How to Write Online
I've written a lot in the last year, and I am about to give you what I think is the most important piece of advice about writing online.
According to Grammarly, editing software that helps improve grammar, I am clocking in over five thousand words daily. And over 40k words on a good week. I've written over 100 essays, 68 editions of this newsletter, and over 10,000 Tweets in the last year.
I also spent thousands of dollars on courses to improve my writing last year. Write of Passage alone set me back $4.5k, and it costs even more now. But it was worth it.
So I am writing a lot, and I've spent a lot of money on learning how to write better, and I think that makes me reasonably qualified to give this advice to you.
I know there is a lot of advice out there. But my advice to you right now will be different.
I am not going to tell you that you should use simple words. I won't ask you to shorten your sentences. I won't say that it's important for you to vary your words. Everyone else is already telling you that. While all of that helps, that isn't what's most important.
I won't even tell you that you need to be a great thinker to be a great writer.
That's because if you write enough, you will be forced to dump bad ideas or turn them into solid ideas that can stand on their own. Either way, you will fully strengthen what's in your head by writing about it. So contrary to popular belief, you don't need to be a great thinker before you start writing; the act of writing itself will make you a better thinker.
But I still haven't given you the advice I learned from this year of writing regularly. Get ready for it; this is important, especially if you want to write to be read, if you want to communicate well, and if you want things to go far online. Without this, don't even bother writing.
The most important thing about writing is to have something meaningful to write about. Contrary to what some may tell you, sending junk is not okay. Why are you wasting my time with it if it's not meaningful to you?
So find the thing that means the most to you and write about that.
If you listen to conventional writing advice, some I mentioned above, and you send me a piece that follows the rules but means nothing to you, you just hooked me in and wasted my time.
Two decades ago, I was in my teens and worked as a bus boy cleaning tables. It was hard work, after school and on weekends. I had a friend named Timmy who convinced me there was an easier way. We had to go to a meetup in New Rochelle; a company there had found a way for us to make tons of money the easy way. They showed us videos of people driving bikes, fancy cars, and boats when we got there. They said we could make enough to have that too; all we had to do was recruit people to come and invest with them. It sounded too good to be true, and it was. Adults at the restaurant later explained to me that it was likely a multi-level marketing scheme, which it turned out to be a year later when the people involved got busted and went to jail.
There are parallels between multi-level marketing schemes that take advantage of human psychology to get people to do something and meaningless writing. Meaningless writing that follows the rules and hooks us to read it but robs us of our time in the end. Meaningless writing leaves us with nothing in the end, just like pyramid schemes.
The counterfactual to all of this is that you could mess all those rules up and still write something that is a huge success. You could break grammar rules and still succeed.
If something is meaningful to you in some way and it turns out that it
empathizes or makes someone feel seen
...then chances are high that people reading it will still care, and it will likely still succeed even if it does not follow conventional advice.
80% of what makes for good writing is that what you write about has to be meaningful, at least to you. All the other advice in the world on writing weighs less than 20% in aggregate.
David Perell, the creator of Write of Passage, has perhaps the most memorable framework to help your meaningful writing. His "Personal, Observational, and Playful framework," also known as POP, helps you write things that others will remember.
The POP framework is a lens that I now run all my writing through, even Tweets. That means every piece I write cannot just make some banal observation about the world like so much writing out there does; people will forget that. Every piece I write should also include some personal and playful elements, like my story about multi-level marketing schemes. David says that writing has the highest chance of being memorable when all three elements are present, and I have found this to be true.
A huge reason I think Write of Passage was worth it is that most of us struggle to write about what is most meaningful. And courses like Write of Passage and even Small Bets helped me get to that. Not because I didn't know what was meaningful to me, but because it's hard to dig deep. Then dig even deeper. But having other people to do it with makes it a lot easier.
Writing has become something I deeply enjoy; I miss it when I don't get to do it. And I hope some of this advice helps you get started and do well with it.