The Write Way — AMA #2

All your writing-related questions answered in one place!

The Write Way — AMA #2
Photo by Prophsee Journals on Unsplash

Hello lovely #TheWriteWay community

Welcome to our second AMA — the monthly “Ask Me Anything” that we host first as a Twitter Space. Our first AMA was so amazing that no one wanted to stop talking and we ended up extending for half an hour. Naturally, this one was equally wonderful!

If you missed this month’s Space, head over and listen to the recording today. We’ll host a Space every month on the last Friday of that month, so definitely join us, and set your calendars accordingly.

This post is a collection of all the questions we discussed on #TheWriteWay AMA on Twitter on Friday, 29th April 2022.

Screenshot by the author.

Read on for some truly valuable insights, and make sure you have a pen and paper ready because you might need to take lots of notes!

1. How to not lose heart when you don’t see results in the beginning?

Anangsha Alammyan:

Many people that subscribe to our newsletter are new writers. And the issue is that when you start writing online, it is inevitable that you won’t see results in the beginning. The initial phase is the hardest and many writers give up them because they liked something they publish and they expect to see amazing results.

And initially, maybe before they published online, their only audience was their friends or their relatives. So people tend to have this inflated sense of self of being an amazing writer! But when they publish, inevitably, their article gets lost in the sea of so many articles being published online and they don’t get the traction that they hoped.

And that is where most new writers give up. I’m sure many of us who are here who have been writing online, have also all faced the same issue that at the beginning. We always felt the urge to quit, but I would love to hear your takes on this. Let me share my story.

So, in the beginning, I first started my online journey with Quora in 2014.

At that time I was just a college student. I was doing my undergraduate degree. I had no idea what to expect or the kind of traction your online platforms can give. So back then, I just used to write random fiction answers.

So it used to be like an exercise in creativity for me. Anything else that came like the views, the commence, the avoids that game was like a bonus for me at that time.

My goal was to be a good engineer. I did writing was never supposed to be a part of the plan. It was just something I did on the side.

And I was very happy with the traction I was getting. But as it happens with any other platform, when you do something, you get some views, you get some upvotes and it becomes very addictive. You want to keep refreshing your stats every day and you want to see like, oh, I wrote something and it has to get X no of views immediately or I’m going to delete it.

And at that time I was very young. I didn’t even have any idea. I was super addicted to the system of publishing and getting instant feedback. Obviously, there came a time when I didn’t get the kind of result I was used to get. Like every other platform for hours. So had its ups and ups and downs.

Sometimes some of my answers didn’t do well. And I used to just go and delete all of them. Then there were times when I felt that, “Why am I even writing? Nobody’s reading my answers.”

But the thing that helped me keep going was that my motivation didn’t come from money. I didn’t do it for money. I didn’t do it for fame. I was just doing it. And whatever I got in return was a bonus. And that helped me stick to writing online.

Then after Quora, I got busy in my job and I didn’t get too much time to write, but only during the pandemic in 2020 when the work from home phase started, that was when I finally had some more time to explore my passion for writing.

And I got some time off from my day job because of the lockdown, We all had to stay inside and and that was the time when I got, uh, time to explore my writing more.

During the lockdown, I discovered medium and it has been an amazing journey so far. And to answer the question — How to not lose hope when you’re in the beginning, you have to get used to the fact, and you have to accept the fact that your first few answers or your first few articles are not going to get that many views.

They’re not going to earn you that much money and you have to be okay with tha. Because, if you keep at it, if you keep doing it, if you keep writing, keep publishing and keep bettering yourself with everything that you write, eventually you will definitely succeed. And with that hope, you need to live.

You need to have that shameless self-belief because nobody else is going to have that belief in yourself at the very beginning of your career. With that, I’m going to conclude my take on this and I would love to hear Shivendra’s take on this.

Shivendra Misra:

Just like Anangsha, I started taking writing seriously during the pandemic.

But just to answer the question very briefly, point number one is to have a long-term vision — to know, and to promise yourself that you are not in this for the short term — that you’re not going to quit. And I think it helps to promise yourself that: “I’m going to try this for two years, no matter what happens.”

And then if nothing happens, if I don’t see any results, even after two years or whatever your timeframe is, let’s say one year, then I would perhaps consider quitting. But before that, there is just no question of stopping. So that really solves all the doubts that you might have in your journey. And you don’t have to battle with yourself again and again.

Second thing is to have friends. The writing game can be very lonely. It can seem that you are sitting alone in your room or your office, and nobody is noticing your work. So try to be involved with other people.

Also it’s just the basic law of magnetism. If you want to be a good writer, hang out with writers. If you want to be a good businessman, hang out with businessmen. So just do that. And you’ll find that you’re much more motivated and the thoughts of quitting don’t even cross your mind that way.

And finally, try to focus on these small wins. Even if one article does better than what you usually expect or see, then, celebrate that, make it enjoyable. And don’t be very hard on yourself as I have been guilty of doing. So those are just a couple of things that will tremendously help you. Neeramitra would you like to add something?

Neeramitra Reddy:

This reminds me of a quote — “If you aren’t willing to do something for free, you don’t expect to get paid for it.” Writing is no different. It almost always comes down to outcome independence — many of the writers who were super successful wouldn’t even have expected that kind of success when they started.

It’s almost like this catch-22, where you need to love the process of writing. Consistency then becomes a natural side effect. You could exert your willpower only for so long. The person that genuinely enjoys writing and who doesn’t care about the views and learnings, etc will outwork you.

And that will make him the winner. That just is the truth of it. So as much as I want to say, I’m optimistic, but also we need a dose of realism. So the thing is, if you genuinely don’t feel an itch to write or if there isn’t something about the process itself that sort of lightens your soul, writing may not be for you.

That doesn’t mean you will feel that out the moment you sit down to write, or even a weekend or a month. You need at least I would say six months to figure that out. So for the first six months, just keep your head down and write. Just imagine that you aren’t even publishing anything to the public.

Imagine that you just writing for yourself. Write, publish, write, publish, and so on. Keep doing that for six months. I mean, or it’s a win-win situation. Worst case, you either figure out that the writing isn’t for you and you’re free to try out something else.

And the best case is that something does go viral, and this becomes your new, big thing in life. That’s just the way I look at it. Coming down to success, or at least in the game of online writing, there is literally no way for you to know which article or which book or which read will go viral.

That’s just the way it is. So it becomes a numbers game. I think of it as playing in the casino, betting in the casino, or just a plain Roulet — you just have to keep spinning and spinning and spinning and spinning. So when you keep putting out article after article, the probability of you, gaining success is very high.

It’s simple. So both these reasons make it inevitable that consistency is the name of the game.

And also we all have down phases. When articles don’t seem to be performing and you start losing hope. You think maybe that was. lucky run and I’ll never have that again. But that’s exactly the time you don’t want to give up.

That is what separates the winners from the losers. So I think those are my thoughts on that.

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2. How to write faster

Anangsha Alammyan:

This is a very multilayered question and there would be so many takes from all of you. I would quickly give my take on this. How you can write faster is that, initially when you start writing something, don’t start by staring at a blank screen.

It definitely helps if you have an idea or an outline ready with you. So if you have an outline, then you can just start typing words on the screen, according to that outline.

The method that I personally follow is I don’t initially research in the process when I’m writing.

I just identify the points where I know I would need research. And then I just put a note there that I’m going to add some research later on. Because this is what happens — you browse something on the internet, you go looking for research, you find something else, and then you get lost in the rabbit hole.

And you just forget your draft because you’re so engrossed in searching for research. What I do is when I have the outline ready, I just type the words. And then I do that fully. I don’t edit anything. I just pour my heart out. So basically the first draft that I write is it’s just for my eyes and it’s mostly trash.

Then what I do is I just let it be for some time, uh, probably for one day or one night. The next day, when I come to it, I have a fresh perspective. I have more and different energy than the previous day. Then I can read through it with fresh eyes and again, identify the places where research is needed. I know where my article is going.

I know what shape my article is already taken. So I know specifically what kind of stats or what kind of data I need. At this point, it is difficult for me to get lost in the rabbit hole, because I know what I’m looking for. Then I add those research points. I cite those research studies and I put them in the article, put the links, and then I edit it. But I still don’t publish yet.

I usually edit my article at least three times, because, you know, you tend to miss out on so many different spelling mistakes or grammar errors. I remember one time I had to write “soul” — S-O-U-L. But I had written soup (S-O-U-P) and no grammar checker would be able to point that out because both of them are correct words.

So you need to read the article more, at least two or three times before publishing. I would also suggest reading it on the phone once because when you read the article on the phone, you tend to point out some mistakes that you couldn’t point out while you were reading it on your computer.

So these are the few steps I follow and that are a part of my process. And that is how I would see that you can write faster. The basic tip is that don’t research while you’re writing, don’t edit while you’re writing first, write the first draft, then you can put research and you can edit and you can proofread.

So that’s my take. Shicendra please go ahead.

Shivendra Misra:

I think my number one take would be what Anangsha already mentioned, but I’ll just expand on that. Never, never, never stare at a blank screen. Right? Because sitting down to write is not something that your brain originally wants to do — it’s a difficult job

You want to watch a movie, you want to go out with your friends. You want to go on YouTube or social media. There are just tons of distractions. So we have to trick our brains. We have to tell our brains that, “Okay, don’t worry. Writing is easy. We’ve got an outline” Now, if you tell your brain, “This is a blank screen. I have no idea what I’m going to write about but we are going to sit down.”

Your brain will say, “Are you kidding me? This is such a bad plan.”

So what you have to do is ideally prepared the night before or prepare whenever you want. But when you sit to write, at least have a headline. You can even go a step further to have your points outlined, the main points that you want to make for the article, and maybe a couple of research links.

If you have more time, there’s really no limit to it. You can figure out your own personal formula. But what I’m saying is prepare before you sit down to write and separate those preparation sessions versus the writing sessions.

The second thing that has really helped me is touch typing.

And for those of you who have subscribed to The Write Way, I wrote about this in my previous newsletter. Touch typing is basically typing with all your 10 fingers so that you don’t have to break your flow, by switching your eyes between your monitor or your laptop and your keyboard. So when you’re typing, you don’t have to correct grammatical mistakes and you can type at the speed of your thoughts.

That way it’s much easier to get your first draft out of the picture. And once you have your 800 or thousand-word draft, then you have some meat to work with. Then you have something to edit and it becomes much, much easier after that. So if you’re thinking that learning touch typing is difficult I would say just give it 2 weeks.

You’ll see for yourself, how better, you know, your writing becomes and how much more enjoyable it becomes actually. Think about it like this, those two weeks that you invest, they’re going to help you for your whole life because these keyboards aren’t going anywhere.

And most of our work is now on our laptops. So you’re not only improving your writing but also every other thing that you do, every email, every message that you write is going to be helped by this one exercise. So those are my two brief tips.

Neeramitra Reddy:

Oh, well I have to bow to what both of them said. My non-negotiable tip will be never, never, never, never edit while you’re writing. It’s as simple as that, even if you were to ignore every other tip on the planet. That itself will change the game completely.

There’s just something very insidious about editing. You know what I’m talking about. You write a sentence, you’ll read it, you’ll edit the words. You’ll look for better words. And then you’ll write an entire paragraph, reading the paragraph. Re-read the paragraph. What happens is you end up burned out. Maybe you’ll get two or three paragraphs and slam shut your laptop and walk away.

That just is what happens when you try to edit while writing. So the thing is, there’s this notion of flow. When you write uninterrupted, you’re using an opportunity to dump your thoughts onto a tangible medium, which is a draft or a paper or whatever it is.

You just want to get to the end. It doesn’t matter. The first draft has to be shit. that’s the entire purpose of the first draft. Most of my first drafts are unrecognizable. Even for the best of my articles, the first drafts would have been absolutely terrible.

But completing that draft gives you a mental checkpoint. It’s like, okay, I’ve completed the article now. I just need to edit.

Once you have something to work with, it’s like scalping something. You wouldn’t really start with a small pebble and try to shape that into tools and fingers and start putting them together. You’re the chopper and that huge block of stone into something which resembles a man.

And then you will start shaping it. That’s just the way this works.

So again, coming to editing, as Anangsha said, you want to spend quite some time on everything. At least in my writing process off late I’m spending 1.5 to 2 times more on editing than writing. If a draft is done in 30 minutes, the editing will easily take at least an hour, if not 90 minutes, because that is when you want to cut out the fluff or restructure that article. To remove the shitty paragraphs and so on.

That would be my tip. While writing find a way to separate those two. Do it however you want. Maybe write in the night and edit in the morning, write three to four articles on the weekend and then edit them throughout the week.

The process doesn’t matter. You just want to separate editing from the writing.

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3. Can you talk about newsletters and other ways of collecting mail lists to monetize later down the line? Through a hook freebie etc. that doesn’t need a continuous commitment like that of a NL.

Anangsha Alammyan:

This is a very important question to anyone who is having a newsletter. So effectively before you start a new project, not just the newsletter before you start any project, it is very important to know your “why”. Why do you want to start a newsletter?

So if you want to monetize it later, and you don’t want to send out emails every day, A very good idea is to have a lead magnet.

A lead magnet is basically a freebie that you offer people that they can download. And in exchange, they can give you their email IDs. So a lead magnet can be anything. It can be an ebook, let’s say about some skills that you have mastered and how people can master it too with your insights on it.

Or it can be a free email course where every day you send one email to your subscribers automatically, you don’t have to actively do anything there. Or you can even make a small PDF, like a checklist or a cheat sheet. It can be anything. So basically a lead magnet is something that you give to people for free in exchange for their email IDs.

And then, uh, at the end of every article that you publish, you can just leave that small line here with the link saying something like “to download my free ebook, just click here.” So that way even if you don’t send emails every day, the people who subscribe, they’re going to give you their email.

But there is a small drawback to this method. Because if somebody downloads your freebie today and you don’t do anything to your whole email list, you’re just collecting emails. And then suddenly one year down the line, you decide, you want to monetize that. So after one year you send your first email and then the people who get your email in the inbox, they’ll be confused and think “Who is this person? Why am I receiving their email? I should just unsubscribe.”

So that is a risk that you run if you don’t send regular emails to your email community.

There are pros and cons to both, but yeah, that is my take on this question.

Neeramitra Reddy:

I think something recently happened that perfectly answers this question. So what happened essentially was that I started the habit of bullet journaling and I optimized my template to take under 2 minutes. So I thought why note make it as a notion template and just put it out there.

I made it a freebie pay-what-you-want on Gumroad and I just put it there. All I did was I wrote a couple of articles about journalling and talked about my freebie.

And the funny thing is it generated close to 2000 downloads and a lot of people even paid. I think it turned around $200 in total.

So this was an approach I hadn’t seen anyone mention. This was something I stumbled upon by accident, not even using it as a CTA and not even using it as anything else, but rather just creating a product and, making it a freebie and just hyperlinking it in our articles, not even as a hard sell. Just putting it wherever you’re talking about it.

Of course, in a single article or two, this won’t really pay off. But as you write 30, 40, 50, 60 articles you will keep getting emails in a passive manner.

Coming to the other part of your question, I think you will have to keep your email audience engaged. There’s no other way they’ll remember who you are. So then the solution for that is to design a workshop. It’s a one-time effort.

Let’s just say you want design five months or six months workflows. You can just keep adding email after email. After like one month you can do this and set it up so that at the moment someone buys a product or signs up for their email list.

They’ll keep getting those automatic emails. Another thing you could do is you could schedule festival or holiday based emails automatically. So let’s say there’s a workflow that emails people on Thanksgiving or Christmas with some specific offer.

So the idea is you need to constantly be engaging your readers. How you do it doesn’t matter as much as just frequently doing it. So you could either run a newsletter or even send your articles I do that with my better life newsletter. Ioffer a short preview of my Medium article and then a link where they can read it further.

So it’s a win-win — they get to read my articles because they want to. And the other thing is I get a tad more traction on my articles as well. So these are my thoughts.

Also since I mentioned setting up “workflows” it might sound a little complicated to people who are new to this game of newsletters, but there are so many platforms like Gumroad, MailerLite, etc that allow you to do it very easily — you don’t have to know any coding.

You can just feed on the system that when you want to send your next newsletter and it will automatically happen.

Shivendra Misra:

Um, I don’t think I can really add a lot to what you guys already said. You guys did a great job. I’ll just outline what I do personally. So initially I started with the newsletter becuase there is really no way people will remember you if you are not in front of them. My newsletter has been very, very simple.

I share three ideas every Monday to help poeple live a stress-free, productive, and more mindful life. That was my base and from there on, I started building email courses for different needs. So primarily my niches were

  • Meditation and mindfulness,
  • Neuroscience or brain health and,
  • Writing.

So I’ve built email courses around this and these are all automated and also self-paced. (If that sounds interesting, we can connect about that sometime later. Self-paced email courses where people can take or get emails, or if they want to skip ahead, they can, or if they want to wait for the next email to come automatically, they can do that as well)

So through that, I had a workflow, and then whoever completes that course, I can choose to upsell them to something. And by default, they get added to my newsletter list. So they also keep on hearing from me every Monday. And I also do what Neeramitra just said. I send one of my articles every week to my readers, just inside the email so they don’t need to jump to any other website.

My approach has been to just put the entire article there, or perhaps edit it a little bit to make it much more concise and suitable. So those are some of the things that I do as it pertains to my email subscribers. And, hopefully it gives you some more ideas of how you can go about it.

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Write your way to your dream life. Click to read The Write Way, a Substack publication. Launched 2 months ago.

4. How to kill your darlings

Neeramitra Reddy:

The irony is I’ve had to kill different kind of darlings is just a while back, but anyway, jokes aside, I think this was a phrase, I think rich Tim Dunning used for the first time.

And since then it’s become a euphemism for, cutting out or butchering your draft. Let’s say it’s 1200 words. You cut it down to maybe like 700, 800. So that’s what killing your darlings means. In my head, I try to keep a 4-minute article as my target

Every run of editing I do, I view my article as getting more tighter and more valuable. And then the point is you need to view the perfect article as having as much value as possible in as little words as you can. One of the worst advices I see out there is to lengthen your article.

I’ve had two-minute articles that have gone crazy viral. When you have a truly valuable 2, 3, 4-minute article, people will read through the entire thing.

So that two-minute article will literally get a two-minute read. IF you have a six minute rambling draft, then probably people will read the first paragraph and just drop off. That’s not what you want.

Again, a valuable tip I’ve found here is to pull all the best parts of an article to the top and the bottom.

This has worked incredibly well for me. This is one tip. You might feel this internal resistance. Why am I ruining the structure of the article? I want it to sound this way and all that, but the thing is, people, start at the top and after a while they start skimming it and then they get to the bottom. So you want to start strong and finish strong because that’s the reason people stay on your article.

And the only reason they will want to keep coming back to your articles is that if it finishes strong. So pull all your best parts to the top and the bottom. And if there is stuff that doesn’t sit right with the rest of the article rate, which is good, but not great, cut all of that out. You don’t want to dilute the existing value.

Let’s say you’re writing a listicle, all of it says five valuable tips to do XYZ. And four of those types of super valuable. But the fifth one is, let’s say relatively weaker. It’s still a good tip, but not as long as other ones. What you want to do is you want to cut that out and change the title to “4 Tips to do XYZ” as counter-intuitive, as this sounds.

You want your entire article to have that consistent or high-value thing going on. So that is of course hard to do, but that’s my take on it.

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Closing Thoughts

Those are the few best questions from our second AMA. I hope you had as much fun reading them as we had while answering them and curating this post.

If you have any suggestions or feedback, please feel free to leave a reply to this email and let us know.

The next post from #TheWriteWay will be in your inboxes this coming Monday, i.e. on 9th May 2022, by Shivendra Misra.

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