This superpower could land a job.
It could make you smarter.
It could make you more money.
It could get you invited into rooms that were previously inaccessible.
And you could harness this superpower, irrespective of whether you’re an engineer, an analyst, or a grad student.
You would do everything in your power to unleash this superpower.
What is this superpower? Writing.
I would need multiple pages to detail all the ways in which writing has changed my life, but here are a few:
- Created a cash-flow positive solopreneur lifestyle that was geographically agnostic (i.e. I can live by the beach)
- Got my work featured in publications CNN, Bloomberg, Barrons and on podcasts like Invest Like the Best and Reboot
- Developed anti-fragile skills that have (to-date) enabled me to weather the Covid-19 economic storm
- Let me find a tribe of smart, kind, creative and like-minded people across the world
And here’s a crazy fact. When I started writing in 2015 I had:
- No audience
- Never written publicly before
- Barely taken any coursework in the humanities and English language
Now many of my clients want to begin a writing practice, but often can’t get off the starting blocks due to the following 5 obstacles:
Obstacle 1: “I don’t have an audience.”
Like any skill, writing is a “muscle that needs to be trained.” Having an audience is irrelevant in the early days, as you should be writing for yourself.
Let’s use the analogy of someone who’s never surfed before. Would you invite your friends over and have them watch you from the beach?
The Internet exacerbates this obstacle because everyone “seems” to have an audience. That’s not true. Unless you’re a Kardashian, your initial audience will be your mom and a few close friends.
Use that audience as a petri dish for kind and compassionate feedback. Rome wasn’t built in a day… and Stratechery started with 4 pageviews.
Obstacle 2: “I don’t know which tech stack to use.”
This is the shiny new toy trap.
Buying fancy running shoes believing you’ll train more.
Downloading a new task manager to make you more productive.
Enrolling in an online class thinking the new skills will magically show up.
In the early stages, you have one writing objective: eliminating all friction in writing.
For most people, that means starting with the lightest tech stack possible:
- Emailing your mom and a few friends (via Substack)
- Posting on Facebook or Instagram
- Firing up a Medium page
You do not need to think about SEO, WordPress plug-ins and Google Analytics.
If you get your reps in and find yourself in a groove (i.e. you’re still doing it 6 months later) – then it will be worth exploring.
Obstacle 3: “I need a unifying theme for my writing.”
The early days of writing are about experimentation and feedback loops.
You really want to home in on the topics and ideas that come effortlessly to you. Some people call it “flow” or “Wu Wei.”
Again, the goal is to train the muscle. Not write the next Opus Magnum.
As you accumulate your reps, you’ll find your writing gravitate towards a certain group of themes.
With RadReads, I’ve bounced around between Entrepreneurship, Personal Finance, Self-Discovery, Productivity, Community. The meta-theme that emerged could be Lifestyle Design or Living with Intention. But five years into it, it’s still not super-clear to me.
And that’s ok, since writing is more of a conversation I have with RadReaders across the world.
Obstacle 4: “I want to write something contrarian and original.”
Here are a few (misattributed) quotes about the creative process:
“A good composer does not imitate; he steals.”
“Immature artists copy, great artists steal.”
“Good artists copy, great artists steal.”
Let’s put aside the philosophical question: is there even such a thing as a new idea for a moment. Instead, remember that synthesizing existing ideas is itself a new idea.
Take a look at the best seller list:
- The Power of Now is a reinterpretation of Buddhism
- The Daily Stoic are excerpts of Stoicism applied to today
- Atomic Habits draws many ideas from Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit
In fact, in the early days of your writing career, summarizing articles, papers, and podcasts could be the gateway to flexing that writing muscle (ht @david_perrell).
Obstacle 5: “I’m scared of being judged.”
And that’s ok. Being a beginner at anything will require you to show your inexperience.
One workaround: Julia Cameron’s approach to Morning Pages. In her book The Artist’s Way she recommends writing 750 words each day and filing it in your drawer. You don’t even need to re-read it. The point is to train the muscle — and nothing else.
If that’s too extreme, write your posts in a Google Doc and share it with a few friends. Or start a Medium blog, but don’t tell anyone the URL. Remember, you’re in training mode. Give yourself space for your reps to take hold.
And most importantly, be a fast tortoise. The Internet seduces us into thinking that we are naturally talented writers who came out of the womb with thousand-person audiences. That’s just a bunch of BS.
My friend (and fellow writer) Ozan Varol said it best:
I would advise dropping all expectations of rapid growth. It takes a very long time to build an audience, notwithstanding the numerous articles and courses you find online promising strategies to generate 10,000 subscribers in 6 months. It won’t happen. I would commit to doing a newsletter only if you enjoy the process. Otherwise, you won’t last.