Updated: Jan 16
I know many talented writers. Some of them aspire to one day be professional writers, to earn a living from their words and ideas. But I've noticed a peculiar trait over the years, in both myself and other writers, that seems inconsistent with this dream. Most people who say they want to be writers seldom make time to sit down and write.
Why is that?
Writing is hard work
I assume most of these people aren’t lying. They really, truly dream of writing professionally.
So, why the inconsistency?
Likely because writing is extremely hard work. And the most difficult writing to produce is also the most important kind for developing a writing career: writing when no one is asking for it.
Writing articles, short stories, and books without an external deadline or formal request requires a level of focus that feels uncomfortable to most of us, even if we ultimately enjoy the activity when we make time to do it.
We are waiting for the right opportunity to come along first. We want an invitation, permission to create. So we wait for the right client to approach us or for a publisher to finally request our manuscript. The problem is, the secret formula for getting your work noticed, for finding writing clients, and for securing a book deal is quite simple.
Do the damn work.
Opportunity follows action
Opportunities gravitate toward the most consistent creators. If Serendipity was a person, she would be best friends with the people who create an abundance of work by their own volition, when no one is asking for it.
I’m not saying every consistent writer will achieve their ideal level of success. Mileage varies. What I am saying is that among the most successful writers, you would be hard pressed to find people with a haphazard approach to their creativity.
David Brooks wrote that "creative people organize their lives according to repetitive, disciplined routines. They think like artists but work like accountants... Writers have to go to amazing lengths to impose order on their own unruly minds."
Success in writing comes down to consistency
Top freelance writers—the ones who command ridiculous rates and receive way more inquiries than they can possibly handle—treat their writing time seriously. They are professionals. They don’t wait for inspiration. They write, regardless of whether the time and space are convenient.
And that’s the secret behind their high fees and demand.
These pros realize something that most aspiring writers don’t. They realize that the best way to promote their writing and their business is to publish new content regularly. It doesn’t matter if they’re writing for the New York Times, a personal blog no one has heard of, or a social media account. What matters is their consistency.
Delilah Dawson is a New York Times bestselling author of whimsical and dark fantasy. She has written books for such iconic brands Star Wars, Minecraft, and Rick and Morty. Publishers seem to be knocking down her door.
But before anyone knew she could write, Dawson penned her first book during the restless months of caring for her newborn second child. When finding time to write was least convenient, and no publisher was asking for her to write a book, she put her head down and did the hard work.
She was consistent. And though no publisher purchased her first two novels, Dawson’s consistency is now paying dividends. There was no wasted word. Today, she is in very high demand, constantly juggling several writing projects at once.
James Clear has amassed more than a million email subscribers and sold more than 4 million copies of his debut book, Atomic Habits. Where did it all start?
According to Clear, his success began when no one was looking. He believed in the power of consistency and decided to finally take his writing routine seriously. He committed to a twice-weekly blogging schedule. No matter what else came up, or how tired he felt, or how badly he didn’t want to write, Clear would force himself to publish a blog post every Monday and Thursday.
Clear said, “It didn’t matter how good or how bad it was. It didn’t matter how long or how short it was. It didn’t matter how I felt about it. If all I could do was write three good sentences that day, then that was getting published. I did that for three years and that’s how the site grew.”
The best way to promote your writing is to keep writing
When you foster a regular writing cadence, every new thing you publish opens the possibility for your work, new and old, to be discovered by a new reader. Over time, you become an avatar for your ideas and stories, attracting a readership of people who connect with the way you think, tell stories, and communicate ideas.
As more people discover your growing body of work, success in writing comes down to simple math. When your words reach enough people, someone will inevitably try to hire you. Because most people hate writing but all of us must do it sometimes.
And people hire the writers they know.
The best way to promote your writing is to keep writing.
Consistency is your writerly advantage
The fact that most other writers refuse to sit down and do this hard work should excite you. I know it excites me.
The challenge gives you an opportunity to seize an unfair advantage over other writers who don't realize the power of consistency. I believe forming a consistent writing routine enables you to earn more money, doing cooler projects, for better clients than writers who are more talented than you. While the talented writer's computer collects dust as they wait for inspiration to kick in, you’re putting in the reps that move your career forward.
Because watching quietly from the corner as you work, Serendipity notices your unsolicited effort. Opportunity follows action.
A call to action (for myself)
I’m writing this article mostly for myself. It’s a personal reminder to just keep writing. When I look at my writing career, the best thing I have done for myself is write and publish my own ideas and stories often.
During my first two years as a professional writer, I had to proactively pursue every new assignment. I was on Upwork, sent cold pitches, contacted people in my network, scoured social media sites, and even placed ads in Craigslist. It's the grunge work every writer must do at the beginning.
Today, almost all my writing clients come to me. They either get referred to me by past clients or they come to me out of seemingly nowhere because they read one of my articles online.
All the articles and assignments I’ve written over the past six years are paying their dues. New clients find me on Google, in various blogs, and even on social media (even though I haven’t logged into my accounts in a year).
The funniest part of all this is that I didn’t know which articles would generate leads when I wrote them. When you create work for its own sake, there’s an element of randomness at play. All I know is that the best way to ensure I have writing clients in the future is to publish something today. Serendipity does the rest.
That’s why for the rest of 2021, and all through 2022, I want to write every day for myself. No, I won’t publish a blog post every day. I mostly have long-term projects in mind. But I will commit to one hour per day of solely personal writing, even on the weekends. This can include blog posts like this one, short stories, novels, and nonfiction books. Essentially: I will spend an hour per day on non-commissioned writing work, the kind no one is asking for. The kind Serendipity loves best.
I’m ready to turn the dial up a few notches, to invite routine into my life with greater seriousness than ever before. It's time. As I see it, in a world of aspiring writers who love to avoid writing, I choose to be prolific.
I hope you will, too.
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