On Writing

These two stories are going viral:

13 Questions to Ask Before Submitting to a Literary Journal

There Is No Handbook for Being a Writer

Too many people want writing ‘hacks’ and ‘tips’, without understanding that writing is a market, which means that for writing to be read, it typically has to meet some sort of demand. Famous people can create their own markets, but unknowns have to latch onto existing ones. There’s too much advice that extols the virtues of writing for the sake of writing (such as boosting word counts, writing more, etc.), while ignoring the second half of the equation: the reader, and how the writer intends to make his writing read.

Long-form seems to be very popular online these days. Anyone can hammer out a 500-word essay, but it takes 3,000-5,000 words or more to stand out. Long-form may be the best approach right now for writers hoping to gain visibility, as research shows long-form articles are more likely to go viral:

An exceptionally well-written long-form article can help cement your reputation as an expert in a field.

Related: Internet Journalism in a Post-2013 Era: Writing Articles that Go Viral

There is also evidence long-from articles rank better in Google than shorter articles, probably due to long articles being shared more.

Once you build a brand with blogging (writing long-form), you can begin selling books through self-publishing. Those who enjoy your writing in 5,000-word chunks will be more inclined pay to read your 50,000-word book.

For better or worse, IQ and innate ability plays a role, too. If your score on the verbal part of the SAT and or GRE was average, you should probably avoid literary writing or traditionally-published fiction (instead, use Amazon or write non-fiction). Published literary fiction requires a unique talent very few have. Even published genre fiction such as that of Michael Crichton and Stephen King requires a type of talent few possess.

You probably cannot go into writing for the money, and the odds of success as measured by sales and recognition are slim. As I explain in Pencil Pushers and the Miracle of Capitalism, writing pays very little relative to the amount of talent and effort required to succeed at it. You need to be in the top 1% skill and probably IQ to make the same amount of money as a mediocre 9-5 worker who is in the 50th percentile of IQ.

It’s vastly easier to make $40k a year driving a truck than making $400 selling your writing to a magazine or a journal, yet too many people do the latter because they seek ‘validation’ in having their name and ‘work’ printed.

To recap: writing for the sake of writing is not a virtue in and of itself, and is unlikely to lead to success; focus on understanding the type of writing people want to read. Consider writing long-form articles to build your brand. Understand your skills, strengths, and limitations. And don’t initially expect to make a lot of money relative to the amount of effort you put in.


Terry Pratchett, IQ, Practice, and Mastery
So much for that 10,000 hour rule