How to Write Your Way to the Top of Your Industry

Image of Pencil

Here’s the thing: I’m not a writer.

I feel more comfortable saying, “I am a person who writes.” Why? Because I have had no writing training outside of regular English classes.

What I have had, though, is lots and lots of practice.

All that practice — all that writing — has helped me build my online business from scratch to where it is today.

I’m meeting my business goals with my writing. And more importantly, my writing has helped me reach thousands of people I’d otherwise have no contact with. I teach, share, and encourage them with my words.

If you find yourself needing to write more than ever before — and you feel uncomfortable with the prospect — this post will give you some guidance to dig in and develop your writing chops.

Start with the right attitude

Jeff Goins is right: you are a writer as soon as you decide to take your writing seriously.

Even if you don’t plan to hang out a shingle and make your living writing for other people, if you approach the writing you do for your own business like a pro, your work will improve steadily over time.

That means studying freely available resources on writing. It means investing small amounts in building a reference library of writing books.

And it means approaching your writing like it’s vital to the success of your business (because it is).

Writing resources here on Copyblogger

Get the now-famous Magnetic Headlines ebook, plus a pile of other amazing free resources over at Copyblogger’s Copywriting 101

Learn copywriting that gets results from Demian Farnworth, in his article 10 Principles for Turning into a Killer (Copywriter)

Study examples of types of copy so you know how to use your craft from James Chartrand’s 10 Ways to Write Damn Good Copy.

Listen and learn: John Carlton shares his colorful story and some delicious copywriting nuggets in these two interviews with Robert Bruce.

A simple technique that’s often forgotten, spelled out by Sonia Simone, How to Be a Copywriting Genius: The Brilliantly Sneaky Trick You Must Learn

And then there’s the definitive glossary of copywriting tips by Ali Luke, Copywriting Essentials from A to Z

4 books on writing to inspire you and guide your efforts

Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles is my go-to resource when I need a swift kick to get my writing habit back on track. His premise is that the day you decide to take any task you’d like to master seriously — and you approach it like a pro — is the day your mastery begins.

Mark Levy’s Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content was a revelation. Mark proposes a series of mind games and exercises to help you generate ideas, blog posts, and solutions to sticky problems through writing. His judgement-free system is a thought-provoking, fun place to start.

I found Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft because of Jon Morrow’s post on Boost Blog Traffic, and drew a ton of inspiration from reading the book. The best part about it, for me at least, was reading about the ordinary life and everyday struggles King went through while he got his career off the ground. Mixed in with stories of his early years is practical guidance for how to get your writing done (close the door and draw the shades, for example).

Richard Bayan has written a series of “____ That Sell” books, and Words That Sell is the original. This is strictly a reference book, and is a handy addition to your bookshelf. You’ll grab it every time you’re writing any kind of promotional copy and can’t find the exact phrase or word you need to motivate your reader to take action.

Habitual writing: how to develop a practice

Writing your way to the top is possible with a professional attitude and top-notch resources.

But the momentum for your writing success will come from consistent practice.

Make it a habit to write every day. I’m not going to tell you how many words to write, or for how long. Just do some “writing for the sake of writing” every day.

This might mean starting a journal. It might mean free writing, like the style espoused in Accidental Genius. It might mean sitting down with mind mapping software and recording your thoughts there.

It doesn’t matter how you do it, but make it a habit to write every day without fail.

Don’t judge the outcome: judge the habit.

What you practice will improve. And daily practice means you’ll never feel “rusty” when you sit down at the keyboard again.

How about you? Are you writing more than ever before? I’d like to hear your best tips. Scroll down to the comment section, and let me know what you do to write your way to the top …

About the author

Pamela Wilson


Pamela Wilson is Director of Special Projects at Copyblogger Media. Follow her on Twitter or Google+, and find more from her at BigBrandSystem.com.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for the post Pamela! I’ll be sure to check out some of those books you reference. I think for me the biggest help has been just getting it done. Setting yourself a goal of X blog posts a week, and getting them done, no matter what.

    With time I’ve found that blog posts and content for almost any subject come a lot easier. The old adage “practice makes perfect” certainly applies. Regular reading has also helped my writing a lot, and improved my vocabulary considerably.

    It’s pretty ironic that most of my work now revolves around writing in some form. It was my least favoured subject in school (I was a scientist/mathematician through and through), and never really came naturally to me.

  2. I’ve read Stephen King’s “On Writing” and the thing that stuck out the most for me was the editing process–your final product should be at least 10% lighter than your first draft. Get rid of the fluff. Get the point. Make each word count.

    • Absolutely, Nick. It’s one of my favorite parts of the writing process, actually. I go back and think, “how can I tighten this up?”

      It almost always involves removing words, or swapping out one phrase with another that’s shorter.

    • Pamela,

      Thanks for this marvelous post. You’ve mentioned two of my favorite writing resources: Mark Levy’s Accidental Genius and Stephen King’s On Writing. Two more books that I recommend to my book coaching clients are: Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. I’ve taken the “write every day” rule to heart myself over the past six months. It really works. Even though I “am a writer” and was trained as a writer, as an English major and former journalist, I had let that slip. I’m bookmarking your post. Write on!

  3. hey guys

    I love these content marketing centered tips and info resources you share with us, as content is the most essential part in any business — local, offline and online… without content, there’s no selling, no trust, no visitors/clients/traffic, nothing… is it?

  4. Thank you for posting this article. It’s just what I needed.

  5. Thanks for the list of resources — it’s really helpful to have recommended reading all in one place.

    My favorite thing about writing so far is that it’s been mostly fun. I enjoy writing about things I’m interested in and finding out more about them. I guess my tip would be to have fun writing, because it should be fun to write about your interests! Everyone likes expressing their thoughts and communicating with other people.

  6. Creating content has been one of my favorite things in the online business. But I find that the first post is the toughest. In fact to begin writing it takes a lot of push. Once I begin writing I can easily churn up a 700 to 1000 worded article or blog post.

    Thanks for the post.

  7. I have not had a chance to read all of your recommended articles/books/podcasts yet, but I have read several of them. The one that has made the most difference for me is Pressfield’s book, “The War of Art”. I KNOW I like to write, so I used to wonder, as I sat down to do it, why I would get so easily distracted? Pressfield’s personification of Resistance absolutely helped me. In fact, as I sat down to write my post this morning about getting ready for this new school year, I confronted Resistance. I named him Procrastination. I turned off FB, I ignored Gmail, and I didn’t turn on any music. That sent him away long enough for me to get the rough draft written. I know it will feel good to go live later today, especially knowing that I beat Resistance! :-)

  8. Stephen King’s “On Writing” is one of the best books out there for writers, in my estimation. There are lots of things in the book that influenced me, but one of the simplest and most profound was his admonition that “writers read alot and write alot.” So I do both, though much of my writing is for clients, and I’m on the fence about whether that “counts” toward my daily writing goals. But at least I’m writing everyday, which keeps the writing chops from getting stale. : )

    Another thing about that book that really sticks out in my mind is his story about being so drunk during the writing of “Cujo” that he doesn’t really even remember writing it. He’s clean and sober now, but I thought it was fascinating that he’s such a practiced writer, showing up everyday to do the work, no matter what, that he could write a book drunk — and it was good enough to get published! Now that’s someone dedicated to his craft. ; )

  9. In many cases things that a written by NOT writers are much more useful than some bestseller books written by professionals. The reason is that bestselling is a marketing (i.e. delusive) technique in many ways, whereas useful content can be produced by unknown amateurs whose profession is not writing.

  10. Awesome post Pamela! Thanks for all the awesome resources. One thing I’m trying to do to improve my writing is to read more. Spending more time with words helps me articulate what I’m trying to say on paper, if that makes since.

    Needless to say, practice is something I need to do more of. Thanks again!

    – Justin

  11. I think any aspiring writer should pick up Colvin’s “Talent Is Overrated.” His idea of deliberate practice is the difference between writing for writing’s sake and writing with an end in mind.

    The book is a mind changer.

    Writing is a muscle, like every other muscle, you can exercise and develop. The more you purposefully work it, the more it memorizes until writing — and writing well — becomes native to your person.

    This is not unlike Covey’s idea of “sharpening the saw.”

    Good article, Pamela.

    • Thanks for the tip on “Talent Is Overrated.” My iPad is now stocked with sample chapters to check out based on all the resources shared in the comments.

      Love the idea of making writing “native to your person” through practice.

      I never thought I’d get to that point, and I’m not sure I’m there now, but I do know writing is much, much easier today than it was back in early 2010 when I committed to writing in earnest.

  12. This post had some good resources in it, but the headline doesn’t match the body. The headline is enticing, but a bit of bait and switch. A bit of an over promise in my opinion.

  13. Hi – I’ve also been inspired by Stephen King’s memoir – he’s so generous in the amount of stuff he shares about his own journey and the strategies he uses to create his books. My main take-away from the book was the advice about setting aside a time and a place and just getting on with it – every day. I also loved all his detailed tips about editing, adverbs etc.

    As Demian says, writing’s like a muscle – mine was left going to waste for years, but after just a few months of maintaining a daily writing discipline, I can feel the difference. I find the more I write, the easier and the more enjoyable it gets.

  14. Hi Pamela,

    Your writing post reminds why I look forward to getting copyblogger in my in box. Loved the reading list.

    About Stephen King, isn’t he a big surprise? He puts out a book on writing while he’s still working, not as an afterthought to a long career. And after his accident. The guy’s got the bug bad and that’s good.

    I like your description as one who writes, not a writer. I’ve been introduced as a writer and think of the costume I ought to be wearing: a beret, a cape, Beatle boots, and a James Joyce dark lens in my glasses.

    Thanks for the booster,

    David

    • David,

      Re: Stephen King, I see “On Writing” as an incredibly generous act.

      Not only did he let us in on his techniques, he shared his struggles. It’s reassuring to hear how someone who has produced such a large body of work had to develop methods to get it all done.

  15. I’ve been a professional writer for awhile but only recently learned that for my own creative process, especially fiction work, I need to begin with a warmup. A freewrite for five or ten minutes. I don’t mean journalling so much, but more like taking a first first line and running with it, or scrounging up a memory and expanding on the details. I think the idea of writing warmup can work for copywriters and bloggers too. Some folks (like me) tend to write their way into a piece (to get into the zone). Warming up gets you there faster! Thank you for your ideas!

  16. Good stuff, Pamela. The counsel to “write every day and you will become a better writer” is sound stuff. So much happens with that: you develop a sense of syntax, rhythm, diction and a lot of the intangibles that make up “voice.”

    I second the recommendations for Bird by Bird and Writing Down the Bones, and have to toss in William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well.” It is excellent.

  17. Being an external processor, I think best when I’m writing or talking. I have to see (or hear) the concept to thoroughly work it out. Sometimes, even talking through ideas or problems helps me write clearer. So if I neglect writing, I always end up in a slump where problems seem overwhelming.

    But the moment I pick up the pen, or hit the keyboard, the world starts to make sense again. Even at work, I’ll be counting money and ideas will come my way. If I don’t get them down, they will drive me nuts for the rest of the day.

    In short, writing helps me (a distracted and multi-interested person) focus.

  18. ‘What you practice will improve. And daily practice means you’ll never feel “rusty” when you sit down at the keyboard again.’ – Golden lines. Tell all about the article, and a true fact.

    I truly appreciate what you have suggested Pamela.
    “Don’t judge the outcome: judge the habit.”

    Thanks a lot for reminding, encouraging and confirming.

  19. Great article, Pamela! And thanks for the resources :-)

  20. Your post came with perfect timing. For years now I have wanted to start writing/blogging more and you are right, you just have to dive in.

    I will be following up with your suggested reads very soon!

  21. Pamela: You are so write – I mean, RIGHT!

    I’m first a designer but once I decided to build my online business — and start a blog — I knew I had to write.

    When writing I might dangle my participles or misplace my modifiers, but I’ve found my voice and love the craft.

    We might not all be authors (perhaps that title is held just for novelists or those that have been published?) but pick up a pen, jot in a journal or start blogging and you are a writer in my book, pun intended.

    P.S. I just checked out your site and joined your list. Great stuff on building a big brand!

  22. Great article Pamela, great timing also :)
    For anybody to be successful (online), writing is the first thing that must be considered.
    I’ve been trying my best to bring the best out of me but the writers block is something all bloggers must face, the main aspect is overcoming it.

  23. I am new to writing, and want to start a blog which of course means I will need to write regularly. My big take away from this post is treat writing as its “vital to the success of your business (because it is).”

    Thanks for the post, and here’s to my journey to writing my way to the top of the photography industry!

    Take care, and God bless!

  24. I once wrote the following on Facebook: “I write every day for a living, but I’m not a writer. Find out why.” A link to a poem by Charles Bukowski, So You Want To Be A Writer, followed. In it, he writes:

    “If you’re doing it for money or fame, don’t do it”
    and
    “If you’re trying to write like somebody else, don’t do it.”

    I’m currently devoting time every day to a book that’s been on the back burner for years. I’m sure it won’t make much if any money, but I only feel like a real writer when I work on that. For the rest of the day, I feel like a “copyblogger.” I don’t have anything against that – in fact, I enjoy it. I just like Bukowski’s take on what it means to be a writer.

    ps – I don’t have a degree. The first thing a lot of us have to get over is the idea that a degree is necessary to make a living writing. All that’s necessary is the willingness to stick with it and hone your skills. I’ve proven that to myself after having spent half a lifetime bemoaning the fact that I dropped out of university. What a waste of half a lifetime! If you want to be a writer (or a copyblogger), don’t do as I did!

  25. Pam, thanks for confirming another encouraging message written by James Clear. Both of you stress the importance of writing daily AND for the sake of developing the habit. Wise advice.

  26. this post made my day. I could relate everything you’re saying right now. I have a lot of challenges to face with writing since I never consider myself good at it. however, now that you mention references, positive beliefs, and most importantly the habit of writing, I now feel something great is coming.

  27. I think you’re right on writing everyday.

    Sometimes I just can’t work on a project anymore, and that’s why I always have a few things going. I can take a break from one thing for a day or two and write on something else, do some blog work, or even some editing to mix it up.

    Oftentimes just stepping away from your ‘current’ project for a day will be just what you needed to get right back on top of it.

    • There’s something about taking a break for a while … it seems to reboot the way we see our work, and when we come back to it we have more energy, and fresh eyes that can see flaws and strengths clearly.

      Thanks for this comment, Greg.

  28. Hi,

    Thanks for the article. It’s long time since I had posted a comment in Copyblogger, my only source for reading and learning copywriting.

    I have NO degree in English Language ..which I loathed for a long time. I love writing and reading . I started my career as a copywriter without knowing what it is. I had no training in copywriitng and advertising.

    I quit my day job in Ad agency as I couldn’t concentrate on family. So I started as a freelancer. Work is not coming my way. Just kill the time and the urge to write …

    I started writing a memoir sort of book on Success genre … Let me admit i started wriing it when I was in hangover ( I can’t sleep long if I drink). I got up in the morning and started writing. first day I hit thousand words.

    to my luck during summer where the heat is so much in the house …woken me up in the mornings … helped me write.

    Even now, I contemplate taking a drink if there is a tight deadline the previous night …. thinking I will wake up and start banging the key board.

    I don’t suggest you do that … but, this fact I wanted to share.

    I faced redicule because of my lack of training ( i never lied to anyone that i had no literature background nor journalism and mass communication background). till date.

    My wriitn and confidence improved so much. Now, I have a book of over 60,000 words about Success genre.

    I wrote it to kill boredom. To feel good that I have somethig to show. some work done per day. to console myself. Besides the client writing.

    Wonderfu post !!

    I wanted to read Stephen Covey’s book on wriitng … but, couldn’t get it. I checked all the stores in Bangalore … how do i get hold of it. Pls. help me to set my eyes on it …will be grateful for your kind help, if you share it with me how to get hold of it.

    thank you for the post and for all the lovely comments !!!

    Solomon V

  29. I recentlly watched a couple of talks on this topic:
    One by Scott Berkun called “Write or Die” and another by Tim Ferriss and Neil Strauss “Talk Writing, Creativity on creativeLIVE”

    They all agree that lots of writing will help you improve. They followed that up with to get the best results you need to do lots of editing too.

    I find that interviews are one way to get something to edit that you’ve not written although interestingly I mostly find it’s my own questions that get improved. I also like to have lots of drafts sitting there waiting incase I get a sudden piece of inspiration that will help me flesh out an article.

  30. I definitely needed this post. I’m certainly trying to write more each and every day. It truly is an art that needs commitment.

    I just picked up “On Writing” and can’t wait to get through it. Within the first pages it has already struck me that it really is the Art of Storytelling that must be honed for even more success.

    Again thanks for these resources.

  31. This is a great article and obviously a big help to all that have read it so far. I recently wrote a post called Athlete, Artist, Author http://findthelostdollars.com/2013/03/11/athlete-artist-author/
    about my journey to recognizing that I could call myself all of these titles just by acknowledging what I have done to learn and gain mastery in each of these three areas.

    I believe everyone is a writer – some good and some bad. But the only way to get better is to keep doing it and putting your work out there for others to read, enjoy, and learn from.

  32. This article is priceless, thank you!

  33. Completely agree with this! I think for some it is hard to make it a regular habit but that is one of the bigger things and something you have to do.

  34. Great article, I’m definitely going to follow up on some of these books, especially Stephen King’s On Writing, I’ve heard great things about it.

    Doing my best to write regularly, I’ve challenged myself to write at least one post per day for the rest of the week, I’m one behind, so need to catch up!

  35. Great post, as usual. This has been a very good week for you. Loved the interview with Tom and the video series. Thank you, again.

  36. Being a teeny tiny blogger myself, your article gave me some inspiration( actually i was about to abandon with no luck) and I followed up some of the links you mentioned and I found “10 Principles for Turning into a Killer” to be a great eye opener. I may not be the best, but i will certainly try to be the best possible.

    Thank you for the epic post

  37. This is on of those posts that I really needed to read to overcome the writing problem that I have and I’m really thankful for the great resources. I can’t wait to go trough them and get back like a pro :)

    Thanks!

  38. I like the way you have positioned these resources together. It’s helpful to have these strategies for rising above the others because it is difficult. I haven’t checked out the resources you link to yet, but they look like they are ideal.

    Certainly, dedication and commitment to writing regularly is supremely important even though it’s difficult. And, I guess it is like you say that you must see your work online as a business before you’ll be able to rise. Our problem is that a lot of us don’t truly see ourselves as authors nor do we see ourselves as “being in business.” The mindset you describe in various places are the most important ideas I took from your article. Thank you for the time and care in putting together the materials.

    I am going to check out the four books you mention and the resources here on Copyblogger. I am also interested to see what you have on your own site.

    Thanks again,

    Darin L. Hammond

    • I forgot to mention that I have read the Stephen King book, and it is amazing in its being both practical and readable. It’s not very often that you read a book about writing that you actual enjoy – a page turner. I highly recommend it as well to your readers.

      Darin L. Hammond

  39. Nice Post! I would just say that whenever you are writing first time don’t fear. Just write whatever comes in your mind. And if you still getting problem in writing than read some more tips on blogging.

  40. I’ve read Stephen King’s “On Writing” and the thing that stuck out the most for me was the editing process–your final product should be at least 10% lighter than your first draft. Get rid of the fluff. Get the point. Make each word count.

  41. Just remember that practice makes perfect.Try to write every day, or multiple times a day if possible.The more you write, the better you’ll get. Writing is a skill,and like any other skill,you have to practice it to get better.Thanks for the tips Pamela!

  42. I just want to say, thank you for the very concise advice and the incredible resources.