5 Crippling Beliefs That Keep Writers Penniless and Mired in Mediocrity

image of broken down typewriter

Is it just me, or is the whole starving artist thing highly overrated?

Yes, there’s a certain romanticism to being a penniless vagabond, sacrificing material goods in the selfless pursuit of art.

Yes, it’s fun to fantasize about everyone suddenly realizing you’re a genius after you’re dead and auctioning your once-soiled toilet for nearly $20,000.

Yes, it’s hip to take a stand against evil capitalists and proselytize about constructing digital economies based on currencies of cool.

But eventually, it gets old.

I know, because I’ve been there. In college, I was the epitome of the starving artist, winning poetry competitions and acing English classes with ease and then bumming gas money to get home, but eventually I realized three things …

  • No matter how good your poetry is, girls think you’re lame when you take them out for a romantic dinner at Taco Bell
  • After sleeping in your car for a week, you don’t feel like writing a damn thing
  • Pretty much the only job available to English majors is to become an English teacher, and they’re some of the most underpaid, under-appreciated people on earth

Sooner or later, you begin to reconsider. I mean, no, you don’t have to be rich and famous, but would having your own apartment and being able to afford food be so bad? Hell, it might even help your writing.

So, you embark on your quest to make some money.

You try to write some articles for magazines and newspapers. You hire yourself out as a freelance copywriter (even though you probably have no idea what copywriting is). You start a blog and wait for the world to beat a path to your door.

And if you’re lucky, you survive. No, you’re not sitting by the beach drinking margaritas, but you have food and a bed and a car, and people don’t worry about catching weird diseases when they’re standing beside you in the elevator. It’s nice, but you still haven’t “made it,” and you wonder why.

In my experience?

It’s because you don’t have your mind right. You have these nasty little demons sitting on your shoulder, feeding you lies about the relationship between success and art. You probably picked up some of these ideas from your parents, others from your teachers, and still others from fellow writers and artists.

And if you let them, they’ll cripple you. You’ll go through your whole life knowing you’re talented but never quite making it and forever wondering why.

We can’t let that happen.

Below, you’ll find some of the most common beliefs that hold writers back. Take a look, and see if any of them look familiar:

Crippling Belief #1: It’s all about you

The most heinous lie to ever infect the mind of a writer is the belief that your work is all about you.

You believe your writing is a form of self-expression, an extension of your mind, a little piece of your soul imbued into the page. To write well, you just need to be authentic, and if the world doesn’t like it, the world can go to hell.

Provocative, right? And like all the best lies, it has a grain of truth to it.

Yes, authenticity matters, but only to the extent people enjoy what you do. You’ll never find me auditioning for American Idol because, the fact is, I couldn’t carry a note to save my life. Yes, my voice is authentic, but it’s authentically bad, and that means I’ll never be a singer.

Writing works the same way. To be successful, stop worrying about who you are and start thinking about what your audience wants.

What do they like? How is it done? Only after you’ve answered those two questions are you ready to ask the third one: is it right for you?

I can’t overstress how important the order is. Them first, you second, never the other way around.

Crippling Belief #2: Building a following takes time

The last bastion of hope for any struggling writer is that building a following takes time.

Sure, life sucks right now, but if you’ll just hang in there, things will snowball, and everything will be all right.

It seems reasonable. After all, no one gets famous overnight, right? Everywhere you look, there are stories of successful people persisting when there was no hope, trudging forward one weary step at a time, unwilling to quit, clinging fiercely to their dreams, manifesting success through sheer power of will.

It’s inspiring… but it’s also deceptive.

Yes, building a following often takes time, but it’s not because people are slow on the uptake, incapable of seeing your brilliance until you’ve been around for a few years.

It’s because, when you’re a newbie, you do everything wrong, and most of us get knocked around for a few years until we figure out how to do it right.

In other words, you’re not waiting on the world. The world is waiting on you.

Yes, persistence is important. Yes, learning takes time. Yes, it’ll probably be slow and painful. But the sooner you learn, the sooner it will be over. So get busy.

Crippling Belief #3: You know what you’re doing

So, let me guess:

You’ve always been a pretty good writer, right? No, you haven’t won a Pulitzer or anything, but your teachers fawned over you in school, and your friends and family are awestruck by your skill with words.

Maybe you’ve even written for a magazine or newspaper a time or two and gotten some real credentials to put on your resume.

You believe all of that makes you different. When you start a blog or write a press release or hang up your shingle as a freelance writer, you believe things will be easier for you than all of the other bumbling writers out there. Unlike them, you know what you’re doing.

Heh.

It never ceases to astonish me how many writers believe this. They honestly think being able to spell, write a grammatical sentence, and make a few aunties and uncles smile is enough to make them a good writer.

It isn’t. The difference between writing for free and writing to become recognized as a worldwide authority is like the difference between taking a jog after work and running an Olympic marathon. Like running events, each type of writing is also quite different, and even a legend might need years of training to switch.

The bottom line: if you want to make a career out of writing, you have to be serious about it.

You’ll need to commit years of your life to mastering it, and even then, you’ll have barely caught a glimpse of everything there is to know.

Also, if you’re not willing to make that commitment, that’s fine. Just hire someone who is. It’s far faster and much, much less painful.

Crippling Belief #4: Writing can only be a labor of love

It’s about the art. It’s about the fans. It’s about the ideas themselves.

If you start trying to squeeze money out of it, you’ll just pervert it, commercialize it, transform it into a cold and hollow substitution for what it could have been. Right?

Well, yes and no. Once again, this one is dangerous precisely because it’s partly true.

Yes, all the best writers love what they do. The thing that separates Stephen King from a lot of other horror writers isn’t the gore or the suspense or the characters. It’s the joy. When he’s chopping off heads or destroying the world, he doesn’t just tell you about it. He revels in it.

Also, Stephen King is far from broke. I think he made something like $50 million last year.

Granted, we can’t all be Stephen King, but one of the greatest fallacies in writing is that art and money are mutually exclusive. If you love something, you can’t make money from it, or if you want to make money, you can’t love the work.

That’s just silly. You can have both. In fact, I would even say you need both, or you’ll never have the staying power to become truly great at what you do.

Crippling Belief #5: You’re a writer (nothing more)

Many writers take enormous pride in what they do, and rightfully so.

We use nothing more than little splotches of ink to communicate with people across the globe.

We speak the unspeakable. We snatch ephemeral ideas from the air and bring them to life on the page.

It’s delightful. Amazing. Humbling.

But if you think it’s your only responsibility, you are horribly mistaken.

The best way I know to explain it is, imagine a mother carrying a child for nine months, religiously taking care of her body, doing everything a good mother does, and then the day she delivers it, she leaves the hospital and sets it on the side of the road. “Goodbye, sweet thing,” she says. “It was a pleasure, but now I have other things to do,” and then she walks away.

It’s a horrifying thought, right?

Yet, as writers, it’s something we do every day. We finish working on a piece, publish it, and then prop our feet up, praising ourselves for a job well done. “Finally, I’m finished,” we think. “On to the next project.” And then we watch from afar as it struggles to gain attention, weakens, and finally dies.

It’s a morbid metaphor, I know, but this point is absolutely essential for you to understand:

If you want to be successful, you can’t be a writer and nothing more.

You also have to be a constant caretaker, a shameless promoter, a fearless champion. You have to fight for your ideas the way a mother fights for her children.

Your job isn’t over the day you publish. On the contrary, it’s just beginning. More than likely, you’ll spend weeks, months, and years fighting to get your words the attention they deserve, and it’ll be the most tiring, nerve-racking, and yet unquestionably rewarding experience of your life.

Don’t neglect that responsibility. Don’t try to outsource it to someone else. Don’t rob yourself of the experience.

The truth is, the joy of writing isn’t the writing itself. It’s seeing your ideas spread. It’s seeing them touch other people. It’s seeing them take root within the minds of those people, where they continue to grow into something more wonderful than you could have ever imagined.

Do you want that?

If you do, then be more than just a writer. The world already has enough of those.

What we need are more warriors. What we need are more heretics. What we need are wordsmiths with the courage to change the world.

Words aren’t just words, you see. They’re the medium through which writers accomplish change.

Great writers don’t just inform you. They don’t just entertain you. They don’t just persuade you. They change you, leaving you a slightly different person than you were before you read their work.

If you ask me, change should be the standard we hold ourselves to, not merely scribbling words down upon the page.

Then again, what do I know?

I’m just a writer. Nothing more. ;-)

About the Author: Jon Morrow is Associate Editor of Copyblogger. If you’d like to learn more about what it really takes to become a popular writer, check out his free videos on guest blogging.

Print Friendly

Smarter is Better Solutions for Smarter Content Marketing

Here’s what we’ve got for you:

  • 15 high-impact ebooks on content marketing, SEO, email marketing, landing pages, keyword research, and more.
  • A 20-part Internet marketing course that lays out a comprehensive path for your own online strategy.
  • An organized reference guide to the “best of the best” of Copyblogger.com, and how it all profitably fits together.
Free Registration

Take The Conversation Further ...

We'd love to know your thoughts on this article.
Meet us over on Twitter or LinkedIn to join the conversation right now!

Comments

  1. Hy Jonathan,
    I do think that those who have passion for writing should go through these sort of sensations…it may be sooner or later. Your post inspired me very much…really! Specially, this line ”If you want to be successful, you can’t be a writer and nothing more”. Yes, it is harder to believe but has to be swallowed…
    Thanks a lot…

    • This post is really quotable, isn’t it?

      “You’re not waiting on the world. The world is waiting on you.”

      It’s posts like these that make you realize how much we do need writers, and your correct in my opinion that every writer should expect to go through these thoughts, and hopefully in the end they can realize that it’s okay just to be a writer, because the world needs them.

      • Yes, motivating too.

        These days, almost all of your business negotiations are in writing. So to succeed in any business, you must work on your writing!

      • This post and others Jon has written are the perfect example of what I’ve been recommending bloggers learn to do. When your posts are full of quotable thoughts – especially if they are perfect to be shared on Twitter – each of them is like link bait to be shared by those who are social media savvy.

        As I read posts like this one each time I come upon a brilliant thought just waiting to be shared I schedule another tweet for my follower’s benefit. Instead of sharing a link once and sending 30, 50, 80, 100, 130 = whatever your average number of clicks may be – those numbers are multiplied by the number of unique tweets.

        Instead of me sending this post maybe 130 visitors I might send it 4, 5, or more times that many. When a blogger writes the way Jon does they multiply their reach many times over. His story telling skill and ability to be so quotable are truly special. We can learn so much from how he writes.

  2. There is a fine balance when it comes to earning money from your art. Some people can get burnt out if they let others dictate what they create, such as telling you what to write about all of the time. If you can find that balance between writing about what you want AND getting paid for it, then you have struck gold!

  3. “Yes, building a following often takes time, but it’s not because people are slow on the uptake, incapable of seeing your brilliance until you’ve been around for a few years. It’s because, when you’re a newbie, you do everything wrong, and most of us get knocked around for a few years until we figure out how to do it right. In other words, you’re not waiting on the world. The world is waiting on you.”

    Holy crap. As I was reading Crippling Belief #2, I was thinking to myself: “What’s he talking about!? Things totally snowball!” In fact, I’ve blogged in the past about building momentum by both working your ass off and taking every social interaction as an opportunity to build even more authentic (and mutually beneficial?) connections. I’ve told people: Eventually, the work will start coming to you!

    But you’re so right. I did do everything wrong at the beginning, and I still make stupid mistakes from time to time. So I suppose it is possible to start with a bang, instead of succeeding with a slow snowballing.

    • Yep, you can definitely start with a bang. One thing I didn’t include in the post is the last blog I helped launch for a consulting client went from nothing to over 200,000 unique visitors within two months. I also had over 1000 subscribers to guestblogging.com just the first day.

      Why did they grow so fast? Because I’ve been messing around for the past six years, screwing things up, and learning the hard way. Now that I know what I’m doing (sort of), it’s rather easy.

      And that’s not just true for me. I think it’s true for every blogger. For instance, if you were to scrap your blog today and start another one, it would probably grow at least 10x faster, don’t you think?

  4. Hi Jonathan

    Natalie Goldberg in her workshops I’ve attended says if we write we are writers, just like if you run you’re a runner. She also stress that it’s not our business whether or not we get published and rich and famous. Our job is to write and keep writing.

    As a young writer, these were encouraging words for me. However, years later I realize I also need to pay attention to the real world issues you mention. Your five ways to cripple the writer/blogger are great reality checks for me to keep in mind when I sit down and open a vein at the keyboard.

    • @ Paul—You make a good point. I’ve read Natalie Goldberg’s books, and while I agree with much of what she says, I don’t think writing just to write is very productive or beneficial. I came to the conclusion that Goldberg is stuck in the “process” of writing.

      I work as an editor in a publishing company, and I can clearly see that most of the people who submit materials are not working to improve their skills. They may have terrific ideas, but year after year, their writing remains mediocre. I agree with every word Jon wrote in this post. I wish more people realized that it does take more than putting words on paper and a nod of approval from those aunties and uncles to be a writer.

      @ Jon—Terrific post! Love your analogy of a writer being like a mother. It’s so true! You’re just a little self-deprecating at the end though (in my opinion, of course).

      • @ Sharon L.–You’re right. Writing is a skill (a set of skills) and they must be developed. And, yes it is possible for even gurus to get stuck in their own process. Practice of a skill is necessary for development but feedback from others must also be integrated into that “process”.

        So if we “mother” our writing and provide the necessary food and growth ingredients like a good mother should, will our writing grown of is own accord like our real babies have? Good parents don’t make their kids grow. They facilitate children’s innate drive and ability to grow into mature adults.

        • @ Paul—this conversation may be touching on the “nurture” vs. “nature” of both writing and rearing children. : ) I think both occur simultaneously. Children and our writing grow because of their nature and because we nurture them. We do facilitate both as well.

          When I connected with my desire to improve my writing and my communication skills, I also felt my motivation increase. I challenge myself every day to improve something about my writing so I can communicate better.

          Maybe the answer to your question is yes, we do provide what is necessary to encourage growth. And this is where raising children and writing diverge. We do, in a sense, leave what we have written “on the side of the road” (sorry Jon) out of necessity, because a writing PROJECT has to be finished at some point in time—unless, of course, the writing effort is being poured into the one and only novel someone will ever write. But to improve, we do need to continue feeding and nurturing the writer within.

  5. Hi Jonathan,
    Yes, I was one of those English Teachers and yes, it got old! What’s sick is that not only are you one of the most underpaid people on earth – you are the most overworked and under appreciated!!
    Anyway, rant aside – you’re right about the fight that has to take place. You’ve really got to be willing to kick open any and every door that you can that will get you closer to your goal.
    I left the classroom – no one will ever tell me that “those who can’t do – teach” I’m going to do this!

    • I never understood that phrase (“those who can’t do, teach”). I know so many people who really just love teaching. They have a wealth of knowledge about their niche, but instead of doing it every day, they are overjoyed to teach others. In a way, teaching is doing.

      Then there are the people who do both. I had a professor in college who teaches writing and writes professionally. He loves both.

      By all means, go for your dreams, but I really hate that phrase. :D

  6. Numbers 1 and 4 are the ones that I see as most crippling. It’s the “I’m a sell out if I consider this a business” mentality that all creators of art can suffer from. The feeling that by building what others want or promoting the stuff we create somehow cheapens the process.

    I consider myself a writer, but I am a business person first and foremost. My writing gives me the ability to conduct my business by (as you say) spreading my ideas.

    By the way, another crippling belief I have witnessed among writers is “Writing for the Internet isn’t writing.” Some writers turn their nose up at me when I tell them I am a blogger.

    Thanks for writing this Jon!

    • That’s true, Russ. I’ve actually stopped telling people I’m a blogger, because either they have no idea what the hell a blog is, or they think it’s just a euphemism for a writer who can’t get published in a “real” publication.

      I think it’s because there are so many hobbyists. Anyone can start a blog, and anyone can call themselves a blogger, although difference between what I do and what they do is as wide as the Grand Canyon.

      We really need to come up with another word for ourselves. Let me know if you think of anything. :-)

      • Another word for ourselves besides “blogger”? Ah, writer? Online content publisher? Content creator?

        Is it the label itself that is the problem? Or, rather, the belief in ourselves that we are, indeed, what we say we are? And screw what others say or believe about what we say we are.

        • I always tell people I’m a web publisher — that I own a collection of websites and newsletters regarding finance. This usually works pretty well, and it seems pretty cool. The emphasis is more on being a webmaster than on being a writer, but it’s the best label I can think of.

      • I suppose “blighter” wouldn’t quite do it?

        Perhaps it’s not a winnable battle. Ed Jong, one of the best science bloggers around, still has people accuse him of not being a “real” journalist.

  7. This is so true for actors as well and pretty relevant for most, of not all industries. If I had a penny for every time a person told me they were just waiting for that “one big thing” to happen, I would be rich! Every industry (especially those in the arts that are saturated with competition) takes dedication. This is a great piece for everyone to read!

  8. Hey Jon,
    Your post has electrified me with its clarity and power. Wow! As I writer, I can change people’s minds? I always thought that I could prompt people to act based on the message (e.g., call to action) but to actually change their minds? That’s powerful stuff. You’ve renewed my faith in the profession. It is a gift and skill to be able to write well – and get paid for it. Yet, to go beyond that and inspire others is a lofty goal. At that stage, writing not only expresses an idea or viewpoint but soars.

  9. Write on!

  10. I also find inspiration for writing by doing some reading of really good writers. I believe everyday, I become a better writer by practice. Having a good editor, professional or layman, also makes me a better writer.

  11. Adding in a direct belief that “Business is evil” or something like that would be another I have often seen.

    It’s not exactly what was said in the 5, it’s worse. The idea that a group of people getting together to produce value in exchange for money us fundamentally evil (or at least bad) hinders lots of people.

  12. I really liked your article Jon! Even the morbid metaphor, that is actually what got me to thinking of my articles in a different way.
    It never really occured to me to keep on nursing my articles after I published them on my blog or e-zine.

    Thanks for taking the time to create this post! I got a little lite bulb moment out of it!

    Blessings
    MarVeena

  13. Crippling Belief #3 resonates most for me. Yes, the world is waiting for me, and I’m getting better as fast as I can. I’ve learned that everything worth doing involves a lot of time and effort. I’ve learned that excelling means doing your best and whatever else is required. There’s usually a long slog between starting and mastery.

    Where it gets tricky, though, is when we can’t tell if we’re just going through a particularly challenging patch on our way to the final goal or beating our heads against a brick wall. Seth Godin’s The Dip: A Little Book that Teaches You When to Quit (And When To Stick) helped me understand the two curves that classify the challenging stretches you might meet as you try to accomplish something great.

    Understanding and addressing these two curves—one that might make you want to quit, and one that’s telling you that you *should* quit– has helped me figure out whether or not to keep working in many situations.

    Thanks so much for this post, Jon, and your awesome Guest Blogging program!

    • I love Seth Godin, and The Dip is one of my favorites too. If anyone hasn’t read it, you should. It’s a profound book.

  14. Great post!

    Been there, done that: newspaper reporter, English teachers, business writer/editor — and still a poet through it all.

    Best line:

    “Great writers don’t just inform you. They don’t just entertain you. They don’t just persuade you. They change you, leaving you a slightly different person than you were before you read their work.”

    Thanks for the kick in the butt!

  15. Epic post, Jon! I think crippling belief #1 distinguishes genuine writers from diarists. Somehow writers start with writing as a form of self-expression, back in their younger days. But not so many outgrow that belief. This belief is most crippling especially for those who want to write fiction. A lot of writers can’t seem to see the difference between themselves and the characters they’re inventing.

    And that whole starving artist thing, it’s amazing how many of the writing students I’ve met still hold on to that—romanticizing about a “writer’s lifestyle.” Zadie Smith got the best line that runs counter to it:

    “Don’t romanticise your “vocation”. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no “writer’s lifestyle”. All that matters is what you leave on the page.”

  16. Yes. Love this.
    And also, hey, I was an English Major and I worked in IT for 15 years, and did, ahem, very well.
    Good writing is needed in nearly every field!
    B-

  17. It’s amazing how most people seem to believe that writing is essentially a matter of stringing words together. It’s not: it’s essentially a matter of finding the best angle to engage your target audience with whatever you have to say. Like you did in this article, for example :-) Well done!

  18. I think #4 cripples a lot of people. For a long time, it crippled me; I thought that writing should just be my hobby until the day I published a novel, and that my day job should support me. Well, fuck that! I’m still working a day job to support myself, but now I’m chasing my dream when I’m off the clock. I love to write, and I want to be able to make money doing what I love.

    Now the only thing in my way is my energy levels, but I’m trying to conquer those, too!

    PS: Honestly, when I first started reading this, I was like, “Hey! Be nice!” Hahaha. But I completely get your point, and I liked the blunt tone of this post. By the end, I was looking at all of my mistakes as a writer and really thinking about how I can change. Thank you!!

  19. Jon,

    You have stripped away my clothes and laid my soul bare. Man, what a great insight into the baggage many of us carry around. I winced with each point, but it’s all true. Thanks for the post and the reminders about why we write and who we write for.

    Steve Benedict

  20. I read almost every copyblogger post, because there’s always something valuable in there, but this one I think I’m going to print and put on my wall above the computer.

    Fantastic post :)

  21. Jon this article couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m having one of those “Why the hell do I bother kind of days” and your words set me straight. This phase has the most meaning for me today and I’m going to read it repeatedly “Sure, life sucks right now, but if you’ll just hang in there, things will snowball, and everything will be all right.”

    Thanks Jon.

    • I was being sarcastic with that line, actually. If you reread that section, you’ll see I’m saying traffic does NOT snowball. You just get better over time, and so you get better results.

      If you’re not getting the results you want, I believe hope is a bad thing, because it leads you to try the same old things and expect different results. The only way to improve is to scrap what you’re doing, try something new, keep failing, learn what works and what doesn’t, and then do as much of the former and as little of the latter as you possibly can.

  22. I know the wealth of praise and corresponding lack of vitriol and hatred that’s coming in response to this post must just be killing Jon.

    So: Jon, you’re a complete asshole. You’re totally wrong and you’ve ruined my day. I am so angry that I hope you are crushed from above by a giant safe. This post has made me decide to quit writing and begin running guns to various rival factions in Central America.

    Aaaaaand, I’m complete.

  23. Thought provoking Jon. I think too many people want to be an overnight success rather than creating something of substance. Anyone can write because we learnt to at school but the real learning is to access yourself and draw our something of real contribution. And that takes time both for the writer and the audience. In the meantime keep the pen active and yourself busy, even if it’s another supporting job for a while. The pen can be zen and perhaps if, not when, we have the ability to work the words, but that’s all about writing for a living isn’t it? At heart we’re all human, a writer all too so.

  24. Anybody can write. Many people write well. I want to be a wordsmith who changes the world and so I’m learning how to get my words out to the people.

  25. Yes this article is going to be successful. It already is.

    You can’t spend four hours writing the headline without somebody taking notice.

    This is my second favorite blog post for 2011. That’s saying something.

    Six months ago I would have been tempted to send you a pretty piece of hate mail, Jon. You would have loved it too. But now I see something that’s taken me a perfect 13 months to learn.

    You’re right.

    I’m serious. It’s taken 13 months for me to learn that Copyblogger was right.

    It’s not about you, it’s possible to grow quickly, it takes time learning the trade, it’s okay to make money doing it, and it involves marketing.

    Yes, yes, yes.

    Yes, the starving artist thing is highly overrated. That’s the whole reason I began this journey – I wanted to eat regularly, not just be famous.

    To demonstrate you’re not merely a writer (#5) I do expect you to reply to this comment, Jon. You’ve changed my week. Thank you.

  26. Great points. Having just started out, blogging daily for me is like going to the gym after an absence of 6 months. It’s painful, it doesn’t feel good and it’s hard to think that it will ever get better.

    Even when I write what I think are great posts, I see a post like this and realize I have a long, long way to go!

  27. “Yes, authenticity matters, but only to the extent people enjoy what you do.” – Jon Morrow

    I find this bold statement from Jon, strikingly true. In the last four years, I must have started half a dozen blogs with little traction or success.

    I’m fairly a gifted writer, I believe. But with nothing to show for my skills, I often lay awake, tossing in my bed wondering what could be the problem. Little did I know that I was only writing for no one except me. My blogs were not bringing true value to people because it lacked what mattered most to people. They didn’t enjoy what I was putting out.

    Until, I found a way to match my skills with what people enjoyed, I was a miserable blogger.

    Today, thanks to tons of articles on CopyBlogger and Jon Morrow’s GuestBlogging tutorials, I’m slowly finding my way around the fog.

    “Yes, authenticity matters, but only to the extent people enjoy what you do.” Simple but profound!

  28. Jon,

    It’s just like you to take it all away, then give it right back. Rip the beautiful truth from the mythical mire in our collective minds and show us that what we believed all along is true…but we just haven’t tasted the real of it. Turns out, the real is even better, the dark and brilliant dream beneath it all – that good writing changes lives. Drink it in, learn your craft and get out of your own way…

  29. Wow!! Love this post, I have lived every moment! Every parent out there… read this to your child, because this will help them tremendously in life. Awesome!!!!

  30. Such an incredibly excellent post! Very helpful, and so true! Thank you.
    Brenda

  31. I’m not one of those who romanticized the starving artist. In fact, my goal was always to be a rich and famous writer. So I put all my training into learning how to write. The fallacy here is that writing success depends solely on your ability to write. The ugly truth is, writing is a business. As with any other business, you must develop your unique selling point, target audience and a strong selling message. When I got wise and started treating my writing as a business, not only did I start making decent money, (surprise) my writing got better as well. Thanks for a great post.

  32. I’m not a writer, i’m a jewelry designer and I found a lot of inspiration in your article – thank you!!

  33. I want to get back to the whole starving artist thing. I see many blogs talking about websites that have affiliate programs and not using their affiliate links no matter how smart their writing seems to be they have no idea how much they could be making in extra income.

  34. G’Day Jon,

    It was the incomparable Graham Greene who said, “Heresy is just another word for independent thought.” He also said ,”media is just a way of describing bad journalism.”

    Does more need to be said?

    make sure you have fun.

    Regards

    Leon

  35. Hi Jon,
    I feel like it’s not fun in the beginning to stumble around in the darkness, but there is significant value in having to really think through this stuff and slug it out in the trenches early on. I would have missed a ton of good lessons if it all came easily. I think you learn to appreciate it more once you do find success.

    Great post!

  36. As a professional copywriter, I’ve found that feeling inspired to write and actually writing rarely occur at the same time. I was giving a presentation on writing a couple of years ago when someone asked how I got “inspired” to write. I said, “I look at my bills.”

  37. Between “Lake Woebegone Syndrome”, procrastination, and the belief that business and selling are inherently evil, we’ve got everything we need to keep mediocre writers from succeeding, which makes it easier for the rest of us.

    Thanks, losers! ;)

  38. Gustave Flaubert once said: “A superhuman will is needed in order to write, and I am only a man.” I think it takes patience and modesty to learn to write, it takes ostentation and snobbism to write well, but it takes masochism and agony to begin writing.

  39. Kudos, Jon! Great article.

  40. “Pretty much the only job available to English majors is to become an English teacher, and they’re some of the most underpaid, under-appreciated people on earth.”

    But you became a rich copywriter, and I became a rich freelance writer who is chosen for the jobs in my niche because I have the one things my competitors don’t: that English degree. In fact, it’s been so integral to my success in this career that I am now working on my MA in Pro Writing.

    • That’s why I said “pretty much.” It was the briefest way of qualifying the statement without taking a paragraph to explain, yes, there are exceptions.

      But there aren’t many of us. Most English majors either become teachers or get into another field that has nothing to do with their training.

      And really, I don’t really think studying English literature made me a better blogger or a better freelance writer. Maybe a little, but I think a degree in psychology probably would’ve helped me more.

  41. Jonathan, you’ve struck so many chords to me that I feed electrocuted.
    This post and correct me if I’m wrong, is not about Making money or Becoming better writters. It’s about our attidude towards life. It’s about the thirst for success we sometimes feel guilty having.

    it’s about helping the world After we figure out how to help our selves, not because we’re being selfish but because he have to, in order to succeed in our helping efforts.

    This post has already helped me tremendously and I really hope it will help one more person.
    New goals are up, thanks to you, I’ll become a writer, for all the wrong or right reasons ;)
    cheers,
    Angel

  42. Love it. Your article hit me right in the face and the pocketbook. I have just decided to make money with my writing and face the fear of marketing my work. There is no way around it. So thanks for the article. I’ll save it and read it regularly.

  43. Hey, I thought some girls liked Taco Bell.
    I guess the question to ask if building a following does not take time is, how do you learn not to do it wrong?

    • By reading Copyblogger, silly. :-)

      To be truthful though, it’s more than that. If you look at the bookshelves of successful bloggers, you’ll usually find dozens of books on marketing, entrepreneurship, copywriting, persuasion, creative writing, and psychology. All of those topics are hugely important, and your degree of success will depend on how many of those topics you have mastered.

  44. “The thing that separates Stephen King from a lot of other horror writers isn’t the gore or the suspense or the characters. It’s the joy. When he’s chopping off heads or destroying the world, he doesn’t just tell you about it. He revels in it.”

  45. thanks for writing this jon. simply awesome, and a caring kick in the rumpus.

  46. Oh my god.

    You gave me goosebumps.

    And I think you just gave my baby a better chance to live now that I’m learning to be a better mama. I’m talking about my writings, of course!!

  47. Sure, writers can eliminate all 5 of these crippling beliefs, but doing so won’t help them as much as taking your Guest Blogging program. Just sayin’!

  48. Jon

    Your words never cease to amaze me. You have a gift, but more than that a skill that you have been perfecting for years.

    I envy your skill, and find myself looking to your posts time and time again as a model for my own writing. I’ve become better by studying you, and training under you. Continue to do amazing work.

  49. With the Pulitzer prize winners list out today, you can see I missed the cut again. What’s up with those peeps?

    I am the first to admit I don’t know everything about writing, copywriting or even what I’m doing at this marketing my stuff thing, but I keep trying, learning and working hard at it. I know that since taking your guest blogging class, I wouldn’t have had the guts to ask for guest posts or even send you one to review. I would have made so many mistakes!

    I agree we all definitely have a lot of power to change the world right now and it’s shifting in that direction. Now is the time to get to work.

    Here’s my favorite Stephen King quote: “Talent in cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” – Stephen King

    And another while we’re at it: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” — Stephen King

    BTW – your post rocks! :)

  50. I love writing but I often get writers block, do you have any tips on how to overcome this? When my mind if running freely I can sit and type out new blog posts all day, but when I get writers block it can last for days and really make an impact on my work.

  51. I love this Jon, and thanks for the heretic link. ;)

    I think there’s one more crippling belief and it caused me to turn away from writing for years. It was thinking that success as a writer came from either a) earning tons of money a la Stephen King, or b) winning big awards like Pulitzers or getting on the NYT best seller list.

    Not knocking those things, but it took a while before I realized you didn’t have to accomplish any of that to change how people see the world, at least in this digital age. And in the end, chaning how people think, having the power to create the world I belive in, gosh, that’s success by any measure.

    As long as you’re paying the bills and eating well, of course!

    • It’s true. And what’s really interesting is, the more you focus on just having an impact on people, the more you get A and B. The more people that email me saying I changed their life, the higher my income and popularity seems to grow.

  52. I had a few things to say when I finished reading this post, but then the comments above have already said most of what I wanted to say i.e. this is very practical, followable and inspiring advice. After all, it’s Morrow who’s writing.

    At the risk of going off on a tangent here, in terms of being a good writer, how would you gauge it?

    I mean, not all good writers have won the Pulitzer. And more importantly, some very bad ones may end up winning it. I use Pulitzer as an example of course.

    I understand what this post is about, as I pretty much totally agree with all the praising comments above, but I want to ask you, Mr Jon Morrow himself, about the gauge of writing success…

    • There are lots of measuring you can use . Traffic, comments, tweets, Facebook shares, subscribers, money — all of those things are important. They each tell you different things about the popularity of your writing.

      It also has to do with the stage you’re in, though.

      When I was a beginner, I paid the most attention to traffic, only to realize traffic isn’t nearly so important as the number of people who stick around and become fans (a.k.a., subscribers). Once I got the subscribers, I felt pretty good until it was time to pay the bills, and then I started focusing more on money.

      Nowadays, I watch all of them, but money is the most important. And considering I earn about 100x the industry average, I feel like I’m doing pretty well. :-)

      But that’s not the answer for everyone. It depends on what you want from your writing.

  53. I think procrastination is the main reason behind a writer’s doom. It’s amazing to read your article.

  54. Stephen King says, “You must not come lightly to the blank page.” And extension of that will be, “You must not come lightly to being a writer.”

    By the way, great post Jonathan!

  55. just enjoyed this article! encouraging in every sense

  56. Incredible post. Thank you.

  57. You’ve made some excellent points here. I’m not entirely sold on the part where you say that gaining a following doesn’t take time, however . . . it has it’s merits, and I see the point you’re trying to get across, but people are a lot more likely to “follow” you if they feel comfortable with you. In other words, if they’ve seen your writing around the Internet before. Of course, every reader is different–but I wouldn’t want newer writers to automatically believe they are doing something wrong if it takes a while to get those followers . . .

    • Well, I think maybe you’re confusing gaining a following with building a relationship.

      Gaining a following can be quick. With the last project I launched, I picked up 1,000 subscribers in only the first day, and I wasn’t even trying that hard.

      But did those people know me? No. That takes weeks, months, or maybe years.

      Yes, building a relationship with your followers takes time, but getting those followers can and should be quick.

  58. Ouch! Reckon I’ve had most of these at one time or another. :-)

    I particularly like No.4. Money and creativity have a complex relationship – there’s a middle ground between starving artist and shameless sellout, and that’s where you’ll typically find the most interesting (and fulfilled) writers.

  59. I can feel this one’s from the heart :-) Bravo. Very inspiring. I agree with your observations. Writing is linked with passion otherwise it sounds false.

  60. You need to know why you are writing. If it is simply a necessary part of achieving a career-related goal, or to earn a little extra money, that’s OK. It is part of what enables you to make your living. If you truly have a passion to write, you do whatever it takes to meet your goals. This often means doing hours of reading and research every day, and if you don’t have a passion for it, you’ll be glad to move on to other things. This passion to write comes from understanding why you want to write in the first place, so if you’re in this for the long haul, be certain you are clear about why you want to write. Once you are clear about this, you can determine how much money you can realistically earn, and adjust your life accordingly.

  61. What a great post, and I think it can certainly be relevant to all writers in all genres! :)

  62. Brilliant. Absolutely BRILLIANT. I needed this kick in the tush today.

  63. Great blog post Jon. This expressed everything I have come to believe; particularly point number 4. Writers always think that to making money means that you are selling out and you have sold your soul to the highest bidder and this was my secret belief for a while (despite my finance degree and MBA). And then one day I started to realize that the authors I loved that were really successful were the ones that were writing from the heart and really the most authentic which led me to wonder if maybe the authenticity and good marketing and persistence is what made them successful, a mind shift that has changed everything and led me to new and interesting business ventures. I have to say there are days when I want to hold onto the starving artist because it serves a purpose for me and it allows me to remain cocooned in my fears and snub others with how I never sold out. Great post.

  64. I thoroughly enjoyed this blog post and was pleasantly surprised at how many times I found myself laughing out loud. You are a very engaging writer. Here’s what I learned from you today; writing is a lost art form. It’s not that you wrote that in your article, but that is what I walked away with in the end. I think articles like yours should shake things up and make people realize that writing is not only an art form but that it is really what we need to adequately communicate with other people. Truth be told; writing is not taught in schools the way it should be. You said it yourself; “Pretty much the only job available to English majors is to become an English teacher, and they’re some of the most underpaid, under-appreciated people on earth”. I would imagine that most English teachers today wonder why they even bother. This breaks my heart.
    Since you used Stephen King in your article I will use him as an example; I used to read King with a passion, I would grab every book he wrote, find a quite place and read it until my eyeballs felt like they were falling out. I had to curb my “appetite” for his writing when I found myself utterly nauseated by the content of his works. Please understand where I’m going here; his writing is great, so great that my overly visual mind stirred up physical emotions when reading his books. He pulls you in, engages you and makes you believe that his monsters are real. That is art and unless parents, teachers and the world encourages more children to write, fostering their creative thoughts; even the ones with monsters, I see the art of writing fading away.
    I am not a writer. But I love to read, so I am thankful for great writers and I pray we never see the day when the written word ceases to exist.

  65. I think your blog is ok if you want to make money, and, hey, there’s nothing wrong with that.

    But I also think there are many other reasons for blogging which are valid, particularly self gratification which is not always a bad thing.

    Without it we wouldn’t have any great writers, full stop.

    i would hate to see the day when all blogs were trying to tell me what I wanted or needed to know.

    My point is that sometimes a blog, with no agenda, not big marketing agenda, can change your life and you don’t know how it happened.

    That’s blogging and it has the same validity as blogging to make money.

    • That’s a valid argument, Nathan. A blog is only a tool. It’s up to you to decide how to use it.

      Just don’t expect the blogosphere to conform to that opinion, because the majority of the world disagrees with you.

  66. How do I know when a blog post rocks? When I sacrifice my time to read every single comment. Thanks for an eye-opening post that could actually be about life. Essentially, it is about fighting the fight right? Maybe the goal is to learn to be more open, flexible, trusting-that in the pursuit of our dreams to be a writer, we need to try it all, brace ourselves to the impending failures and pick ourselves up and try again and again. Thanks for writing such a compelling post.

  67. the act of writing is the technology for delivering the story.

    sometimes people confuse nicely arranged words for amazing stories. being a writer means being available to the story as it arrives (or the poem) and learning how to get that story out three appropriately.

    I like the mother abandoning the child analogy. you have to be willing to commit to bringing the work forward with you as time passes. many people seem to think they will get their gold star or award or whatever for bringing the work out.

  68. I’ve often been told I did it wrong. I sold my first magazine article at 8, had a job at the local newspaper at 12, and published my first book at 17. I’ve yet to write anything except my blog that I wasn’t paid to write. Not a word, ever. And the only reason I started the blog was because my publisher said I had to.

    But, then, I’m not an artist. I’m a hack. I write what people want to read, and I follow the formulas and the rules. And I have a “day job” in marketing that pays for my world travel and my grandkids trusts. But writing has always been a good second income for me — I supported my parents from the time I was 15, put myself through college and grad school by writing, and earn a modest low six-figure income from writing every year. What do I write? “House name” novels (books a publisher wants that the original author can’t deliver, either because they’re dead or they never existed at all, like Carolyn Dixon of Nancy Drew fame — and no, I don’t write those), ghost-written non-fiction titles for celebrities or business executives who have something to say but don’t know how to say it, and the occasional original novel, short story, or non-fiction book (always under a pen name, so it never interferes with my day job — even my husband doesn’t know my pen name, and I like it that way just fine!)

    I know I’m not a great writer — but I’m a good one. And that’s good enough for me. It’s nice to see someone else take the attitude that “starving” and “artist” don’t have to go together. The biggest myth out there is that talent is what it takes. But a lot of talented people don’t make it, and a lot of hacks like me do. Because I never send a book proposal without a marketing plan. I never write on spec. And I never accept a “pay on publication” contract or pay anyone to review or publish my work. Thanks for the great post!

    Deb McAlister-Holland
    http://www.debmcalister.wordpress.com (Personal blog on legal & marketing issues for bloggers and writers)
    Two upcoming books, co-written with writing partner David Coursey: Slimed Online: How to Get Your Reputation Back and The Customer Never Sleeps: 21st Century Marketing in the Age of Google

  69. Such a spiritual piece of ART.

    Really enjoyed it.

  70. I think this is one of the best articles I have read about the ‘writing business’ for a very long time.

    Thank you.

    Joe

  71. very inspiring article

  72. Brilliant post Jon. There are a ton of fallacies placed upon the writer from the close support that thinks your the best to the professors who scoff at the chances of standard publication to the seemingly endless rejections. It is a heavy burden and if we don’t have some form of arrogance or ego we may just cripple ourselves.

  73. I think I’d have to add ‘perfectionism’ as a crippling writing belief. My work is not yet a masterpiece worthy of the gods, therefore it cannot be shared!!! I’ve been stuck in that mindset for awhile, and it’s led to the worst writer’s block.

    I totally agree with you on the advice to remember your audience, and write in a way that is inviting to them. I’ve read so many novels with characters and plots that I just can’t relate to, that have no relevance to my life — how do you get into a story when you can’t get into the character’s head? And then you come across the books that feel like they were written just for you, and there is truly no better experience.

    Great post, you gave me lots of food for thought.

    • I agree, perfectionism can be a big problem, but the question I always find myself asking is, “Where do you draw the line between perfectionism and pushing yourself to excel?” It’s never clear, and personally, I don’t think most writers demand enough of themselves. Especially bloggers. They spend 30 min. on a blog post, and then they wonder why they aren’t getting results.

      What I’ve started doing is measuring results per hour of work, and then I look for the diminishing returns. In my experience, I get the best results from spending around 10 hours writing a blog post. Anything less than that, and it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Anything more, and the extra traffic isn’t enough to justify the investment.

      Many people would call 10 hours on one blog post perfectionism, but I don’t think it is. To me, it’s pragmatism.

      Hmm. I should probably write a post about this.

  74. Jon, I hate to say this, but you overwrite. By a lot! Just for the heck of it I went through a few of your posts and took a pencil to everything that could easily be edited out without any loss of meaning or warmth or personality or useful information. I suggest you do the same.
    I was an adv. writer at Doyle Dane Bernback back when it was the world’s best ad agency. I have more than 60 awards for excellence – Clios, Andys, Addys, etc. . I’ve been published in Glamour, Cosmo, Reader’s Dig. and a host of other magazines. I no longer have to submit proposals, I get called with assignments. So somebody thinks I am doing something right.
    At my first adv. job I was fortunate to have a mentor who knew how to write persuasilvely, informatively and with admirable economy. She had a mantra -” you have to be ruthless and murder your darlings” That is, every phrase, every word even, no matter how well-turned or clever, how precious, had to be murdered if it didn’t pull its weight.
    Jon, I am a rather busy person. Even when not terribly busy I have more entertaining, interesting things to do with my time than spend it on the darlings you think must live. Tighten it up. Do what you advise.
    Read Seth Goden’s blog if you don’t quite know how to do this. I can get through his and learn something. You may have quite pithy , amazingly valuable advice. I just can’t wade through your writing to get to it. J

    • I’m pretty sure he does alright. It is this type of content that has made Jon well known in this field, and has helped many.

      There are plenty of writers who keep it short, but don’t make their point. I went through your comment and you made your point in the first and last paragraphs, everything else was just unnecessary background information I’d be happy to have found in your about me page, but alas have no reason to click through your name. You’ve given it all away.

      Please, if you’re going to give advice on brevity, demonstrate your point in your comment. Otherwise don’t try to get the attention of a popular blogger by telling them how wrong they are (and how awesome you are) on their own turf.

      It looks tacky.

    • Ha!

      How’s that for brevity? ;-)

    • … and spell Doyle Dane Bernbach correctly please, especially since you worked there. As a writer, correct?

  75. Tricia Mishler :

    Of course writing for an ad agency will force you into brevity. Jon your article was awesome – I’m a newbie so trying to soak up all I can. Thanks for the insight!

  76. Jonathan, thanks so much for this post! My first novel, indie-pubbed Colors of Deception, went out into the world just two weeks ago. In my head, I knew that my job concerning this book was not finished — but I think that in my heart, I was already moving on to the next project.

    Ha! “Not so!” says Reality. The past two weeks have been full of promoting the novel, raising my voice in online conversations (when I’d rather keep quiet), and trying to determine how best to use my blog as a platform. Suddenly, I am a marketing firm. And nobody teaches English/Writing majors how to be a business. ; )

    I’m learning as I go. I’m learning from fellow bloggers like you, who are generous enough to share their experience with us newbies! I’m not going to set my “baby” by the side of the road and let it totter where it may. I am determined to stick with my novel for as long as it needs me — even as I raise up its younger siblings! :)

  77. This article is amazingly appropriate for what I’m going through trying to get my poetry published. Thank you.

  78. This is certainly the cold hard truth.

    I align particularly with the fact that the more you get busy, the faster you’ll learn.

    I think you do us all a favor in explaining the fact that it’s not simply, you just.. get better with time, it’s that getting kicked around because of your incompetence should induce learning and the more you’re kicked in the groin, the more you’ll learn, if you’re conscious of the process.

    Gotta strengthen those synapses.

    Freaking Epic Post, Jonathan

  79. What a FANTASTIC post. As a ghostwriter, I’ve gone through many of the thoughts and feelings you describe here. Although I write articles, information products and web pages for clients and not novels or poetry, I have a real connection with my work. A passion for what you do makes it so much more pleasurable, and nothing is like truly enjoying your work. Of course, nothing lifts my spirits higher than knowing a client really appreciates and loves the writing style, content, tone, etc. I have provided them!

    Thanks for inspiring me and reminding me again of how much I love writing.

  80. Thanks for this awesome post that reminds us that the best creations are worth nothing if nobody is there to read them or look at them.
    In addition today, in the time of the Fourth Revolution, creation will be more and more interactive. The question could even be: is it possible to still be a creator alone? Is the new creator today not merely the head of a creative network?
    Thanks for inspiring the thoughts

  81. Excellent post. I think that #1 is coupled with #4 many times. An author thinking that he/she writes for him/herself, out of love for writing and not for selling the book, has not many chances at publishing success. A book is a product, whether we like it or not, and as such it needs to consider first the readers (as you mentioned above). It’s not our baby, because we wouldn’t sell our children. If we consider the book our baby, then it should be craddled on a shelf in our house, not on a shelf in a bookstore.

    Thank you for an enjoyable and interesting article :)

  82. Jon,
    You nailed it, and you nailed some of my foibles. Thanks.

  83. Dear Jon,

    Thank you for your excellent piece.

    At the moment I am in the middle of writing a book about promoting manuscripts on TenPages.com. That is a dutch crowd-funding initiative, where writers can promote there manuscripts and if they reach the required target, the manuscripts will be published.

    I successfully promoted my manuscript and now I am in the middle of writing my final book.

    TenPages is most likely going to use my book for there international marketing as well. So it will be translated in English, French, German etc. My question to you is if you would give me your permission to use parts of your article for my book? I will mention you off course.

    I am looking forward to hear from you.

    Best regards,

    Maurice Smit / “Moneymaker” on TenPages.com

  84. Jon, I’m reading “The Millionaire are Mindset” by T Harvey Eker, and applying it to my writing. I’m learning that making profit from your writing is actually ok – that you can make art and money at the same time! We really have to check our mindset about writing in order to be successful.

    Your article was like the Millionaire Mindset for Writers. Made me wonder if you have read this book?

  85. You forgot the most important wrong-minded notion:
    “If I write it, they will come.” Writing is a business and most authors or would-be authors are unprepared for the business aspects of writing. The end game is selling the work, not having written it.

  86. “To be successful, stop worrying about who you are and start thinking about what your audience wants.
    What do they like? How is it done?”

    And how! When I write poetry, I find it very useful to use an online focus group after every few stanzas to make sure I’m serving the poetry needs of my audience and to ensure I have created a word-based product with ready commercial potential and broad market appeal .

  87. I just love this article, it really is a wake up call. That line stating something along the lines on “you aren’t waiting on the world. The world is waiting for you” really spoke to me. It’s made me feel extremely motivated to get out there, learn as much as I can on my first blog, then either apply everything I’ve learned to improve it, or start over. So far I’ve done around a month of consistent work on ym blog (even though it’s been up and running for about 6), and I think I’m only just starting to understand the basics. With the help of this post, I hope I’ll be able to really get going within the next few months. Of course, getting a nice little bit of income on the side would be wonderful :p.

    Thanks for the article, I’m definitely going to add this one to my bookmarks!

  88. If I am to not call myself “blogger” or “writer,” I will settle for “scribblist.” Writing for money, in my opinion, is the only way to get good. Art vs. money is a false dichotomy, posed to protect the mediocre. There are ways to get paid to write. I don’t think blogging is a particularly easy way to make money writing. But however one can get paid for words, it’s a path to being a pro.

  89. Hey Jon, contingent on your first point, it’s all about you, then a writer is only as good as he can please his audience. If this is true, I see a thin thread between a writer pleasing his audience and authentically expressing himself, I’m still thinking about this. One of the good things about us humans we done have to experience something to learn from it because we can learn from another person’s experiences. What if the newbie writer finds a mentor, learns from him, and skips the “knock around” period? Could that reduce the time?