Sam Holstein

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Why You Should Stop Worrying About How Your “Writing Career” Is Going

There are a lot of articles by writers, for writers, in which a writer reflects on how their “writing career” is going. They comment on how many articles they’ve published that month, how much money they made, and talk about what they think they’re missing on their “writing journey.”

Sometimes readers complain about how many of these articles there are. I’m not here to complain about that. You can write whatever you like. If I don’t want to read something, that’s up to me.

I’m here to say this: Your diagnoses are usually wrong.

I’ve seen writers reflect on how they need to take a different tone in their writing, or address different subject matter, or try different marketing schemes, or yadda yadda yadda. But from where I’m standing, none of these things are the problem.

You wanna know what your problem is? It’s not any of that stuff. It’s probably one of these 2 things:

#1: Your Headlines Suck

After reading one of these reflective self-diagnosing articles, I like to click over to the writer’s profile and look at their other work. And 9/10, when I do this, I find their headlines suck.

It doesn’t matter what your writing style, subject matter, or marketing tactics are if your headlines suck. If your headlines suck, nothing else matters.

Learning how to write great headlines takes a lifetime, and I’m no master. But learning how to write half-decent headlines is easy.

  1. Come up with 10 different headline ideas for every story.
  2. Use CoSchedule’s headline analyzer. Don’t use a headline if it scores below 70. Experts can ignore CoSchedule because they have a good sense of which headlines work, but you are not an expert.
  3. Use the AM Institute’s headline analyzer. I’m less strict about this one because it’s new to me. I like when it says 40-50%, but sometimes I can’t get it that high.

#2: Your Structure Sucks

There is nothing that turns me away from a story faster than clicking into it and discovering the paragraphs have no particular narrative order.

Paragraph one will talk about an interesting thing that happened to the writer… paragraph two will be about trauma or something… paragraph three will be about having friends… and then the “story” is over. What?

 refers to this kind of writing as “treating your writing like a journal.” Maybe it has emotional value for you, but nobody wants to read your stream-of-consciousness thoughts.

Good writing has structure. There’s a clear introduction to what’s being discussed in the article, individual points are treated in order, and there’s a clear wind-up at the end.

That doesn’t mean you have to write listicles. Compelling personal essays have structure. I’ve been obsessed with

’s essays recently, all of which have a clear narrative structure.

If you want to learn structure, read The Sense of Style by Stephen Pinker. That book taught me everything I know about nonfiction structure.

Stop Worrying, Start Writing

Sitting around and worrying about your “writing career” is a great way to avoid doing the work. Practicing headline writing and learning narrative structure is work, and it’s easier to sit around daydreaming about what your writing could become if you did do the work.

But it won’t become anything if you don’t do the work, which you know you’re not doing, so your daydreaming quickly turns to worry. And you still don’t do the work.

The most creative and productive times of my “writing career” were the times when I was not paying any attention to my writing career. I woke up at 5 AM every morning, published an article, and didn’t think about writing at all for the rest of the day.

If you catch yourself thinking about your writing career, redirect your thoughts.

Use those bright and shiny mindfulness skills to let the thoughts pass through your mind. If you are not busy, turn your mind from worrying about writing to writing. Open your drafts folder, pick an idea, and bring it into the world.

If Writing Isn’t Easy for You, You Have a Problem

So many writers struggle with that simple act: Picking an idea and doing the writing. I sincerely do not understand how these writers get anything done. They have to fight for each inch of progress in their writing career like it’s WWI.

If sitting down and pumping out a draft isn’t effortless for you, there is one and only one thing you should be working on: Making the work easier for yourself.

Are you a perfectionist about your work? Stop it. Start publishing your work before you’re ready. Get over your attitude of perfectionism.

Think none of your ideas are good enough? That’s life. Start writing articles about stupid ideas. Every great writer began by writing stupid stuff.

Never seem to have the time? Make the time. Quit social media and/or watching TV. Cut some stuff out of life and make space.

It’s Okay to Not Be a Writer

All of these writing career ruminations from writing novices give me the impression these writers see themselves on a long and noble journey to fulfill some kind of writing purpose.

I’m pretty do-or-die about making this writing thing work, but this writing thing clearly works for me. I’m good at it and people pay me well to do it.

There’s no nobility in forcing yourself to do something that you don’t enjoy or doesn’t come easily to you, though. I got a ukulele for Christmas and found I don’t like playing it. Doing the stuff with the frets and the strings hurts my delicate writer hands. People told me I could push through, but I didn’t want to. I didn’t enjoy it. I returned the ukulele.

Maybe writing is your ukulele. It’s fun to fantasize about writing a bestseller and going on a book tour. But maybe you don’t enjoy the process. You always dread your writing sessions and barely ever do them. When you do, you feel proud of yourself, but you also feel frustrated and disappointed.

In Conclusion

There are a lot of articles out there in which writers reflect on the trajectory of their writing career. But most of them are missing the point. When it comes to amateur bloggers, there are really only two big problems:

  1. Your headlines aren’t good.
  2. Your narrative structure isn’t good.

The only way to get better at these things is to practice writing. Daydreaming about your writing career — or worrying about it — won’t make you better at either of these things. If you catch yourself doing these things, pivot to actually writing.

If writing is hard for you, then as a writer, you have a problem. The ability to easily sit down and pump out a draft is the central skill of writing. If you struggle to do this multiple times a week, your only priority should be enhancing your ability to do that.

And if that continues to suck no matter what you do… maybe writing isn’t for you. That’s OK, you know. Not everyone is born to be a writer. Writing has a fancy reputation and seems glamorous, but like anything else, it’s not for everyone.