you can reference.
- 27:40 Ben: When you look at people like Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell, or people like yourself, Sean, who have these phrases and ideas—those phrases look so clean and polished from the outside. There’s this myth…
- 28:27 Sean: That I was silent for 30 minutes with my eyes closed, and then suddenly came up with this gold nugget, 140-character bit of wisdom?
- 28:37 Ben: Yeah, exactly. How it really works is: you write a lot, and distill your thoughts down to that really clear, concise, powerful idea. It wouldn’t be as powerful if you hadn’t spent all that time arriving at your conclusion.
- 29:06 Sean: What you see on the surface, are the unique distillations of the 500,000 words I wrote the past year. It’s not just silence and then something good comes of it—its discovery.
- 29:26 Get those ideas out! On paper, not only do you not have to remember them, but your ideas have the opportunity to interact. By writing, you can look at exhaustive, in-depth things without having to use part of your mental capacity to hold onto concepts and to zoom outside of your own cognitive capabilities to compare things.
Writing is how you make a name for yourself.
You can’t improve what you haven’t written before.
If you don’t quite have a thought developed, write anyway.
Your brain shouldn’t be used as storage.
Why You Don’t Write
- 30:09 The most common reason why people don’t write is, “I don’t have anything to say.” They think they don’t have the right kind of insight.
- 32:36 People think, “I don’t have enough to say, or to blog about, or to podcast about.” Well, neither did I. I certainly didn’t have 139 episodes of the podcast when we started this.
- 33:19 Ben: Another aspect of this is, “What I have to say isn’t good enough.”
- Writing Sets You Apart
- 33:59 Sean: If you feel like what you have to say isn’t good, write it down because that’s how you’re going to improve it. If you leave it stuck in your mind, it won’t improve. It has to be written and rewritten. Another reason why people don’t write is, “I’m busy. Who has time to write?” We already said that writing is how you make a name for yourself.
- Do you want to grow an audience?
- Do you want to get better clients?
- Do you want to sell your services?
- Do you want to position yourself as an influencer or an expert?
- Images Fade But Stories Remain
- 35:25 Everyone looks at eye candy like pictures on Facebook all day. Sure, statuses show up some, but it’s all about the visual. The strongest social network right now is Instagram in terms of engagement. Other networks, like Twitter, are just getting noisier and noisier. Instagram is engaged because it’s focused and visual. Pinterest, Reddit images, TV shows, commercials—we’re exposed to so much visual stuff that it’s becoming oversaturated.
- 36:47 If someone is looking for logo design inspiration, they’re probably going to scroll through hundreds or thousands of logo images in a sitting. Your design will just be a drop in the bucket. What’s the chance they’ll remember you? You’ll be remembered because you write. Telling your process and sharing a story is how you’re going to establish yourself.
- 37:44 Ben: It will set you so far ahead to be an artist or a designer who writes. You can’t underestimate how engaging and powerful it is for your consumers to be not only connected to the visual, but the story behind that visual. Bonus: Google likes keywords. If you only have images, you won’t be very high in the rankings.
- 38:38 Sean: That’s very true. I rank well for lettering but I also rank well for things like a Google image search of the word “inspiration”. It’s not because the alt text on a lettering piece photo says the word “inspiration,” it’s because my site as a whole has a lot of really great content that google loves.
You don’t write because you have something to say, you write to find out what you have to say.
The more you write, the more you find you have to say.
Writing will establish you as an authority in your niche and your industry.
How To Start Writing
- 39:59 Sean: Even if you’re not a great blogger or author, you can still put something out there and you can improve. It might not get a lot of attention if it’s poorly written, but something poorly written can be improved. At least you’re putting something out there. Everyone can do this—which can make it more difficult—but it also provides the opportunity to succeed without any credentials.
- 40:47 Ben: Finding your voice as a writer is so much more powerful than being technically a good writer. People don’t connect with your technical skills as a writer, they connect with your voice. The more you write, the closer you get to communicating your voice clearly.
- 41:38 Sean: Also, people are not concerned about a piece of paper that says you can write. They’re interested in the content you’ve put up. (Related: tv038 Your Work Is Your Credibility).
- 42:14 Ben: Employers are becoming more and more that way too. They want to hire the people that demonstrate their ability to solve the exact problems the company has.
- 42:38 Sean: How do you start writing? If you can talk, you can write. Anyone can press keys or speak into dictation software on their phone or computer to create words that can then be improved. People have a lot of excuses, but you can do it. Speak it, record yourself, listen to it, think of how you can say it better, and write it down that way.
- 44:18 Whether you prefer to use dictation or type, the main thing is overcoming that inertia. The main thing is starting, because that momentum will carry you. Write down whatever you’re thinking or feeling and just go with that.
- 45:08 Ben: Don’t think finding the right tool or right method of expression will get rid of resistance. Resistance is always going to be there.
Here’s some encouragement: you don’t have to be qualified to write.
It doesn’t matter if you have a piece of paper that says you know what you’re doing, you need to show that you know what you’re doing.
Clients will look at that paper and say, “That’s great, but now can you show me?”
What To Write About
- 47:24 Sean: If you’re wondering what to write about, I made a downloadable PDF of 62 topic ideas in a previous episode (Related: e117 62 Topic Ideas So You Never Run Out of Things to Write About). You will never run out of things to write about, I promise. An example of something you could write about is your daily routine. Yes, people are interested in that!
- 48:45 Ben: Some people are afraid what they have to say will come across as imposing on people. The reality is, you don’t have to worry about that. If you don’t share, you’re not going to spark ideas for others. It could unlock something that changes their life.
- 49:20 Sean: Maybe the exact words that you say help someone and that’s great, but just like with this podcast, you’re creating an environment where someone can think on this topic. Maybe none of the exact words we’re saying today help someone, but they’re thinking about writing during this hour-long podcast and that’s valuable.
- 50:20 You could write about getting into the mindset, or provide an overview of your tools, or teach your skills. Don’t focus on the fact that you’re a beginner at something, teach what you know so far! You got there by learning. Not everyone can know everything about everything, so you can help someone at any level.
- 51:19 You can do a case study on work that you’ve done, or on a progress log if you keep one. You could do a case study on your whole journey. You could tell a story that happened to you or a friend. Ask yourself: Can I put a spin on this to get my message across?
Where to Use What You’ve Written
- 53:35 Sean: First of all, don’t wait to teach what you know (Related: tv003 Why You Shouldn’t Wait to Start Teaching What You Know). Now, you’ve written stuff. You can use what you’ve written to create:
- Blog posts
- 54:45 Someone recently told me they felt like writing wasn’t working out for them. They decided to step back from writing to focus on their work, because they felt they could be better known for their work than their writing. They gave me an example of someone who was known for their work, and I knew about that person because of their writing!
- 55:30 Ben: Maybe the mediums they use don’t appear like writing on the outside, like video or public speaking, but writing is what makes those things shine. If you’re consuming their content, that content was put together by good writing.
- 56:02 Sean: You could make a lot of things without writing—podcasts, a tv show, a film, a lettering piece, etc. But how much more powerful would it be if you had a message of substance to share and took the time to write it down before hand?
- 58:24 Ben: Look at improv. You might think writing doesn’t have anything to do with their impromptu lines but it does! They have to write out potential topics and the structure of the show. The things that come out of that structure wouldn’t have existed without writing it out.
- 59:05 Sean: That’s a great example. Look at Bob Ross: he paints incredible free-form landscape artworks. He creates structure by placing the horizon, the water, and the mountains in certain places but then has room for “happy little accidents,” as he calls them. If he messes up, that accident becomes a cloud or a bush. I think of writing as needed structure, without it you have nothing but the accidents.
- 1:00:30 When you write and prepare beforehand, you not only create structure, but you can control the amount of structure you have and even bring the level of structure down to allow for spontaneous bits of insight to come forward. I didn’t script a word of what I just said.
- 1:02:21 Sean: How do you get better at writing? Start off with writing like you talk. You’ll end up with content that has a human element. With this cycle, you’ll be able to instill the way you talk into your writing:
- Type words or speak them into a microphone and dictate it.
- Read the words that you’ve written and memorize it in sections.
- Record while delivering the essence of those paragraphs from memory.
- Transcribe the words you spoke.
Good content starts with writing.