I have a problem with authority.
I ask too many questions. If I think a rule is stupid, I have no problem ignoring it. This is my only superpower. It also aggravates many of the people who love me. But, it’s the one character trait, or character flaw depending on your perspective, that I’m not open to changing.
I’m a full-time writer. I’m not rich. I don’t write on the beach, at least not every day. I am still learning about the craft of writing and the business of writing. But, I make enough money for my family and me to be comfortable.
It took a lot of work to get to where I’m at in my career. I’ve been at this full time for six years. I’m still not where I want to be, or where I think I can be. But, each year I’m a little closer.
I’ve read hundreds of posts about how to make it as a writer. I think most of them are bullshit. I’m sure the authors are sincere. But, what works for them won’t necessarily work for me. What works for me may or may not work for you.
I can’t lead you to the promised land of getting paid to write whatever you want. I do make some money following my bliss, but most of my funds come from clients who pay me well to write what they need, not what I want.
However, I can share the rules that I break. I’m not suggesting that you should break them too. You have to figure that out. I’m not ideological about writing. If you think I’m full of shit, I won’t be offended.
Rule #1: Write Every Day
This is the cardinal rule of writing. I don’t do it. I’ve tried. I get burned out. I understand the importance of writing regularly. Some weeks I write every day. Most weeks I write four or five days a week. I try to listen to my mind and body.
I do try and publish every day. The beauty of the internet is that you can schedule your posts on most platforms. I don’t feel guilty about not writing every day.
Rule #2: Pick a Niche
Fiction writers are supposed to stay within a genre. Bloggers should stick to one broad topic. Copywriters are supposed to develop a specialty or find a niche. Niches are where the riches are, the gurus tell us. I’m a happy generalist. I get bored just writing about one industry. I think many people overestimate the technical expertise you actually need to write effectively on most topics.
People will read good writing. Some topics are more popular than others. A great headline will get you more traction than a poorly constructed one.
I’m the worst kind of generalist. I write fiction in several different genres. I blog about 15 different topics. I write copy for several different industries. This helps me feel fulfilled.
Would I be making more if I were to specialize? I doubt it. I wouldn’t be able to consistently produce enough high-quality content. I’d get bored. I can’t create compelling work when I’m bored.
Should I be your role model? Probably not.
Rule #3: Develop a Brand
I suck at this. I have a few mini-brands. But, it’s hard to manage. I do too much stuff to put it all under one roof. Someday this might change. For now, I’m more focused on producing my best work and finding readers.
I’m not convinced a brand will help me do either of these things any better. I also feel like a brand will pigeonhole me. I not only have a problem with authority — I also struggle against all manner of constraints.
Rule #4: Write Shitty First Drafts and then Rewrite
I halfway follow this rule. I have trained myself to ignore all of the red squiggly lines that decorate the digital pages as I work. I’m not a great typist. I make a lot of typos.
Once I’ve finished writing, I use spellcheck and Grammarly to fix my work. Most of the time the structure of a piece comes naturally to me. I either don’t outline at all, or I only create a skeleton outline.
Depending on what I’m working on, I may not even read it over before publishing. I have learned that the more work I can put out, the more money I will make. Sometimes, I put out stuff that isn’t perfect.
But, it’s always honest. I write to connect with people emotionally — not to win a grammar competition. I reject the notion that great writing always takes a long time.
Sometimes breaking the formal rules of grammar makes a message more effective.
When I’m writing long-form content, I do spend more time editing, rereading, and revising. But, my version of editing is much less intense than what many writers do.
Rule #5: Only Work on One Project at a Time
I do see the wisdom of this rule. But, I break it anyway. I usually have two or three different projects going in addition to my client work. I enjoy being able to switch gears depending on my mood. It may take me longer to get something finished, but I enjoy the process a lot more than if I were to focus on only one thing.
I divide up my day so that at any given point during the day I’m only doing one thing at a time. I’ve learned that this is essential if I want to do deep work. But, during the course of a workday, I will work on multiple projects. It keeps me from getting bored.
I have this luxury because most of my income still comes from my client work. I don’t feel deadline pressure from my side projects.
How about you? What rules do you follow? What rules do you break? I would love to learn more about how you work.
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