12 Lessons Learned from 12 Years of Writing

12 Lessons Learned from 12 Years of Writing

Reader Comments (116)

  1. Good read. I think the best idea is to write something about, what you exactly researching at that time. I am writing on my blog only about the things I was reading or doing recently. If it was interesting to me, so it could be that it will be interesting to someone else. So I am sharing it 🙂

    • When you write about what you love AND know, that passion shows in what you write…and people notice that. It’s what draws them to you as an individual. We can learn a lot from Wikipedia, but nobody subcribes to it and waits anxiously for the next article. We do that with bloggers with passion. You are headed in the right direction.

  2. Pearls of wisdom. As a blogger, I find that subject matter is key to success and in part where stealing ideas fits in best. However, I wouldn’t call it stealing, more adaptation. Putting your own spin your own point of view on things. I find that I think most freely as I drift off to sleep at night, hence why I keep a notepad on my bedside table. More annoying to lose an idea, than 30 minutes of sleep… zzz 🙂

    • Adaptation just doesn’t have the same sort of ring as “stealing.” 🙂 I know where you are coming from. And yes, the notepad by the bed is a must. Showers and long runs tend to be idea generators for me, too. Good talking to you.

  3. “I’d rather edit down ten pages into one than torment myself by trying to perfect that thing from the ground up. ”
    I wish I could get my clients to think like that! I have several website owners that agonize over every word for so long that we don’t actually get anything written! Get something down and you’ll have something to work with!

    • Isn’t that crazy? I don’t think I’ve ever actually experienced that where nothing gets written. Usually it’s after it’s written and the committee comes out of the closest. It’s like getting nibbled to death by ducks.

  4. Like this one: Challenge a popular person

    Done this a few times as i think it’s ok to put all your cards on the table and speak your mind sometimes.

      • Cahllenge authority? Over the years I’ve professed to drop the conversations in social media (oh, those insipid FB chatters) but not in blogs such as this one. Instead, write more content to market yourself and your services and books.. Content marketing is still a top business trend, because it works! But so many social media “gurus” still advise to have those conversations. Friends fon’t buy from you, so why waste time with them? I’m now getting more active in blogs I love that relate to some of my expertise in writing, espcially books. This article is so fine, I plan to respond to it in a new way in my blog.

        One tip I’m known for is ” write a short book the first time out! Write a short ebook to use as opt-in bonus for your site subscription. (Opt-ins turn into bigger sales). Then, write a series of short books for which you can charge the going rates. Then, parlay those short books into bigger cash cows like packages, training programs, ecources, and webinars. Sustainable income for life sounds good.

  5. Ok, I’ll be cheeky! Given lesson 2 and the fact that you are a hot-shot writer, will you mentor me while I write a case for support for a charity I’m working for!

  6. I think that was truly one of my most favorite Copyblogger posts that found its way into my email box. I read every word, and my Reader and Writer were awake and reading with all my creative synapses buzzing. Thanks Demian for such a great post.

      • Sort of…I’ve always tried stepping outside of my comfort zone (which is a lot harder to do than people think!). Career wise I never knew what I wanted to do until my Junior year of college, and truly still don’t fully know if there is going to be one career path for me. Experimentation has been my best ally to find the right fit (right now I’m really happy).

        Diving into the unknown on social media platforms is really scary, but the benefits can be tremendous!

        • Let me throw this out to you. One of my favorite writers/preachers said this: “You shouldn’t fear failure. You should fear succeeding at something that doesn’t matter.”

          That’s a paraphrase, but sound advice. The moral: hire fast and fire fast. Don’t stay in something that doesn’t matter just b/c you are good at it. Time is short. Sink yourself into something that you love AND matters.

  7. This is the best writing article I have seen. I plan on keeping a copy of this, as a reminder. In the two years I have been doing this as a profession, I have learned Write Yourself Silly and Experiment. The most well received pieces have been those I just let myself go and wrote with passion, while not worrying about any possible criticism on my opinions. It has been the same when querying a new client. The letters that are formal, I get no response on. Those where I just present myself for who I really am, I get work out of.
    Thank you for the reminder.

    • Love hearing that. The experience has been the same for me, too. Just let yourself go, be yourself. Results are ultimately out of your control. You just have to give it your BEST shot each and every time. Eventually you’ll win.

  8. Nicely done Demian.

    Love and agree with your #4 and #6.

    #4 — It’s incredible what can come to the mind while reading someone else’s work. Creates a new slant on perspective for me every time.

    #6 — Again, taking an idea from an inch deep and driving it a mile deep is a great tactic for creating great content. The power of re-purposing content leaves me only trying to figure out what NOT to write about.

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom my friend… 🙂 Eric

    Oops, and see? Got them backwards. It’s Friday I guess. 🙂

  9. Loved this post. Practical advice that wasn’t pretentious. Lesson #3 don’t know if you need a “sick? sense of humor but you need one that is for sure.

    Jeff Goins does have a great blog and I read several of his books, which are good. He is like the Michael Hyatt for “don’t have a budget writers.? But you are right about that statement; one can call themselves anything but it doesn’t make it true. Goes along with the “everybody gets a trophy? mentally.

    If I were to add one thing it would be to “think? and only add one space after a period. Which goes along the same lines.

    • Yes, you are spot on with the “everyone-gets-a-trophy” mentality. I’m not following your last statement about “think”, add one space, period. What are you trying to say?

  10. Excellent Post.

    One of the things I have been doing lately when I can’t come up with a good topic to write about is to back and make my previous blog posts better with clarification or new material It is amazing how much you can do after you come back to a blog you wrote after months. It is like someone else wrote it and you have been hired to make it better and see if it captures more attention.

    I kind of view a well researched blog as an ongoing project. I post it when it is ready as Version 1.0 and small changes get point version and after I come back and do a major overhaul, then it goes to Version 2.0.

  11. Great article! Many of your points are all too true. I’ll add that one of the biggest hurdles for today’s writers is the moving target of electronic knowledge that accompanies writing on the Internet. If you’re a serious blogger, the skill set is far broader than producing high-quality writing. Valuable time gets syphoned off for learning things that allow you to reach your readers, and sometimes writing takes a back seat. From time to time, I have to force myself to abandon the electronic quest and get back to basic writing. After all, readers are after good content. Thanks for the insights!

    • Hey Doug, use Rescue Time. That will keep you from blowing an entire day on Reddit (not that that’s happened to me before). You’ve got to be a subject matter expert on something, and you can’t do that without research, but you also have to write at some point…so time block. Rescue Time will help you do that.

  12. G’Day Demian
    Great stuff! For what it’s worth, I’ve been a published author for over 50 years. That means nothing more than I’ve been at it for a long time! Here are three more tips to support yours.

    Write to be read. The purpose of writing is reading. If what you write is hard to read, you’ve missed the whole point of the exercise.
    Learn how to teach through your writing. There’s a vast ocean of writing on the web that claims to teach but fails because the writer fails to write to teach. Sadly, some Copyblogger writing fails this test. Many writers imagine that because they write they teach. To quote Mark Twain; “it just aint so.”
    Finally, to quote my old mate Owen Denmeade, “Creativity is merely inventive plagiarism.” It’s almost certain that what you write has already been written or at least spoken. Always acknowledge your sources. For instance, I first read Robert Gunning’s “The Technique of Clear Writing” way back in the early 1970s. I still refer to it. It was from Gunning that I learnt that it was perfectly acceptable to begin sentences with “and” and “but.”

    But above all Demian, never forget that the purpose of writing is reading. The function of reading is understanding. I see writing as a railway car conveying meaning. Grammar, syntax, punctuation and all that stuff are the lubricants that oil the wheels.

    Hope this helps


    • Fifty years! You are a stud. I hope I can make it out that long. I appreciate your wisdom. Thank you for sharing. And by the way, I’m stealing “Creativity is inventive plagarism.”

      Just kidding. I’ll just borrow it. And credit the source. 🙂

      PS: what does “write to teach” look like? I think I’m following you, but want to be sure.

      Thank you again!

      • G’Day again Demian,
        Flattery will get you everywhere! Thanks for you generous comments. Incidentally, do you like, “marketing isn’t everything but everything is marketing?” That’s one that I dreamed up a few years’ back. Feel free to borrow too if appropriate.

        “Write to teach” The outcome of teaching should be learning. Evidence of learning is doing. If one claims to teach through your writing, the reader should be able to do something at the end of the writing that they couldn’t do at the start.

        I’m afraid that there’s a mountain of writing on the web that purports to teach but which fails this test completely. If you want readers to learn something from your writing, start by saying “at the end of this article- or whatever- you will be able to…..” Then specify, in measurable terms, what the reader will be able to do. And avoid words like ‘understand,’ ‘appreciate,’ ‘learn’ and ‘gain insight about.’

        For instance, “At the end of this article, you will be able to state 12 Important Lessons I’ve learnt about writing over a 12 year period.” When you make that commitment, you’ll make a huge improvement to the effectiveness of your writing, when you are “writing to teach.”

        Most of the instruction on the web falls somewhere between “ordinary” and “awful” because writers believe that if they ‘say” readers “learn.” That’s a serious error.

        Well…… you did ask!
        Best Wishes

  13. Thank you for this Demain. I resonated with each of your twelve points and this is going on my wall: “Write for the long haul. The legacy. The forever after.”

  14. Great post, thanks for sharing. What you’ve really outlined is the “dirty dozen” rules of becoming (or being) a writer. I certainly could not have named them until reading what you wrote and whoop, there it is. I’ll print this one and keep it over my desk.

    I’ve written a thousand words and more every day for several decades. Which, if written on toilet paper (as some of it from the early years deserved to be), would probably stretch around the moon. Writing is a kind of ballet – to do it, is to become it. My advice is to write like a ballerina dances – with all of you, every sense and every fiber of your being. Heart and passion, and above all, commitment to the truth. Your truth. Do this, and one night when you lie in bed waiting for sleep you’ll find words dangling over your head in the dark, whispering secrets like a mobile of creativity that keeps you fighting to stay away for just one more moment as they merge together to form the root of an idea, a concept, a point of view. And when you wake up the next morning, your first thought and memory will be of the words – which have become the seeds of who you are – and what you have to say will blossom, blossom, blossom in the beauty of the dawn!

    • That toilet paper comment…that got me, especially “as some of it from the early years deserved to be.” You said so much more there. You just didn’t say it. That is talent.

  15. Reading posts like this always interests me because it means that I will learn something that will help me with my blogging and writing career. I would disagree with you that writers block is a myth though. 😛

  16. Demian, terrific post. All great tips. I’ll my secret to writer’s block: when I need ideas I start curating. It forces me to read with purpose and knowing I’m going to share it makes me choose quality. Thanks again!

  17. As a copywriter who has written literally thousands of product descriptions (and recently blogs), I loved this article.

    I especially liked your 5th lesson about writer’s block. It’s easy to make excuses or play the blame game when you don’t want to admit you’re feeling burnt out or lazy.

  18. Wow! I don’t know what to say. It is as if a big and bold label, “Do Not Enter. Radioactive Materials Inside,” is pasted on the door of the room I am already in.

    Entertaining, informative, educational, whatever. But where the hell can I find someone who can coach me in my writing. I tried to invite one “great” writer to view my post and he told me that he will when he has the time. When he did have the time, all he said was “I like your writing style/”

    What the heck does that mean? It’s kind of telling a woman who is trying to look as gorgeous she can be, “you’re shoes are great.”

  19. This is a great post, Demian. Your wisdom oozes out, in an impressive presentation. What you say is so very obvious, but we don’t really take it in, unless someone like you puts it right in front of our faces, like John Carlton did to you.

    Writing something that really helps somebody, is what I believe in. I try to raise questions that people try to put in their oblivion bags, thinking they can travel easy ignoring those. I spill out all my mind, heart, and soul, and what remains gets sprinkled in the comments.

    In the process the posts get lengthy, but its worth if people are able to takeaway some understanding.

    It takes time to define your voice, I guess. But do you suggest we change it often like actors change roles? Is always having a specific style a good habit of writing? I agree with you; experiment and step out of the box.

    I’m highly motivated by your lesson#12 – stay in for the long haul. My best is yet to come. Thanks for the free giveaways, I’ll treasure them. 🙂

    • Staying in it for the long haul plus deliberate, purposeful practice will make you a better writer. And I guess that a writer could change his voice, but sometimes you write so long to find it that you can’t think of changing it. Your style is your brand. Your hallmark. What makes you different than everyone else. True, Madonna has been around for twenty-five years because she’s reinvented herself–but there is that unmistakable Madonna-ness about everything she does.

  20. I resonated with this post so much that I book marked it! I’ll read it again and again.

    Lesson # 7 Experiment hit home with me. I often think my life would be easier if I too knew at the age of four that I wanted to be a veterinarian, psychologist, or lawyer. My résumé is filled with various experiences from accounting to graphic design. Obviously, I didn’t “nail it on my first dress rehearsal.” But I now realize these life experiences contribute to my writing. They helped shape my character and give me a well-rounded background. Not only do I relate to artists, but I relate to corporate professionals as well.

    Thank you for this uplifting post. You’ve shifted my perspective about my writing career. I must write and I know it. I’ll stay the course. 🙂

  21. Great post – thank you.

    I’m getting it… I’ve been bad, so bad. I’m also weird and a clown – so you’ve given me a little glimmer that maybe I’m so good too. Either way, you’ve earned a bookmark.

    Happy weekend.

  22. Demian, You’ve won my heart forever. I too am a writer for 28 years (thought I was so seasoned) and for the last 25 years, I’ve been an author of 14 business books for authors, bookcoach after years of teaching writing in college. Students were lazy and didn’t appreciate my engaging them with questions for thinking. The deans told me I was trrouble–and I was–a zerox machine abuser (printed my first speedreading book there). When I quit, they were so relieved, they gave me unemployment money. I left to become a happy camper–still teaching and getting paid by writing clients who want the skils like your 12 lessons illustrate.

    Thanks for the savvy tips and your personality!

    I especially like the reminder of getting humor into the work. Does this usually happen in your short stories? This is one skill I want more of! Got a few tips?

    Your 12 lessons are mine too. I’ve used many of them in blog articles for my bookcoaching.com site.

  23. P.S. You say write for many years to get good. I applaud this tip. I wonder how many blogs in your field have you published? I do they they really bring us traffic! Love that.

  24. I loved this article. I also found it interesting that you mentioned Talent is Overrated because I just picked it up today.

  25. Loved the post! Now I am totally inspired. Got to be braver at taking ideas and running with it. As they say whatever you say, someone else has already said it. You just have to put your own flair on it and make it your own. All that darn experience has got to count for something anyways. I didn’t have a dysfunctional life for nothing! lol

  26. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for this post. I cannot tell you how your words moved me. I guess if I were a better writer I could! But there were points here that I’m going to print and stick on my wall! I’m leaving here now and will be tailing you on Google+ and Twitter 😀 ! Thanks for inspiring me to be more than what I am!

  27. Don’t let my name fool you! I’m a very portuguese 24 year old girl.
    I work in a lab all day long (and sometimes, all night long too!). I almost gave up writing a few months ago, because I was just so damned tired.
    So, doing lab work seemed the most adult and responsable thing I could do.
    A kept working myself crazy till I realized that I was transforming into one of those zombie people who sleep in the office, hate sunlight and think that everything beside working yourself crazy in a job you don’t love is stupid. A few months of this made me realize that I missed writing. Terribly.

    During this non-writing period of my life I lost all sense of humor. Like all adults tend to lose their own when they stop pursuing their true desires.

    Demian, you wrote such an amazing post. And the best part? You didn’t put in any sugar and I still felt completely inspired to go kicking that blank page. This post is going to my list: “read this before you give up”.
    Thank you for sharing such great lessons! And sorry for my awful english… I just hope it didn’t ruin my comment.

  28. I’m an Illustrator, not a writer, but this article has fabulous advice! I can transfer pretty much every step to my work. Though I’m usually kept pretty busy, there’s nothing like those short dry-spells between projects to put a freelancer into panic mode. Remembering to stay true to myself, work for what I’m worth (which means NO SPEC JOBS!) and practice, practice, practice is so important. And for extra credit I just put “Talent is Overrated” on my to-read list. Thanks so much for sharing!

  29. Hi! certainly great lessons and I love the one that experimenting and doing and learning always the key to for improving the skills and eventually that leads to the success.

    Thanks for sharing great knowledge….

  30. Demian, feel free to ignore this comment. No, really! Okay, if you’re still reading, I just want to say that I teach writing and your article has schooled my more than anything else that I’ve taught or have been taught so I passed your comments on to my students. Just wanted to say thanks for the good ideas.

  31. Amazing post! I’ve learned so much from it and reading the comments. Since I’m just starting my career I’m going to keep these lessons in the back of my mind and work on all of them.

  32. I’m actually enjoying writing the more I write. Just need to work on the grammer and spelling next 🙂 but I do enjoy writing.

    I’m also wondering if written articles have more appeal than video content articles.

  33. English Prof. gave me similar advice for new writers. “What you say is soon forgotten. What you do takes a little longer. When you put something down in black and white, it’s there for all others to judge you as an artist or a horse’s ass.” Hmmm.

  34. Had to post a comment as you mention John Kennedy Toole, a writer famous after his passing. My high school freshman English teacher introduced me to his work, most notably The Neon Bible, which I often point to as a book to read, and study, if you want to write well. That, and Winesburg, Ohio.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing, and for the reminder!

  35. OMG! This is amazing to articulate your 12 years of experience with 12 lessons. haha it seems you learned 1 lesson for 1 year 🙂 Really Great Stuff and all these experience in writing will come with “Read Like a Mad !” .
    Give Nice touch with this point to your lessons 😀

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