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I hope that my old English teacher is reading this post. The one who openly told me in front of 28 other students that “writing is not for you.” Whilst I’ve said time and time again that I don’t think I’m a great writer, I do know that my writing has greatly improved in recent years and I’ve been able to use my words to earn me a lot of money.
What you say online is far more important than how you say it, of course, but being able to convey complex messages in a simple manner is not an easy task. To quote Blaise Pascal, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” In this post I want to share the steps that took me from someone who was verbally raped by my English teachers and hated writing to writing for thousands of people on a weekly basis.
I’m going to quickly cover some of the things I’ve achieved through my writing but please be assured that none of them are to show off. My aim with this post is for you to see that you don’t have to be a great writer to succeed at blogging or selling online, and you can definitely advance from the situation you’re in now.
Thanks to my writing I’ve:
The last item in that list is totally not my aim. I would actually remain anonymous if I didn’t think it would have held the growth of my blogs back in some form. Hopefully what I write here can help you become a web celebrity, though, if that’s your aim.
I’ll say it again for those who missed it in the intro: the messages I have shared through my writing are far more important than the words used to share them. However, I have gone from someone who was a hopeless writer and thought writing was a waste of time to having moderate abilities in this area and making a lot of money with them.
My writing earned me close to $100,000 in 2009 and if you produce any form of content online, this is definitely an area you should be working on.
Many copywriters say that writing is the best way to improve your writing. In my personal experience, I really don’t think that is the case. I have no doubt that writing frequently does help you greatly in a number of ways, but I think reading has been fundamental in my own success.
In my opinion, the best way to improve your writing is by reading. I don’t think it matters what you read but published, physical books, are probably the best place to start. Books from any major publishing house go through rigorous review by editors who’ve spent years perfecting their skills in this area, so the end result is usually some fantastic written word.
Not only will you see how things are generally supposed to be written, you’ll also pick up new words, learn to understand sentence structure, and perhaps even find that it’s totally fine to put an exclamation mark in brackets. Really (!!).
If you’re a young reader of this site then you may have the notion in your head that reading isn’t “cool”. Myself and my friends back in the UK had the thought that if any book is worth reading then someone will turn it into a movie and we’ll watch that instead. It probably sounds stupid, but that’s how we thought.
I didn’t really start reading books until I arrived in South Africa at 18 and picked up a copy of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. This book pretty much transformed my life and in the two years since then I’ve read around 20 books with some of my favourites being: Psycho Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, Linchpin by Seth Godin, Do You! by Russell Simmons and Screw It, Let’s Do It by Richard Branson.
If you can’t tell, I’m not really a fan of fiction books as I don’t see the point in reading them. That’s totally fine though; if you’re going to read to improve your writing then you should always read things you actually want to read. I like things that I can learn from directly and apply to my life. If you’re someone who doesn’t enjoy reading books then my suggestions are:
If you’re still doubtful that people will judge you for reading (this is mostly aimed at younger readers, like me) then here’s a secret: If you act confident enough about something being cool, people will fall into your reality and feel exactly the same. All the popular people are subscribing to this blog .
It was only when I started reading more books that I noticed my writing dramatically improved. If you aren’t reading much already, you know what to do.
When I first came across the work of Sean Platt online I have to admit I was pretty envious. The way he writes makes me question whether some people are born with natural talent in this area as his way with words is just so…clever. I’m sure that even Sean will still tell you there are areas of his writing he can improve. I’ve found that most writers – even published ones – aren’t that happy with what they produce.
Based on this I think a good suggestion would be to accept you’ll never be a perfect writer. There is no finish line to reach or some prestigious prize waiting for you. You may win awards for your writing or even sell a million books, but I’ve met many award-winning writers who simply aren’t proud of their work or at least don’t feel finished. I also think their desire to continue improving is why they write so well.
Despite my envy for Sean’s work, I also wouldn’t want to have his skills at the click of a finger. I actually love looking through my old articles on PluginID or the early days of ViperChill and seeing how far I’ve improved since then. The process from having my English teacher call me a failure to being offered a book deal (I said no because they wanted me to write on a very niche topic) has been an amazing ride.
Just like you’ll never be done with life, you’ll never be done as a writer. Learn to love the process you’re going through; feeling frustrated at the plateaus isn’t going to change the fact that they exist.
Although what you have to say is more important than how you say it, I do feel like my blog writing process helps me get my ideas into text-format in a more efficient way. In 2009 there were days where I could write four, 1,500+ word blog posts that I was really proud of and they all followed the same strategy.
Adding up over 100 posts for PluginID, around 35 guest posts, and other articles I produced, I wouldn’t be surprised if I wrote over 200,000 published words last year. Although I don’t believe writing is the number one key to my improvement in this area, there’s no doubt that it has a large effect.
The more you write and check your work, the less frequently you make simple mistakes and you also learn to enjoy the struggle of putting together coherent sentences. The journey of mastery in this area is one of many ups, downs, and plateaus, but if you continue to read and write regularly then you will start to become a better writer.
When I start to write a blog post I always have an idea of what I’m going to write about. I don’t just open my minimalist text editor and have a new idea start leaking itself onto my screen. With this post, for instance, I knew that I wanted to write about my journey with writing so from there I chose a title that would both engage people and be relevant to what the post is about.
Oftentimes I’ll have a title in mind and then simply fill out the content of the post. On occasion I’ll tweak a post just minutes before it goes live if I re-read it and something doesn’t look right or I think it could be improved. The title is the most important part of your blog post as it gets shared on social media and helps feed readers decide whether a post is worth clicking through to read. Spending a lot of time crafting your title is certainly not time wasted.
Once I have a title in mind I’ll either just start writing or I’ll carefully structure an outline that I want to follow. The outline that I wrote for this post was just a list of the exact headings you’ve seen me use so far. I also know I want to add one more section after this one but haven’t named it yet so in this case, I’m just going to keep writing.
Something quite unique about my writing process is that I will never edit posts as I go along. I may fix the odd spelling error, but usually I’ll leave all my mistakes in there. I prefer to get everything down about a subject first before making changes. Making changes on the go also takes me out of the flow of writing and makes me too logical, rather than just enjoying the “dance” of the process.
Writing blog posts does not actually take me very long. The way I write is in a very personal manner and if you’ve ever written about yourself then you’ll know that it’s very easy and quick to write this way. That isn’t why I write like this, but it is an added bonus. I’ve also been touch typing (not needing to look at your keyboard) since I was 16 so can type quite fast.
Only after I’ve said everything I want to say will I start editing the post. To do this I upload my plain text draft into the WordPress Dashboard and start reading it through. This can take me a good 30 to 60 minutes as there are usually a lot of things I need to change (and I write long posts). After that, I’ll read the post once more but this time I’ll read it out aloud which helps me spot sentences that just don’t make sense and words that have been repeated too many times.
From there I’ll paste the post into Microsoft Word to help me spot any spelling or grammatical errors I may have missed. The most common ones are duplicated words, no spaces after full stops and the use of commas instead of a semi-colon. I make sure that any websites I mention are hyperlinked and then proceed to add some relevant images to the post.
After that, I’ll schedule it to go live. The posts I write never actually go live on the day I’m writing them. For example, I’m currently writing this on a Sunday and plan to schedule it for Thursday. This means that I’m always prepared for when life gets in the way and I can re-read an article once more before it goes live to spot any final mistakes.
There are probably errors in this post but generally, the result is usually a polished piece.
As the title of this post contains the phrase ‘six figure writing’, let’s look into some ways I managed to earn money online through writing, and how you can do the same.
In June 2008 I started PluginID, a blog on personal development. I was going through a lot of personal growth at the time after moving to Cape Town in South Africa where I didn’t know one single person, so it was a topic that really interested me. I’ve already talked a lot about building a successful blog in articles like How I Built a Blog with 6,500 Subscribers and 24 Things To Do Before Launching a Blog so I’m not going to cover the topic in-depth here.
What I will say is this: If you want to make money through blogging, don’t expect results overnight. Making money with remarkable (?) blogs takes a lot of time and a lot of work. However, the benefits are that you get to share your knowledge on a topic and build an audience of like-minded people. If you’re willing to put in the work on your blog then there’s no reason you can’t start making a great monthly income in around 12 months.
There are bloggers who have made a lot of money in less time than that and people who have taken a lot longer, but if you’re willing to work hard, I think a year is a great time-frame in which you can build a successful and profitable blog.
Remember, the message you have to share is far more important than the words used to share them. This is why it’s important to be knowledgeable and passionate about your topic so that you can offer genuine advice to your readers and build a hungry crowd of people waiting for your next blog post.
I managed to launch a product on PluginID which made over $30,000 and that site is still consistently making over $4,000 per month today. As many of you know, I also went on to sell the site for a mid-five-figure fee. This is how I made most of my money through writing, but it’s certainly not the only way.
You definitely don’t have to build a blog in order to make a considerable amount of money through blog writing. There was a time when I was consistently earning $50 for every article I wrote for Freelance Folder and I’ve since been paid $150-$200 for posts on certain design blogs and sites like Dumb Little Man.
The key to making more money with Staff Blogging is by writing exceptional content for other people. If you’re just going to write generic content that the audience you’re writing for can get elsewhere, the site owner is not going to want to pay you for your work. This article for Dumb Little Man (I’m proud of the message, but my writing is quite bad) received over 150,000 visits after going viral around the web. Quality content is a must.
My friend Ali has actually written a course on Staff Blogging (not an affiliate link) which covers this process in much more detail. If you’ve ever read a personal development blog then it’s likely you’ve seen Ali’s name in there somewhere. She was making around $1,500 per month if I recall correctly from this which isn’t bad for getting to do what you love.
Bum Marketing is a phrase coined by Travis Sago for his free course that burst onto the scene a few years ago which taught people how to make money through article marketing. The process involves you finding affiliate products you want to promote on sites like Clickbank and then writing articles for sites like Ezine Articles in order to promote them.
No longer can you use affiliate links in your bio on these sites but you can link to your own site which sends people to a product page. The benefit of directories like Ezine and Article Dashboard is that you don’t have to build your own website and you can usually rank quite highly for the phrases used in an article title because the site has so much ‘weight’ in Google.
I don’t think this is a great long-term strategy as you will still have to build links for your articles so you may as well be building them for your own website – Cloud Living style. However, if you’re not that confident in building your own website and simply want to get started then writing articles around certain industries and products can make you a lot of money if you can get them to rank in search engines.
There are a lot of freelancers writers who don’t make that much money, but then there’s also freelance writers who make a great income by utilising their talents. James Chartrand and the team at Men With Pens are one example that comes to mind. I hire a number of writers to produce content for my sites but it’s mostly “filler” content that doesn’t require much thought and thus, people don’t charge me very much for.
I’ve met a number of writers in person who are making a few thousand pounds ($3,000+) every month by working for large clients who are looking for people with skills in this area. Their typical days are spent putting together press releases or writing copy for important website pages. Some freelance marketplaces that come to mind are the likes of Freelance Switch Jobs, the Problogger Job Board and Elance.
The great thing about freelancing is that you get to work wherever you want and usually get to set your own hours. The downsides though are that unless you get some good contracts and retain clients, you’re never going to be certain about how much money you’ll make each month. Freelance writing definitely has its benefits and drawbacks, but it’s another way to make great money through writing if you’re good at what you do.
While I don’t think this is the best way to make money with your writing, it’s another way to use your words to make money online. Sites like eHow, for example, offer a writers program via Demand Studios which allows you to sign-up and write articles for their site in return for some of the Adsense revenue that each article makes. Their site has a lot of trust in Google so if your article is on a popular topic then you can make quite a bit of money.
The good thing about this strategy is that you only have to write an article once and it can continue to earn you money for months or years to come. Other sites with a similar approach include Hubpages and Squidoo, which each offer a share of the Adsense revenue that your article makes you. Squidoo and Hubpages also allow you to insert affiliate links in your content which can make you even more money.
As I said with Bum marketing, I don’t think this is a great long-term strategy if you’re looking to make a serious amount of cash. It makes far more sense to write content for your own sites (or get paid more money to do it for others) than relying on these sources to give you a great monthly income.
If you have any questions, feel free to share them in the comments. I’m certainly not an expert writer, but I do know how to make money with my words. If you want to do the same and I haven’t covered something here, I can help.
And remember, you are a writer.