Hey, I get it. You want to write a perfect copy. Who doesn’t? If you could write a perfect copy that engages everybody and makes the world love you, then it’s going to be easy to get what you want. A job in journalism? Done. A million followers in less than a week? Hey, it’s a perfect copy, who wouldn’t want to follow someone who has written that?
There is only one small problem with that idea. What’s that? Well, the perfect copy does not exist. Though there are certain objective measures of how good writing is, in the end, it’s still a subjective experience. That’s why your friends have recommended books that you didn’t like and why there are so many genres on offer.
In fact, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Here are some more reasons why you shouldn’t be afraid of unsuccessful writing experiences and actually embrace them.
No doubt there is an element of talent to being a good writer. It’s only a small part of it, though. In all other ways, writing is a skill. And like any skill, you have to practice and practice and practice. Malcolm Gladwell talks about needing 10,000 hours to master an art.
I don’t know if that’s the right number, but it certainly is a lot of hours. What’s more? When you first start out writing, most of those hours are going to be ones where you can’t get the words to do what you want to do. Instead, you’ll end up jumbled and confused.
That can be frustrating.
But it’s something that you’re going to have to get through to be able to write a great copy. And so, you have to accept that those bad stories, the crappy blog posts, and the uninteresting papers are part of the path to getting there. If you don’t, then you’ll never be able to put in the necessary time to actually become a great writer.
There is nothing worse for your writing than trying to write amazing texts from day one. I know this from experience. That was what I tried to do when I was younger. The result was that I kept staring at things and never finishing them because they weren’t perfect. And that wasn’t good.
It was only when I started writing professionally and there were deadlines that I had to keep to (often lots of deadlines) that I was able to say after a while, “Okay, that text is good enough. Time to move on.”
And you know what that did? It made me a better writer. Why? Because suddenly I was producing a lot more text. They were up to a high standard but weren’t quite perfect. And as I kept writing, it became easier to write those texts. So I was able to push that bar a little higher.
This was when I went from writing lots of copy, to being able to concentrate on writing high-quality copy over a long period of time.
You should do the same. Focus on being productive. High-quality texts will follow… naturally, as you learn tricks and ways to do things as you go. Then, before you know it, you’ll be writing for prestigious organisations like the Washington Post or Rewarded Essays.
Popularity is misunderstood. Some people think that as you become more popular, the number of readers who follow you steadily increases. But that’s not true. Popularity and readership are connected by a non-linear power-law. Readership grows steadily until you become highly popular and then suddenly it explodes.
Why does that matter to you? For a simple reason. Since most articles don’t get read by many people, your crappy and unsuccessful writing will probably not get noticed by anybody. Only your very popular articles will actually get read by anybody – and then they’ll get read by a huge chunk of the people out there.
So don’t worry about your bad writing. Only worry about occasionally putting out something that is truly phenomenal.
We hate our own stuff. I don’t know why, but it’s true. It probably has something to do with how we would have liked our ideas to have come out and how they actually came out. That gap, in our head, is wider than the Grand Canyon.
The thing is, though, that that canyon only exists in our head. Everybody else will take your writing for what it is. Which means they’ll generally judge it far less harshly than you do. That means that even though you think your writing is a failure, for other people it might still contain some real value that is actually meaningful to them.
And the point isn’t always to be popular. Sometimes to just change one person’s life for the better is a huge deal.
People may think your writing is terrible. So what? Yes, it will be embarrassing, but only to you. Chances are in no time at all, most of the people that read what you wrote will have forgotten who you are. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and name the authors of the articles you read yesterday.
Go on. I’ll wait.
If you’re like most of us, you can’t. And that’s yesterday! You probably can’t even remember what you read about last week and you can’t tell with absolute certainty if you read any articles at all, a few weeks ago.
Other people react the same with what you’ve written. That’s because of something called the spotlight effect. It’s the idea that because we’ve noticed something like a stain on our shirt or a story that’s crap doesn’t mean anybody else will. Why should they? They’ve got their own lives to worry about.
A lot of people seem to think that writing is just something you do. It isn’t. It has a steep learning curve. Like anything really, from dancing to playing the guitar. When they realise that, a lot of people quit out of disappointment.
And that’s probably good for the writing profession. If you’re one of those that want to quit, however, then it’s not good for you. Writing is something that takes time, effort and often a lot of writing in obscurity.
And yes, it takes writing a lot of unsuccessful texts. They are how you can get to the successful ones. All successful writers go through that. I’ve produced tonnes of stuff that should probably never see the light of day.
But I don’t regret writing one word of it. Because that’s how I got where I am today.