From 0 to 10,000 Pageviews In Two Weeks

I took a break from writing for a while. Well, about 5 months to be exact. And my blog readers sputtered to a halt.

But my experience interviewing with a company got me so angry, I had to start writing again. So I put up a new blog post.

Two weeks later, I’ve now been on the frontpage of reddit’s r/programming section, on the frontpage of r/python, featured in Pycoder’s Weekly (subscribe!), and asked expand a blog post into a book by a major publisher.

Blogging is really building a brand around yourself. It has huge benefits, the biggest of which is people approach you, aware of your name, and not the other way around. This puts you in a position of bargaining advantage when it comes to negotiations, and also attracts higher quality people.

So how do you write so people will read?

80/20 The Headline

A strong headline is the difference between a success and a failure.

If you can pick a catchy title, 99% of your work is done. So sometimes I’ll actually spend more time rewriting the title than I spend actually writing the article.

Understand, the majority of people on the internet will make a snap judgement based upon your title, and not bother to read anything else. So unfortunately, your ability to land eyeballs depends more on your title than your actual content.

When I decide to write about a topic, I first ask myself if I can come up with a decent title for it. If it’s not something I can explain in a catchy title, it probably won’t get written about. (Except when I want to teach something.)

Make it Visual

Wait a second, weren’t we talking about writing?

The more visually absorbant you can make your writing, the better. If I can skim through your article, and call out the major points you make in bold, I’m one step closer.

Even better if you’ve got pictures for me to skim too. People are busy, and you need to convey the benefits you’ve got for them as quickly and clearly as possible.

Images and bold points let people decide for themselves whether or not it’s worth drilling down and reading everything else you’ve written.


What’s in it for me?

Make sure you’re writing to benefit the person reading. Take the extra time to make graphics, find the real data, and generally make the reader’s life better for having read what you’ve written.

This means focusing in on the benefits you can provide your reader. Look into and find as much new data as possible. Link to other sites that can help them out.

Pretend the reader is a close, intelligent friend, and try to help them out as much as possible in every post.

Make It Emotional

We humans like to pretend we’re rational creatures, but the data shows we’re overwhelmingly run by our emotions. And emotions push stories to people.

But this isn’t all sensationalist bullshit. A strong emotional experience when learning encodes a stronger memory. So writing from an emotionally charged place actually helps people remember what you’ve written.

Make It Simple

Don’t use big words where a tiny one would do. I try to limit my writing vocabulary to 3 syllable words, maximum. A lot of people try to use big words to push an image of intelligence, but that doesn’t work. The easier something is to comprehend, the quicker we can absorb it.

And anyone can use big words to hide not completely understanding their topic. Get over it. Always ask yourself, do I need this paragraph? Can I remove this sentence?

The biggest part of being a writer is being able to throw things out. Throw out all the stuff which does not move your point forward.

Rewrite Everything

When I read my personal bible on writing (Stephen King’s On Writing, I’ve gifted copies to all my writer friends), I saw how Stephen King stressed rewriting as a part of the process. In the book, he actually walks through rewriting and cutting down a story, so you can see how he does it.

Wherever I go, I take my Moleskine journal and my fountain pen with me. I’ll write up complete articles in this, staring off into space, being outdoors, with a cup of coffee, and really enjoying the process of writing. Something about the process of having a high quality fountain pen write on nice paper is really a pleasure for me.

But when it’s time to write for the computer, things really take a turn for the worse. I usually end up throwing out all the stuff I wrote in the journal, and start out all over again as I write in WordPress.

In this way, I guarantee I’m rewriting every post at least twice. Usually, everything I post has been rewritten 3 times.

Show the Data

Don’t say something without being able to back it up with data. When you first write your article, you may have to bullshit some facts to get the thing written. But after you finish writing your draft, go back and fill in all of the holes of what you’ve written.

Search out and find the data on all the things you’ve said. Link to them. Show me a photo, show me and info graphic. This has become a part of being a decent blogger. Searching out and finding the facts most people pass by, then distilling them into a neat set.

Tell People About What You’ve Written

This is the most difficult part of all. You’ve got to push what you’ve written out there. If you’ve written anything emotionally charged, or with a strong opinion, there will be people who will try to make you feel horrible about it.

Ignore them. Keep writing.

The crowd can be a brutal audience, so stay focused and talk directly to a persona you have in mind. I recommend starting out with niche marketplaces, and submitting your posts to them first. Almost every news venue is starved for things to talk about. Target them first.

What It Takes to Live Your Dream

5,000 Pages. 5 Years.

That’s how long it took before I made my first commercial sale as a writer. Five years of working hard with no results to show for it.

That’s five years, spent trying to squeeze by on as little income as possible, trying desperately to make more time for writing. Five years of worry and self doubt, and mediocre work everywhere else.

The Magical 5,000 Pages

From nowhere, after 5,000 pages things started clicking.

I make my first commercial sale; I started a new blog and grow from zero to 10,000 uniques in a month; I have momentum, I have begun to break the hump of the learning curve. Five years later, almost exactly.

I’m not saying this to brag, I just wish I’d known from the beginning┬áthat my success was inevitable. I wish somebody had let me know:

“As soon as you finish 5,000 pages, you will have paid your dues. After 5,000 pages, you will be approaching competency, but you will always be sharpening your sword.”

I would have written twenty pages a day, and stopped sucking a lot earlier.

You Can’t Afford to Wait to Follow Your Dreams

I always thought it was a bit of a bullshit line, when people said “follow your dreams”. But the truth of the matter is, you’d damn well better get started on them today.

When I was working doing freelance web development, I kept being haunted by the idea that I’d be stuck doing what I really didn’t want to be doing at all. And it made me an ineffective freelancer. The quote kept going on in my head, over and over:

“If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will destroy you.”

So I’d stay up late, and I’d write every night for at least an hour. Just to keep myself from being haunted. To let myself know that I was putting in the effort, and that was as much as I could do, until writing began to pay my bills.

Five years later, the trickle started.

You Must Be Willing to Wait and Work

Becoming adept at your dream field, and experiencing Flow should be your top priorities. We know from research that by becoming an expert at something you love is practically a formula for a happy life.

The problem is, those miserable five years you’ve got to put in work before you can see any results outside of yourself. This is why passion is necessary.

Nothing motivates me more than helping people become more successful. I love to see my friends and family become better and more powerful people in the world. I love the power of stories to change lives, and I love modeling worlds.

Discover Your Passion

Passions that last inevitably involve service to other people. Our immediate realities are direct feedback loops to the quality of life we put out to other people. So the only way to experience a better reality is to give a better reality to someone else.

Realistically, what makes you happiest? How can you infect that happiness into people?

A lot of people have no clue what drives them. No idea where to begin. For them, I suggest time off. Save some money and travel. Figure out what is unique about the way you experience and react to the world. Then get to work, ASAP.

And Ignore the Gatekeepers

In any field, especially the glamorous ones, there will be gatekeepers. The people who seem to have the ability to let “the chosen ones” become relevant in their fields. For writers, these are the Editors, the Professors, the Critics.

These people are all irrelevant. They have literally, zero power over your results. Your results will be determined by the quality of your work alone. No matter what, if you focus on the having the best work, you will have a place at the top.

So don’t pay buckets of money for their approval. Don’t pay for gurus to bless you with their knowledge and strategy. Don’t pay for technology that promises to solve your problems. There is only ever one person who can do the work.

And that is you.