How to Become A Better Writer
So I’m still down to 9 fingers. I’ll be this way for another week. Published author Kyle Milligan was awesome enough to send me over a guest post to fill the time. His site info and bio is at the end. You can follow him on twitter @all99kyle.
On my 24th birthday a girl stood me up for dinner at my place. I cooked the dinner and I waited. I texted. I waited some more.
I had never felt like a more worthless piece of crap than on that night. I was so embarrassed I couldn’t even confess my shame to my closest friends. I thought I would take that secret to my grave. So I went to my computer, and I wrote that my life was pathetic and it was time for a change.
I didn’t know who else to tell. I wrote it to Microsoft OneNote because there was no way I would ever tell another human that I was such a loser that a girl couldn’t be bothered to eat free food with me on my birthday. That and I detested my public accounting job. And also that I didn’t seem to fit in anywhere I went.
But writing it felt good. It felt really good.
I started writing quite often. I wrote every day. I got a new accounting job at an asset management firm (which I also hated) and wrote all day on my Windows Surface RT until I was eventually fired; because for six months all I did at work was write on my little tablet.
Funny story, I saw my termination coming when I did our payroll and noticed everybody got a bonus except me. Even the new guy who had only been there a couple months. He tucked his shirt into his jeans. I hated that.
Writing is a neat thing. With the correct combination of words and I can elicit about any response I desire. Tears. Hope. Anger. A sale. But writing well, like anything, takes practice. Man, it takes a ton of practice.
I haven’t worked a full time job since February 16, 2016. It was time for lunch and I thought, “I don’t want to work anymore,” (like Peter from Office Space) and I walked out. I would make it as an author, I thought. I didn’t need much. Just a couple hundred dollars to pay minimums until I was famous. Famous from either from my novels or my blogs.
Well, it’s been almost a year and guess what: I’m not famous.
Writing is like any trade or craft you enter into. It was Joanna Penn who taught me that. She’s a six-figure author. Basically, think of your value if you went to a new job today. A job that you have zero experience in. Then think of your value after three years at the same job. Then in ten years.
That’s how writing works.
When I was about 16 or 17 I was coaxed into joining a multilevel marketing scam and the guy who got me in (a very convincing individual) told me over and over, “If you treat it like a hobby, it will pay you like a hobby. If you treat it like a job, it will pay you like a job.”
That’s how writing works, too.
My writing hero Michael Crichton has a few things to say about his writing work ethic here. (Ed’s hero, not Kyle’s)
When it comes to being a writer, it’s important to look to your heroes that inspired you to take the first step. For instance, I read Mike Cernovich when he was blogging about rough sex and doing podcasts with another guy about working out and “gear.” Most people have never seen that stuff. Cernovich didn’t get his success from luck, or even “talent.” He got it from being the stubborn guy he is and showing up every day.
That’s because somedays writing sucks. Especially when you start. You get bored. What do the people want to hear? What do you write? Why isn’t anybody paying attention? Or if you were dumb like me and left your only source of income for writing: “Why am I still doing this if I’m not making enough money?” It gets easier and easier to want to give up. But you have to be stubborn.
We Americans are an impatient and entitled bunch. We want results. And we want them NOW.
That is NOT how writing works.
Writing can be best compared to almost anything related to “compounding.”
When you buy stocks, or contribute to your retirement, you buy a few shares at a time. Over time those shares you own increase in value and you keep adding more. They compound and create wealth. Writing content is similar.
My girlfriend has a YouTube channel. She recorded a video and didn’t want to upload it because it wasn’t good enough (a common mistake of beginners is to want perfection when they should just publish). “Hell no, woman. You upload that video,” I said. Videos are very similar to writing and stocks in the way they compound.
Even if it isn’t her best video, it may capture someone’s attention. And even if they aren’t floored by it, they just may be interested in another one of her videos.
That’s how writing works.
You put in effort day in and day out, and it compounds. It builds upon itself. Your value increases year over year, like a job. But you must treat it like a job. Every day.
You have to put in the work. You can’t have half-days every day. The quicker you want results, the harder you’ll have to work, especially early on.
You have to compile a backlist of material by continually pushing out new stuff. Hopefully the new stuff catches someone’s eye, and even more hopefully, something in all that finished content speaks to him or her at a personal level.
Writing habits aren’t just a simple how-to. I could tell you “write 1,000 words a day,” but how have you not heard that advice already? You already know that!
You have to internalize everything I’ve written. From motivation (hating your stupid job), finding something you love to type, typing about it as often as you can, and then conquering the hard stuff.
Conquer your worries that your product isn’t good enough or perfect.
Conquer your fears that people will ridicule you for what you write (Complete strangers have left me NASTY comments calling me all sorts of things for no reason at all).
Conquer that fear that it is hopeless; that it’s too hard to make an impact or too long a journey to get where you want to be.
Writing is about putting one foot in front of the other. Every 100,000 word novel was written one word at the time.
That’s the only habit you need to develop. Showing up every day and putting one foot in front of the other. One word at a time. Every day.
Think small. Think “today.” Just show up “today.” But then do that every day.
That’s the key to anything in life.
At least that’s been my experience after a couple years, anyways.
Kyle Milligan is a new adult fiction author and entrepreneurship blogger. His novels focus on the challenges of modern dating in the prominent hookup culture. Kyle’s books can be found at realkylemilligan.com. Kyle also blogs on the topics of entrepreneurship and fitness at all99life.com