There are two types of writers in this world: the people whose writing has a positive net effect on their lives and their businesses, and the hobbyists.
I’ve been in the former category for nearly a decade. Writing has been the life-source of my entire business success. It’s the gas pumping through the machine that fires pistons and gets somewhere. Getting started was hard, but now that machine has a lot of momentum, and it’s going strong, with no intentions of stopping.
That’s the distinction between real writers and hobbyists.
Now, I know quite a bit about my audience. Those who read this blog aspire to do the kind of writing that pays off – that has a net economic benefit to their lives and businesses… but some feel like they’re wading through mud trying to make it happen.
It’s slow. It’s difficult. It’s messy.
And it stinks.
Meanwhile, the pro writers are like rockets on greased rails. They’re not slogging away. They get it done. They slam out content, they make money writing, and their words seem imbued with magic.
Everything just works.
But here’s the thing: it’s not magic. When you really get to know these two types of people – when you see the reality, as I have – it’s obvious that the pros are doing what the hobbyists aren’t.
I want to talk about what these pros are doing. If you want to make money through writing, either by selling your writing or using your content to sell your stuff, this is what you need to know.
The Line in the Sand that Separates the Pros
There’s really just one high-level concept that becomes the ultimate line in the sand between people who make money from their writing and those who don’t. It’s not a revolutionary concept, but it’s far easier to talk about it than it is to attain it.
And as you know, talk is cheap. That’s why you’ll find a lot of articles out there telling you how to achieve the golden bar of success, written by amateurs still slogging through the proverbial mud. They haven’t crossed the ultimate line in the sand yet… and maybe never will.
Stephen Pressfield wrote two books with this concept in mind: Turning Pro and the The War of Art. Writers who get paid for their work have a habit that amateurs don’t. They’re consistent in their content creation. They’re always polishing their craft and practicing their skills.
They’re writing, all the time, and getting better at it every day.
If your writing creates a positive economic force in your life and business, this means it makes you money. Naturally, doing more writing makes you more money. If your business has a content strategy in place, then creating more content helps.
The unsexy reality? Practice works.
Steve Pressfield gets close with his theory of building a writing habit, but stoic, relentless writing doesn’t quite cut it. Do that in a vacuum, alone, and there’s no guarantee for success. There’s no guarantee that you will, in fact, get paid or make money from your efforts.
A few other ingredients have to be thrown into the mixing bowl first. And these secret ingredients are the ones that pro writers deliberately leverage (or accidentally stumble upon, in some rare cases) to make their writing occur effortlessly.
The 4 Secret Keys of a Successful Writing Habit
Key #1: Specific, writing-centric goals
You always have to be working on something. At Damn Fine Words, I mentor many business owners who aspire to turn their writing into a sales victory tool. They join the course to learn how to create better content… but also to learn how to get their website copy and maybe an ebook DONE.
They don’t want to learn how to start or dink around midway. They want to finish.
There’s just one problem with that mindset: to really make your writing efforts pay off, you can’t just have one, single project. Writing isn’t a finite activity that ends, especially if you’re creating content for your business.
In other words, if your goal is simply to polish your business’s website copy once and for all or write a few articles and then move on, your writing suffers.
Pro writers who make bank always have a writing goal. They treat writing the same way gym junkies set goals for their body. They might already have a six-pack and bench press hundreds of pounds, but that doesn’t stop them from showing up every day to work on the next challenge or maintain their level of fitness.
Writing doesn’t have to be all-consuming or even your number-one priority, but if you want to make money with words, you need to constantly set, work towards and achieve specific writing goals.
Rinse and repeat. Week after week.
Key #2: Community
Very few pro writers achieved their levels of success by going at it alone. The greatest authors of history exchanged drafts and shared their work with their inner circle. Even the secretive writers could rely on a fraternity of other writers to swap ideas, or even just beers.
This is why great writers, pre-internet, would move to Paris to complete their magnum opus. The effects of being around and talking with other pros has profound consequences on the writing mindset… and ultimately, your financial success.
It’s like the think-and-grow-rich principal: your income will be the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Spending time with other writers will push up your word count. Your work will get more polished, your skills will improve, and the prizes you accumulate will get brighter and shinier.
Key #3: Accountability
The romantic notion that writing involves just you and your screen isn’t accurate. You can even toss in The Muse, if you’d like – it’s still bull. Such an image is painted by those who think writing is all about creativity and inspiration.
The truth is that 90% of writing involves discipline and hard work.
And you don’t have to do that alone.
That’s why having someone hold you accountable to your writing habit is extremely important. You need someone to keep you going. And while accountability can be a side effect of a community, it only works well when done right.
This someone who holds you accountable should be a person with higher expectations for your success than perhaps even your own. Think of this person like a jogging buddy who’s fit, in shape and won’t fail to show up because he’s hungover.
The other two keys of writing success – specific goals and community – come together sweetly when you’re held accountable to the pro-writing standard.
Key #4: a Mentor
Pro writers have mentors. Period.
To achieve your writing goals, you need someone who has already trodden the long road to pro-writing success. This person has to be several steps beyond where you are now, because their primary function is to announce deadly obstacles on the path before they kill your progress.
Having a mentor is distinct and separate from the other ingredients listed above. A mentor doesn’t have to be a part of your community or be your accountability person. In fact, a give-away trait of a great mentor is someone who holds themselves apart from all that. Not because of aloofness, but because it implies that they really are further down the path than you are.
Beware the dangers of B.S., though: make sure your mentor has proven results of their progress to show you.
Community and accountability are about building comradeship as you strive toward your goals. A mentor is there so you can ask the commander for tactical advice. It’s someone who sees the big picture – who has the writing equivalent of a table-top battle map with little figurines all over it.
A few minutes of conversation from such a person creates more direction, clarity and progress for you than weeks of even the best comradeship with the troops.
With these 4 keys – specific goals, community, accountability and mentorship – even an amateur writer can transition to becoming a well-paid professional. Smart habits get built and become solid pillars, and cash will flow. As a writer-for-hire, you’ll sell more words. As a content creator, you’ll produce more consistently and to better results. As a business owner, you’ll market regularly and propel your sales to higher levels.
It’s practically inevitable.
Here’s the question: Do you have these 4 keys in your life right now?
If not, which are missing? If yes, which were hardest to find? And more importantly, what else do you think would help you become a writing pro or content-creation machine? Let’s continue the conversation in the comments.