How to Achieve Instant Success as a Writer

How to get views, gain followers and rise to the top of your niche.

Post published by Greg. Those of you who were around in 2009 will remember Greg, who frequently took the liberty of publishing posts to this blog in an attempt to “help” Meg continue posting while she was busy. This earned him the title of “Meg’s evil twin Greg,” for reasons still largely unknown to him.


When it comes to writing, there is only one thing you should focus on if you want to succeed.

Achieve great success as fast as possible.

Success in writing is measured by a combination of how many people follow you, how much you have published and, most importantly, how long it took you to become successful.

The longer it takes you to succeed as a writer, the less your success matters. So here are a few ways you can make sure your success is worth it.

Focus on quantity, not quality

The most effective way to skyrocket your views and quadruple your subscribers is to focus on quantity. Write as much as you can, as quickly as you can. The quality of the things you are publishing – and make sure you’re publishing as often as you can manage – is not important right now.

If you want instant success, all that matters is that you’re making your voice heard. Getting noticed is easier the more content you have to show off. People won’t mind if it’s not great writing, as long as it’s there. Sometimes you might just write a title and then paste a link to an article or blog post to serve as your body text. That’s fine. It’s still another published article under your belt.

Mislead your audience

Ever wanted to go viral? It’s every writer’s dream – and you can achieve it. Instant success is all about pushing to the front of the line, so do whatever you have to do to show up in search engine results and social media feeds. Don’t waste time fact-checking your information. What really matters most is what you title your work.

Headlines are everything. It doesn’t matter what you write about, as long as your headline draws enough attention to grant you the clicks you deserve. It’s OK if your headline is misleading; this is just the way it has to be now. You’ll never get views or gain followers if you stick to honest headlines with relatable content underneath.

Promote yourself whenever and wherever you can

More so than your actual content, what you really need to do is focus on promoting your work. You probably follow a lot of other people doing the same thing you’re doing. You’re going to be spending a lot of time commenting on people’s channels, posts and more, so get ready to do a lot of copying and pasting.

The most effective way to do this is to comment on other writers’ blogs, social media posts, etc. Don’t bother commenting anything related to the post – it’s a waste of time. Instead, just paste in a link to your own work, asking people to check it out. That’s all. It’s likely other people’s audiences will be interested in what you have to say just by seeing your link.

Do what everyone else is doing

Those who are out there succeeding while you’re sitting here virtually unknown, they know what they’re doing. So your best bet is to follow their lead. They’re not called “experts” for nothing. You need to make sure you’re keeping up with what is trending, so you can make sure to write about it, whether it’s relevant to your audience or not. Follow your favorite bloggers and journalists on Twitter so you can make sure you’re always close behind when they publish something new.

While you’re at it, you might as well scan their work carefully to see what they’ve already written about. Ideas aren’t copyrighted, so feel free to copy and paste quotes and headings as you see fit. If you do copy subheadings, just make sure to change the wording a little bit so no one will notice. This is a quick way to come up with a lot of content in a very short amount of time. Prepare to see the views roll in!

I hope these tips help you to achieve all your hopes and dreams as quickly as possible. The faster you succeed in writing, the better. It takes very little patience, strategy or effort. Just expect people to come running as soon as you start writing, and you won’t be disappointed.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

This is Why Character Development Takes So Long to Master

On a page, you are in control of time. Outside of it, you aren’t.

I have read and experienced many fascinating stories in my lifetime.

I have also experienced many poorly executed stories.

The deal breaker for me are a story’s characters. If, by the climax of a story, I do not care what happens to them, if I am not devastated by the possibility of an imaginary person failing or dying, then I cannot in good conscience call it a good story.

But more importantly, if a story’s main characters don’t transform from start to finish with great significance, I walk away disappointed.

It’s very easy for us, as writers, to shake our heads at a story that exhibits poor character development. “I can’t believe how bad that story was. Unbelievable.”

We forget how hard this is. You know. Telling stories.

Someone writing their first story will not have yet mastered the complex process that is fully developing at least one character. It doesn’t mean they’re bad at writing… this is just something that takes many, many pages’ worth of writing experience to come even close to getting right.

Have you ever wondered why this is? It’s because we spend a lot of time focused on ourselves in general. That’s just how humans are.

And it’s very hard to track our own character development in the long-term. Because time moves slowly. You change as a person at an even slower rate.

You and the people around you do not grow and change in a matter of a few hundred pages, as a cast of characters does in a book. It takes years to develop as a human being, regardless of the severity of the catalyst that prompts people to mature and transform.

A typical character arc, as you know, begins with some kind of life-altering event. What was once normal is no longer tangible. Character development is the process of a fictional person essentially “growing up” as they learn from the string of events that originally set their story in motion.

But that’s the easy part. Throw in the fact that people turn up their noses at cliches and stories that are too predictable. Keeping someone interested in a story as you work through on paper how to get a character from point A to point X is one of the most challenging parts of writing a full-length novel.

And when you’re writing something shorter, you meet the seemingly impossible challenge of developing a dynamic character in a very brief span of time.

Time in stories is not what it is in the real world. It takes you years to understand why that thing that happened to you in high school shaped your life at 25. How are you supposed to figure out your character’s whole life story, while trying to balance everything else while you practice telling it?

Patience. A lot of focus. Things many writers, unfortunately, aren’t willing to take the time to develop.

Time. Fun to play with, but so, so trippy.

On a page, you are in control of time. Outside of it, you aren’t. So even when you’re sitting here creating stories out of the most significant things that have happened to you, you don’t always yet know exactly how they will change you.

And you’re often responsible of not only creating a backstory for a stranger, but taking over their life, making bad things happen to them and then showing them how to make the most of it.

That’s a lot of responsibilities to toss around in your head all at once.

Deciding the best way for your character to develop as a result of all their experiences is like speeding up time – it is not an easy thing to do. Especially for a beginner. Even for those who have been writing for years. Including me.

If I really want to fully develop my dynamic characters as effectively as possible, I still have to chart their growth from the beginning of their story to its end. It is the only outlining I have ever done when writing fiction on my own, and I do it because I have to – not because I like it!

OK. Maybe a small but very nerdy part of me does enjoy it a little bit.

Character development is extremely difficult to get exactly right. Even some of your favorite books, shows and movies aren’t perfect when it comes to their dynamic main characters. Developing a story, you might spend hours upon hours figuring out how each of your characters’ individual arcs interlock from a story’s start to finish … without actually writing anything.

If anyone who doesn’t write ever asks me why exceptional books take so long to write, I’m going to point them to the above paragraph.

Let me say it again: GOOD STORIES ARE HARD TO MAKE.

This is why I always have to stress the importance of taking the time to get to know your characters, both before you start writing and as you dive headfirst into actively creating every story. Sure, there will still be surprises along the way. No sensible character reveals all her deepest secrets within hours of first meeting you.

But you have to have at least some sense of where you’re going. Not all the pieces have to fit together yet. But you need a starting point.

And even if your starting point seems small, and in the middle of all the action, you have to make sure you start writing. Characters literally will not develop themselves. Don’t get caught up in having all the answers before you begin. Just set out with enough of them to let your interest and excitement carry you forward.

In the years you spend writing, you will create dozens of well-written stories – stories with beautifully developed characters, expertly crafted plots… everything you’ve ever imagined yourself creating.

You will also write hundreds upon hundreds of stories that miss the mark in one or more of a book’s most important elements. You will try your hardest to develop a perfect character. And many times, you won’t get it exactly right.

But that’s a pretty sweet metaphor for life in general. Sometimes you’ll try something and it will work. Or it won’t. Or you’ll succeed and have no idea what you even did right.

No matter what happens, always come back to your characters. The same ones you welcome into your mind, and raise, and set free. An imaginary person, it turns out, can teach you a lot about how much of a different person you are now, compared to who you used to be.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Actively Pursuing Your Muse: How to Work and Live Like a Writer Instead of Aspiring to Be One

Want to be a writer? Move beyond dreaming.

Do you want to be a writer – or do you write?

What’s the difference?

You know how powerful your word choice is. So think about it. Do you dream of becoming a writer, or are you currently, this very moment, working on a writing project that will help you reach a specific goal?

It is not enough to aspire to see your dreams become reality. You must act. You have to DO something if you want something to happen.

This is how to actively pursue your writing goals, one word at a time.

Break down your barriers to productivity

The most common reason writers do not write efficiently, or at all, is because of their inability to tune out distractions. This goes beyond “Facebook does not help you write.” You do not need to do in-depth research on a topic for your book right now, unless you have specifically blocked out this time in advance only for research directly related to your book.

There are other, less obvious reasons for not writing too: issues with confidence. Imposter syndrome. Dependence on excuses. For some people, mental health or physical health issues are actually huge factors that prevent even the most driven creatives from starting and completing writing projects.

Whatever your barriers are, only you can break them down and get back to writing. Solutions can range anywhere from using apps like Cold Turkey to block specific websites during work hours to meeting with a mental health professional to discuss mechanisms for dealing with everyday setbacks.

You can’t just wait around expecting things to change without taking steps to changing them yourself. It’s all on you. But everything changes once you not only figure out what it is that’s stopping you from writing, but actively begin applying solutions to keep those roadblocks from standing in your way.

Change the way you talk about your writing goals

Instead of saying, “I hope to be a writer someday,” focus on talking about what you’re currently working on – while you’re actually working on it.

“I’m currently writing posts for a blog I plan to launch at the end of the month.”

There is, first of all, a social accountability component to this. You’re much more likely to actually click away from Facebook, where you’ve posted all about your current project, and actually work on it, since you don’t want people to assume you’re all talk and no write. GUILT IS POWER.

Secondly, goals have to be specific. And actionable. SMART. “Be a writer someday” is not a goal. It’s a dream. Dreams are fantasies. Goals, when actions are applied consistently, can be achieved. You can and will launch that blog if you talk like someone who’s in the process of doing something instead of someone who is thinking about doing something.

Know the difference between motivation and inspiration

There will be times when you feel inspired to create, yet don’t have the motivation to write anything. This is because the two concepts are not synonymous. Inspiration is the feeling that you have an idea you want to pursue further, while motivation is the drive to actually sit down and pursue an idea.

Knowing the difference is a major key to making your way toward success as a writer. After years of writing, I know what kinds of things inspire me, and I know what to do when I have an idea but can’t start on it right away. I also know when throughout the day, week and month I tend to feel the most motivated to work on side projects. This helps me create my own personal workflow schedule that allows me to get things done when I’m ready to work, and take it easy when I’m not.

It’s a misconception that if you want to be a writer, you have to write every day. You only have to write consistently. If you know Fridays are your least busy days, and you usually feel highly motivated on these days, you can designate Friday as the one day of the week you write a blog post, or work on your novel, or whatever kind of writing it is you’re doing.

All that really matters is that you are writing when you say you are going to, no matter what.

Write

If you do not write, then you are not a writer. Talking about all the things you’re going to write does not make you a writer. Gushing about how inspired you feel to start a new project does not guarantee that you are going to succeed in the fast-paced, unpredictable thrill ride that is the writing life.

Yes, there are legitimate excuses for writers who are struggling, especially if they are legitimate to you in your own mind. But you have two choices: you can either let these things continue to separate you from this thing you love to do, or you can take small steps to begin making your way back to it – even if it’s hard. Even when no one else seems to understand how important this writing thing is to you, in your life.

Creating goals and meeting milestones are very different things. The only way to meet a writing goal of any kind is to write. And whatever motivates you to get that writing done, whatever convinces you that acting on your inspiration is worth the time and effort, do it; use it; make it count.

This is the way of the writer: the actions you take build the foundation of your future as a professional creator. It’s not about what you hope will happen, but what will happen, if you stick with it long enough, if you work hard enough, if you earn this by actively deciding never to quit.

So, are you willing to work? Are you ready to make writing happen – for real?


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Don’t Stop Trying When You Start Succeeding (How to Earn a Career in Writing, Part 8)

Things aren’t going to get any easier – but that’s okay.

For many people, writing is a long, exhausting struggle. Some writers never get past the ‘write like everyone is listening even though only two and a half people are reading’ phase of writing professionally.

Often, that has nothing to do with talent, and everything to do with the amount of effort a person channels into a very draining task.

This is the part where I would normally spend a few paragraphs using inspiring language to remind you that no matter how hard it may seem, you should keep going, even if success seems very far away.

And while that is all valid, and you SHOULD keep writing even if it seems pointless right now, I’m going to spend the rest of my time with you today talking about what happens when things, writing-wise, start going right.

Because it does happen. Contracts are signed, books get published, articles go viral, blogs erupt in more daily pageviews than their founders can believe.

And the one thing you don’t want to do, when you find yourself surrounded by success, is let yourself relax.

Now, I’m not saying you’re not allowed to celebrate your success – by all means, make that a top priority, because hard work is worth raising a glass to.

What I mean is, you can’t let your guard down just because you’ve surpassed the battlefield that is Trying to Write for a Living. Now, more than ever, it’s very important that you focus on working even harder to give your success a solid foundation so it doesn’t suddenly crumble beneath you. Asha Dornfest, founder of Parent Hacks, explains it like this:

“The thing about quick success is that it can’t last, at least not in its initial form. Making a real go of it takes persistence. And therein lies the secret of my hustle, the quieter, less glamorous months and years that followed the early salad days of my blog. The part where I kept going after the initial flash bulbs faded.” (The Hustle Economy, p. 76)

When success hits, it usually hits hard. It’s exciting, it gives you an irresistible adrenaline rush – nothing can ruin these good feelings! Except one thing actually can, and that’s deciding that you’ve made it, you’ve put in all the hard work you needed to, you don’t have to work hard anymore.

The truth is, virtually anyone can get a publishing contract, publish a book, write a viral article or attract a wave of new subscribers to their blog. Anyone can catch the interest of an audience. The key to success that lasts is putting in the work that keeps people around, even after the buzz dies down.

Because the internet and its ever-connected users move so fast, what interests someone today might not catch their attention tomorrow. So success in writing in its many forms is a constant game of aligning what people want to read about with what you’re prompted to write about. Always. Every day.

It takes a lot of time and effort to consistently create content that resonates with people. So while it might feel now as though you’ve created something so good people will never ignore you again, keep in mind that if you really want to succeed, you can’t just do that once. You’re going to have to do it again. And again. And again.

It feels very warm and fuzzy to realize you’ve succeeded, in one way or another. Cherish that feeling. Really take a moment to recognize how good it makes you feel. Because this is one of the things you have to hold onto when the pressure to perform starts to feel a lot more like stress (it happens to everyone at some point – it’s normal).

Success feels really good. If you want that feeling to last, it’s not going to come free.

You put in at least some amount of work to get here. If you’ve earned your success, that’s proof that you are going to be able to achieve really great things at some point. Don’t give up now. Your journey isn’t over yet. It’s more than likely just beginning.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

When All Else Fails, Rely On Breaking and Forming Habits

Your brain likes patterns. This can be really good, or really inconvenient.

There are good habits, and there are bad habits. When it comes to writing, creativity becomes a balance of correcting what you’re not doing well and performing better than you already are – breaking bad habits, while also forming good ones.

How you accomplish both of these things depends on the kind of work you do, either for your official job or on your own time. At the moment, I write and edit for multiple clients. Sometimes, a word I might correct in a document for one client needs to be left alone in an article for another – and if it weren’t for habits, I would never be able to remember when to fix what.

Every publication generally has at least a few of their own original style preferences. A brand I work with uses “workout” as both a noun and a verb, which is something I still catch myself itching to correct every time I’m deep in an editing session. (It’s not wrong, it’s just different.)

For me, writing “I like to workout at home” goes against my natural grammar-correcting reflexes. In this case, writing “I like to work out at home” is a habit I need to break, a bad habit of sorts. The more I am exposed to having to actively ignore the urge to do it wrong, the more doing it right becomes habitual instead.

So basically, if you want to do something right, keep doing it right until it becomes automatic.

For you, this might mean writing 500 words every day, rain or shine. Avoiding those extra filler words (“that,” “very”) which oversaturate your sentences. Not staring every sentence with the exact same word three times in a row.

Whether you have “bad” writing habits you want to break or you just want to form good writing habits from scratch, the best way to do that is to immerse yourself in the kind of writing that triggers either or both kinds. Writing an article with a word limit might help you break your habit of writing too much, and committing to a daily blog posting schedule can help you get into the habit of writing more consistently.

In general, we’re not very good at breaking or forming habits because it can take a long time – and a lot of effort. You want instant gratification, so after three days when you aren’t seeing any results, you give up. I can’t make your decisions for you, but I can tell you that the key to reaching a difficult writing goal is buried within your habits, both good and bad. The more bad habits you replace with good ones, the more likely you are to meet your goals, and ideally, succeed.

So what is it? You know – your bad habit. Or that thing you want to start doing but haven’t yet. What steps are you going to take to make the bad habit stop or the good habit start? A first step isn’t enough – there are many more to come after it – but it’s a milestone. Will you reach it?


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Regain Your Focus by Deciding What Kind of Writer You Want to Be

What are you really trying to accomplish?

One of the biggest problems for new writers is a lack of focus.

I’m not talking about falling prey to distractions like the internet – this is a different kind of focus. I see a lot of writers wasting a lot of time trying to make headway in an area of writing they really don’t care about, simply because it’s the one with the lowest barrier to entry, or the one where they can “grow” an audience the fastest.

When you do that, you’re usually not focusing on an area of writing you actually care about. Which is problematic, because you’re much more likely to get frustrated, suffer burnout and quit altogether.

In response to all that, I’m going to break down the different “kinds” of writing you can typically focus on, whether on your own time or as a full-time career path.

These aren’t necessarily official terms for the different ways you might use writing in your personal and/or professional life – it’s all simplified to help make the distinctions easier.

So. What kind of writer do you really want to be?

Do you want to be an editorialist – penning essays reflecting your opinions and beliefs? E.g., blogging.

An entertainer, seeking to create stories for a particular audience’s enjoyment? E.g., short story writing.

An informer – someone who uses writing to convey facts? E.g., journalism.

A marketer, writing for the purpose of selling a product or service or persuading an audience to respond to a specific call-to-action, such as donating, filling out a form, etc.?

A commentator, sharing your own ideas to build off of someone else’s stories, facts or opinions and facilitate conversation?

How about an adviser – a writer who uses facts and/or their expertise to assist members of an audience?

Perhaps you want to be an infotainer – someone who shares facts in a more relaxed, familiar writing style.

Deciding how you want to approach your writing is essential for continuously finding the motivation to write. Otherwise, you’ll end up spending all your time writing articles about current events when, deep down, you really want to be working on that draft of a T.V. pilot you haven’t told anyone about.

One could argue that a writer can act as more than just one of these roles – many writers have day jobs in corporate advertising, come home and write new posts for their fashion design blogs.

This all isn’t to say you can only be one thing – even if you write for more than one purpose, you still consciously chose those specific roles. You are still aware that when you go to work, you are going to be writing 100 marketing emails, and when you come home, you get to talk to your readers about something you are passionate about in your personal life.

This is why I can’t be of much help to newer writers who roam around exclaiming, “I WANT TO BE A WRITER!!!” Don’t get me wrong, I’m ready and willing to help anyone along this journey – I remember how exciting it is to discover you want to make writing part of your life for good.

But you can’t just decide you want to ‘be a writer’ and immediately start down the path toward success. Not only do you need to develop your basic writing skills, but you also need to try as many different kinds of writing as you can. That’s how you figure out what kind of writing you want to focus on, and what kinds you want to steer clear of as best you can.

The more time you spend writing, the easier this is to figure out. It took me until graduate school, dragging my feet through a particularly frustrating course, that I did not want to work in marketing, advertising or public relations. It also took me many, many years to learn that as much as I adore writing fiction, I want to keep that a hobby, and focus my career on information writing and “edutainment.”

No one who’s just starting out in anything knows exactly what they want to do. Writing offers a whole world of possibilities for people who are good at communicating ideas and telling stories. If you really feel like you’re struggling to decide how you want to use your writing skills, think hard about what kind of writing gets you the most excited – and what you could generally do without.

Always remember, you don’t have to be good at or particularly enjoy everything. It’s kind of like studying to be a doctor – everyone learns the basics, but eventually you decide your specialty and engage in further study to focus on that one specific area of expertise. You may never be a bestselling novelist … but your New York Times column is going to ROCK.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

The In-Between: Why It’s Good to Daydream (How to Earn a Career in Writing, Part 7)

Be open to new ideas.

You can picture it in your mind. All of it.

It’s different for everyone – maybe you see yourself sitting at a table, signing some books. Maybe you picture arriving on a website and seeing your story on the home page. Maybe you can see yourself just living comfortably, making a living doing this writing thing, happy.

We all daydream. We think about what we want, what it will feel like when we finally get there.

What are you doing as you’re losing yourself in these imaginary futures? Struggling through late nights so you can get enough writing in before you have to go to sleep, only to wake up before the sun tomorrow so you can get to your day job on time? Wondering why you have to take this random class you don’t care about just so you can get a degree? Submitting pitch after pitch, always hearing nothing or having to face rejection – again?

Maybe you try to keep yourself busy … because the thought of never actually getting what you want is just too much to deal with.

Maybe you need to just take things slow … and let your brain work its magic.

Because while it’s true that you can’t succeed without first working harder than you ever have before, you can end up crushing your creativity under the weight of your stress if you aren’t careful.

You need to give yourself time to think, time to plan, time to dream.

Television writer Emma Koenig puts it like this:

“When you give up external stimulation for a minute, your brain is freed to stimulate itself… That is exactly when you are going to have your amazing idea. That is when you are going to decide you want to try something new. That is when you are going to talk yourself into doing something you are afraid of.” (Hustle Economy, p. 67)

So it’s late at night, you’re tired from your job, you’re too wired to write – yet your mind is racing and you can’t sleep. Daydream.

You’re bored during class, you feel like you have a decent grasp on the material yet you still have to sit there and wait. Daydream.

It’s lunch time, you have about 20 minutes to submit another pitch to another busy editor, but you’re feeling low on ideas. Daydream.

Don’t just sit around and wonder what success might look like for you. Think about what you need to do to create it. There’s a Big Idea in there somewhere, waiting for you to notice it. Take a moment to sit back, to let your thoughts run around. It will appear. You will recognize it. It will change everything.

I get my best ideas for posts and articles when I have a slow freelancing day. Ideas pop up when I’m working, too, but I give myself a lot more down time than I used to. It’s necessary for creativity to thrive.

You know where you want to be – and if you don’t, you need to give yourself time to think hard about what you really want. It takes time to figure out how you’re going to get from where you are to whichever daydream sticks the most in your mind. It takes strategy and pro-con lists and all this brain power you’re using up just trying to make it through the day.

I know it’s frustrating. I know it’s not what you want to hear – but maybe instead of always worrying about what you’re supposed to be writing, and complaining about how you’re spending hours upon hours doing something other than writing, you should just stop. No TV, internet, phone – just stop. Just exist. Face your thoughts. Be open to new ideas. Be honest with yourself.

If you really want this to work out, it’s going to take some serious balancing of effort and brain stimulation-only time. Can you do that? The better question is – will you try?


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

How to Write Like You Know What You’re Talking About

Can the internet trust you? Prove it.

Not every writer is an expert. Not every expert is a writer.

So as more and more people turn to the internet for their information – and more and more of them learn how to separate the trustworthy sources from the not-so-reliable – it’s essential that if you’re set on publishing what you have to say about Topic X, you can do so in a way readers can count on.

This is not a post about how to sound like you have background knowledge when you don’t – quite the opposite, actually. There are many, many intelligent people in this world who really struggle to communicate their expertise – because they just aren’t trained to structure their information in a way that supports their legitimate credibility.

So here’s how to start improving on this skill – and how to tell when a writer doesn’t actually know as much about what they’re talking about as they claim to.


Site your sources, but don’t data dump

One of the first things you learned in English class was that no piece of data should ever appear without a backup source – you know this. It’s a no-brainer, and I’m not going to get into proper research techniques in this post. However, data is an excellent tool for beginning writers to start building off of. Maybe you’re not technically an expert in your field, but experts’ research on a topic you’re writing about (at least the abstract) is publicly accessible for a reason. Use these things to your advantage.

What you don’t want to do, however, is data dump. Imagine sitting in a lecture hall listening to a professor drone on and on about something you just don’t get. That’s how a reader feels when a writer just sits there and spits facts out at them, with no regard to how they might react to that.

You’ve seen data dumping, though you probably didn’t realize what it was. It’s essentially an article in which every other sentence sites a study, fact or statistic as if the goal is to fire off as much information about a single topic in one paragraph as possible. It’s dry, it’s often unhelpful and confusing, and it’s overwhelming – not to mention it’s a sign that the writer is pretty good at summarizing someone else’s facts, but doesn’t fully understand their implications or how their audience can make use of them.

As they say, the best way to understand something is to teach it – or in our case, write about it. If you’re writing about something you don’t completely understand, spend some time summarizing it a few different ways until it makes sense to you when you read it back. I still have to do this when I’m trying to explain simple biochemistry to non-scientists – whether you’re an expert on the subject or not, you have to be able to explain not only that a fact exists, but why a reader should care.

If you’re writing about an opinion or theory, use concrete examples

Not everything you’re going to write about has a scientific study to back it up. Especially if you have a blog like this one, where the focus isn’t to inform as much as it is to assist and encourage. But that doesn’t mean you can just create a bunch of list posts and expect every viewer to automatically trust you – you have to include examples, both for the purposes of credibility AND applicability.

One benefit of having a blog is that you can convey your expertise through your own personal experience. I do this all the time here when I address #writingstruggles – because I need to be able to prove that I fully understand what my audience is going through. Practical, real-world examples are what give sustenance to both facts and opinions in any context. If I’m going to write about overcoming failure, I’m going to talk about the time a client slammed me for doing something wrong and what I learned from that experience.

And of course, if you’re trying to persuade and/or encourage someone to do something, you not only need to make the information you give actionable – you need to give people examples to follow. When I write about health, I don’t just talk about what HIIT workouts are and why they’re good for you. I show readers how they can start interval training and how to find a good fit for it in their schedules.

Someone who doesn’t have a ton of background on a topic won’t use very many helpful examples to help readers put their information into practice – a major red flag to keep an eye out for.

If there’s probable cause for debate, address both sides

If you’re writing to persuade, information comes along with that package. “I’m right and you’re wrong” doesn’t get you very far online, thankfully. No one will ever take you seriously if you continuously publish one-sided arguments about topics people are interested in reading about. I don’t just sit here and tell you writer’s block doesn’t exist – I explain that it’s easy to come up with an excuse for not doing your work when you’re unwilling to identify underlying barriers to your productivity. I look at things through your point of view and then share that viewpoint.

The reason I love Philip DeFranco (well, one reason of many) is that whenever he covers something controversial in his videos, both sides of every argument are ALWAYS key components. Some people are saying this, but others say that. If you’re doing commentary, then of course you’re going to give your opinion as well – but there’s something to be said for creators who are willing to both understand and give name to things other than what they support/believe.

You can’t just approach a topic claiming something is wrong without going into why some people believe it’s right. That’s not how arguments work. The reason people still believe you’re not supposed to eat eggs because of cholesterol believe that because of outdated science we once thought was accurate. When you say that, some people – not everyone, because this is Earth – will be persuaded to change their thought process. You can’t change someone’s mind using your words unless you know enough about what you’re writing about to debunk every single counter-argument a reader might throw at you (because they will).


I want to know what you think. What makes you trust someone’s blog or articles? What makes you question and/or dismiss a writer’s credibility online?


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Editor’s Notes: A Deadline is a Deadline for a Reason

WHERE ARE YOU???

I’ve dealt with a lot of nonsense from writers over the years. Not being able to meet deadlines is probably the most common frustration. For some reason, writers think it’s okay to combine a lazy excuse, an ETA and an apology for not doing their work on time – and many managing editors simply let it happen.

Everyone’s editorial preferences are different – just because I don’t think it’s acceptable doesn’t mean I’m right and they’re wrong. I come from a teaching background – meaning, I’m used to teaching college students what it’s actually like to write in the real world. I consider consistent tardiness a flaw that needs correcting. That’s just my viewpoint.

However, I do think it’s important that all writers understand why editors give them deadlines. Because, more and more, it seems to me their response is, “Well, as long as I get the work in within 24 hours of when they told me to, it’s fine.”

It’s really not. And I’m going to explain why, from a few different perspectives.

As a freelance editor, I am pretty much hired on contract to copyedit and format articles for a website. This is only one of many different clients I juggle throughout the work week. I have a very limited amount of hours to work with each client (depending, honestly, on how much they can afford to pay me weekly). So let’s say I have about three hours each week to assign, edit and publish one writer’s articles.

It’s much easier for me to break up work in such a way that I only work with one client several days out of the week, so I can concentrate better on what I’m doing. Typically, I leave one day for editing and another for publishing and assigning new articles. I have to leave writers enough time to research and write, so the same day they turn in their work, I edit.

Except when they don’t turn their work in on time.

Then my whole schedule is off by a day. Which sounds a little selfish, I guess, until you realize that I have other clients who don’t give me assignments until I log in that morning. So I don’t know 50% of the work I have to do tomorrow until it’s already tomorrow.

I can’t afford to wait for your work. I am on a tight schedule. If there is a problem, I need time to fix it. If you didn’t do a good job, honestly, I’m going to have to rewrite a portion of what you’ve already written. And since you clearly already rushed to turn in your work (late), the chances of there being significant flaws in your product are much higher.

Apologizing for the inconvenience also doesn’t help, because it’s still an inconvenience. Giving me the same old excuse is just annoying, because as much as I would LOVE to care, I have work to do, too, and I’m depending on you to do your job. It’s nice when a writer gives warning ahead of time that there’s a problem, but it usually doesn’t happen. I shouldn’t have to chase after you, wondering why my inbox is empty.

There are also publications that work on a very strict and tight editorial workflow. At the magazine I worked for in college, interns turned their work in on Friday. Editors had 48 hours to do full content and copy edits, and writers had 24 hours after that to fix them. We literally could not afford to accept late work, so we couldn’t. Do you think that went over well with a bunch of college students? Yeah, no. People expected to be allowed to turn work in whenever they wanted. I wonder where that assumption came from. (I really do?)

Online publishing is a delicate process. Not publishing something when it was intended to be published messes up everything, from traffic to SEO to who knows what else. It’s not because we’re trying to put more pressure on you. Our long-term success relies in large part on whether or not we are consistently publishing what we plan on publishing. If you deliver late, or not at all, you knock over the whole line of dominos. They’re never going to be put back exactly where they were before.

I don’t want to blame a writer incapable of meeting deadlines for messing up our workflow, but honestly, it’s a problem. I get really flustered when people just can’t seem to understand this.

When your editor gives you a deadline, it’s the latest possible day and time they can accept your work. Asking for your article by EOD Friday means someone is likely, for our purposes, already planning on staying in the office late to edit that article when they walk into work that morning. A deadline is really not meant to be tested. Exactly at 4:59pm, fine. Past that point, it’s the danger zone, panic alarms are going off, if they haven’t heard anything from you, it’s not good news – for anyone.

If your editor doesn’t give you a deadline, for whatever reason, give yourself one. Whenever I work with someone who says, “Can you work on this?” without giving me a due date, I struggle. The procrastinator in me just can’t get it done fast enough. So I’ve trained myself to set my own deadlines and stick with them. An editor myself, I understand that even when there’s no specific time frame, it’s better to get things done sooner rather than later – ASAP.

Always remember, as a writer working for an editor, that this process is not about you. Once your article is published and your name is on it, you’re welcome to celebrate and promote it all you want. Take pride in it, we’re happy for you. But until then, this is about workflow, about doing quality work in a timely manner, following directions, putting in all the effort you have. This is a priority. There are circumstances when emergencies do happen, and an editor will understand that. But I can pretty much guarantee your internet does not go out every single Friday afternoon when I’m expecting a submission from you.

Just do your work, well and on time. I don’t keep my chronic procrastination a habit – I tend to put things off as long as I possibly can. But when I am working, I get my work done. I don’t give excuses. I don’t say “I’ll have it to you by six” and then don’t turn anything in. Stop doing that!

Thank you. :)


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

How to Treat a Hobby Like a Job (How to Earn a Career in Writing, Part 6)

Making things is a job.

Have you ever realized how short a day actually is? If you’re reading this, I’m guessing the answer is yes. 24 hours seems like a very long time, until you factor in sleep (can’t avoid it), relationships (also can’t live without those), work (a natural part of the human existence), adulting and all things associated (…) and, of course – in addition to everything else – writing.

Writing is a thing you do. You do it when you feel like it, when you choose to act on your inspiration or because you have to.

The problem with “wanting to be a writer” is all in the title. You WANT to do this. The question is, are you willing to put in the time, and the effort – make the necessary sacrifices, within reason – to treat your writing as if you’re getting paid for it, even when you aren’t?

Because regardless of your end goal – whether you want to make money or not – you’re never going to get anywhere if you don’t actually work. Hard.

Yep – even your beloved hobby needs to be taken seriously. At least at its core.

As producer and performer Mike Rugnetta put it: “Making things is a job. Sometimes it’s a really fun job! But it’s never not a job. And the thing that’s really hard and weird and disappointing about it is that if you don’t treat it the same way you would any other job, you won’t be successful.” (The Hustle Economy, p. 57)

Wait. So we’re supposed to write, enjoy it, work hard at it, treat it like a job even when it ins’t, and still somehow balance everything else on top of that? We’re supposed to make writing a priority, even when there’s literally no more room in our lives to do that?

HOW?

Long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (sorta), I had a full-time job that had nothing to do with writing. (!) It wasn’t just a nine-to-five job – it involved an hour commute into and back from the city where I worked. Especially once I started graduate school, that made for some very early mornings, and very late nights.

Yet I somehow managed to revamp my blog, work on a novel and write for a magazine (all for free) during that time – because I knew that if I treated my hobby like an unimportant series of side projects, I would never work my way up to a successful writing career.

Not that I’m all that successful yet, two years later, but I’ve made progress. I can’t imagine where I would be now if, in March of 2015, I would have just thought, “Well, I’m really busy with work and school right now. I really don’t have time to be writing all this stuff.”

First rule of earning a career in writing: there is always time.

You don’t think there is. But it’s there. There are small pockets of time all throughout your day perfect for writing. The train commute. Over commercial breaks during TGIT. The doctor’s office waiting room. Anything works, if you’re willing to make it work.

There’s no such thing as wasted writing time. I’ve spent good portions of time writing things I later decided not to use. Those things taught me more about what works and what doesn’t.

Sometimes you sit down and start writing and “know” it’s not going to be that great. But always keep in mind that you never perform as terribly as your mind tricks you into believing.

Writing is a job. I know it can be hard to believe that, when other people are constantly telling you it’s not a job if you aren’t getting paid well for it, or at all – they don’t get it, and may never get it, and that’s tough. But if you don’t prioritize it, if you don’t treat it as such, you’re never going to master the level of discipline and resilience it takes to succeed in this field. The more you do it, the harder you work at it, the better chance you have at actually Making It Happen.

Work can be fun – just because it’s work doesn’t mean you have to drag your feet about it. I consider managing this blog as part of my work day, even though I’m doing it for free (though you’re welcome to support my efforts, if you like). If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to keep up this daily schedule. I wouldn’t be able to keep up with all of YOU! I enjoy it – it’s work, but I hope I never have to stop.

So, are you willing to take your writing career to the next level? Start by working just a little harder. And then some more. And then some more.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.