Here’s How Jon Morrow Writes

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Pat was alarmed when her son wasn’t crawling by age one. So, like any good mother, she took him to see the doctor.

After a long examination, the doctor diagnosed baby Jon with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). That meant instead of getting stronger as he aged, Jon would get weaker. Eventually he would get pneumonia and die.

The doctor, who said he was being generous, gave him until two years old to live.

Pat, however, would have none of that.

She — and a cadre of medical staff, family, and friends — fought to keep him alive.

Jon did get pneumonia. 16 times. But because of their hard work, he survived, and at 31 Jon is one of the oldest people alive with SMA.

As you can imagine, Jon is infused with his mother’s warrior spirit.

The warrior with a strong voice

Jon graduated high school at 16 with honors. He nailed a 3.921 GPA in college (though he confesses he wishes he hadn’t). He’s asked for $500,000 in seed money to start a software company. Brokered million dollar home sales.

Because he can only move the muscles of his face, he gets things done with his voice … and his voice alone.

Jon is best known, however, for blogging. Viral content, to be precise.

He got his start with On Moneymaking, a site he grew to respectable heights before it leveled off. He then watched it rocket again when he published a guest article on Penelope Trunk’s blog.

That exposure eventually led to a gig as Associate Editor here at Copyblogger.

From there, Jon launched Partnering Profits, Guestblogging, and he is the founder and CEO of Boost Blog Traffic. He’s also written some crazy popular articles on sites like Problogger and Copyblogger.

Jon’s mission is pretty simple: empower the little guy and gal to earn a living from their blog.

Jon writes:

By the time we’re done, you won’t be a spectator in the battle for attention, squeaking out your posts and praying for a couple of retweets.

You’ll be a warrior, armored with marketing know-how, brandishing your perfectly-crafted content, sending spammers scampering by the thousands as you claim your rightful spot at the top of the web.

Thankfully Mr. Morrow took time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about his weird pre-writing ritual, the secret to climbing to the top of any field, why his disability has been both a curse and a blessing, and the special tools he uses to write.

About the writer …

Who are you and what do you do?

Did you have to start with the hard questions?! You couldn’t do an easy one first?!

I’m Jon Morrow. The last time I checked, I’m the CEO of Boost Blog Traffic, LLC.

What is your area of expertise as a writer?

I’m a blogger. More specifically, I’m known for writing viral blog posts.

Where can we find your writing?

The writer’s productivity …

How much time, per day, do you read or do research?

Well, I read 2-3 hours per day, but every moment of my life is “research.” I use all of it.

Before you begin to write, do you have any pre-game rituals or practices?

I often read Stephen King for 5-10 minutes. Out loud.

Weird, I know, but it’s better than insisting on carrying around miniature pairs of doll underwear like James Joyce. Or refusing to wash your clothes like Beethoven.

Do you prefer any particular music (or silence) while you write?

Silence. Good writing has a rhythm. If I listen to music, it makes it harder for me to “hear” the words.

How many hours a day do you spend writing (excluding email, social media, etc.)? What is your most productive time of day?

(sigh) Not enough.

One of the unfortunate side effects of becoming a fancy-pants CEO is I have a lot less time to write than I used to. Where I used to spend 5-6 hours a day writing, I’m lucky if I get 1-2 now.

Not that I’m complaining. Being the CEO also pays a hell of a lot better. :-)

In general, my most productive times a day are between 10 AM and 12 PM, and between 8 PM and 10 PM. I don’t know why. Those are just times when my creativity seems to light up.

A side note: because I know that’s when I’m most creative, I’ve asked my staff to never schedule meetings during those times. Instead, I spend the time working on a blog post, writing sales copy, or creating instructional videos.

Do you write every day or adhere to any particular system?

I used to be more rigid than I am now.

For years, I wrote a minimum of 2,000 words a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. I never, ever took a day off. Not Christmas. Not my birthday. Not even when I was sick.

Is that extreme? Yes, I suppose, but I wanted to be the best.

Point to the top person in any field, and you’ll find someone who went to extremes to get where they are. So, I did too.

It’s no coincidence that’s when I created my best work.

Do you believe in “writer’s block”? If so, how do you avoid it?

I believe it exists, yes, but it’s never happened to me.

Sometimes I get burned out on a particular topic, but I’ve never reached a point where I couldn’t write anything at all. That would be horrifying.

The writer’s creativity …

Define creativity.

Creativity (n): a word people use when they want to sound smart talking about a really abstract subject.

Me? I prefer to avoid abstractions.

Who are your favorite authors, online or off?

Stephen King is my favorite. I also love Seth Godin, Jim Butcher, Robert McCammon, Chip and Dan Heath, Brandon Sanderson, Steven Pressfield, Neil Gaiman, Dan Kennedy, Jeffery Deaver, Gary Bencivenga, Lee Child, David Wong, and countless others.

I’m kind of a bookworm.

Can you share a best-loved quote?

Here are a whole bunch of my favorite quotes.

How would you like to grow creatively as a writer?

I’d like to go beyond being just a “blogging authority” and write about some mass-market topics. Maybe self-improvement and/or entrepreneurship.

That way, I get the chance to screw up millions of people, instead of just a few hundred thousand. ;-)

Who or what is your Muse at the moment (i.e. specific creative inspirations)?

David Wong. Don’t ask.

What makes a writer great?

A gazillion different little things.

If I had to choose one though, it would be empathy. If you can’t ride in the reader’s skin, you’ll never be a great writer.

The writer’s work flow …

What hardware or typewriter model do you presently use?

I have a few different PCs.

(And yes, I said PCs. In my opinion, Apple is nothing more than a Steve Jobs cult, and I refuse to be converted. And yes, I know that means I’m going straight to hell.)

The one I use the most is a Dell laptop with an i5 processor. Nothing fancy.

The fancy part is my VXI TalkPro UC2 microphone and my prototype lip-operated mouse. High-tech, baby!

What software do you use most for writing and general workflow?

Dragon NaturallySpeaking and Microsoft Word for writing. I’m a fan of Trello for workflow.

Do you have any tricks for beating procrastination? Do you adhere to deadlines?

Remember the scene in Fight Club where Tyler puts a gun to a guy’s head who wants to become a veterinarian, and he tells him he’s going to hunt him down and shoot him if he doesn’t enroll in veterinarian school?

Best. Procrastination. Beater. Ever.

The secret to being productive is finding metaphorical guns to put to your head. One of the best ones for me is I rarely do anything until someone has already paid for it. That makes me obligated to finish, so I do.

How do you stay organized (methods, systems, or “mad science”)?

I employ a professional nag … err … Executive Assistant. Her name is Marsha Stopa.

(PS: She’s going to kill me for calling her a nag. Goodbye cruel world.)

How do you relax at the end of a hard day?

Like most people.

I read books, watch movies, play video games, talk to friends, and lots of other normal stuff. No worshiping Satan or microwaving kittens. Sorry to disappoint you.

A few questions just for the fun of it …

Who (or what) has been your greatest teacher?

My disability has taught me more than anyone. It’s been just as much of a gift as a curse. Really.

What do you see as your greatest success in life?

Just being alive, dude. At 31 years old, I’m one of the oldest people in the world with Type II spinal muscular atrophy.

What’s your biggest aggravation at the moment (writing related or otherwise)?

Payroll.

Why, oh why, can’t people work for free?

AND WHAT’S THIS I HEAR ABOUT HAVING TO PAY THE GOVERNMENT TAXES?

*whine*

Choose one author, living or dead, that you would like to have dinner with.

Since we’re talking fantasy, I would choose myself. Here’s why:

If I were able to have dinner with myself, that would mean somebody managed to clone me and there are now two Jon Morrows in the world. I would strap a bomb to his chest and get him to do all the work while I sit at the beach and read and wink at girls.

(On second thought, the other me would probably have the same plan, and we would end up coercing each other to do even more work than we did before. Damn. Never mind.)

If you could take a vacation tomorrow to anywhere in the world, where would you go (cost or responsibilities are no object)?

Nowhere. I’ve spent the last three years traveling, and I’m freaking sick of it.

Can you offer any advice to fellow writers that you might offer yourself, if you could go back in time and “do it all over?”

Here’s the thing about that question:

The most valuable things I could tell a beginning writer wouldn’t make any sense, because knowledge is viewed through the lens of experience. Without that experience, the knowledge is worthless.

So, I’d tell them to gain experience. In other words: write, a lot.

Please tell our readers where they can connect with you online.

And finally, the writer’s desk …

Every serious writer builds a shrine of some sort, whether it be picking the perfect table at a coffee shop, or carving out a quiet nook in your home, with which you hope to entertain the Muse.

Jon Morrow is no different.

Thank you for sharing a snapshot of your amazing open-air writer’s lair, Jon!

Image of Jon Morrow's Desk

And thank you for sharing The Writer Files …

More Q&As are in the works from writers who inspire us, and if you care to sift through our archives, you can find more inspiration here.

If you’ve already subscribed to Copyblogger via email or RSS, the next installment will be delivered to you just like the rest of our daily content. If not, go ahead and subscribe right now so you don’t miss a thing.

Now set some ambitious deadlines and get back to work! See you out there.

About the author

Demian Farnworth


Demian Farnworth is Copyblogger Media's Chief Copywriter. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

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Comments

  1. Brian Clark is Jon Stewart and Jon Morrow is Steve Carell.

  2. Smart guy. Great writer. Good advice. Thanks for sharing! And yes, Jon, payroll is a pain, as are taxes. I feel you. Welcome (back) to America. ;)

  3. Wow, thanks for sharing Jon’s powerful story. His blog is incredibly useful and his writing rocks! (I used his flab cutting post to cut this comment in half). Bookmarked. Now editing my popular posts.

  4. During the past few months I had the privilege of being personally mentored by Jon. One of the best experiences ever. Jon’s brilliant. I think what I appreciate most about Jon is his honesty and ability to cut through the fluff and focus on what truly matters.

    Thanks, Demian, for doing this piece on Jon’s writing. It’s great.

  5. Thank you for posting this! I will be joining Jon in hell for not converting to Apple …. glad to be amongst great company!

  6. Biggest takeaway: “The most valuable things I could tell a beginning writer wouldn’t make any sense, because knowledge is viewed through the lens of experience. Without that experience, the knowledge is worthless.”

    This is a huge stumbling block for me that I’m just now learning to navigate. I need to start at the beginning, pure and simple. Jon and other more experienced writers can let me know where the tools are located and give me some pointers on how best to use those tools, but for me, the experience will be awkward, slow and difficult until I gain experience.

    Valuable post! Thanks so much!!

  7. Great article! Lots of good insight and wisdom from Jon there. Very smart, strategic, and practical advice for writers! My big takeaway: write every single day, period. Thank you.

  8. Hey Jon and Demian! Thanks for the inspirational posting. It’s interesting, I have used Dragon Naturally Speaking before but never had much luck with the earlier versions. Some I know have said the newer versions are much better. I hope so. Before I used to use it with my kids when we wanted to have a good laugh at what we would say but then what the software would dictate.

    Most people can talk much faster than type. For some it is easier to talk than to write. Whatever gets the ideas out. What I find interesting is my thought process is different when I write, I stumble upon different ideas. Maybe a different part of the brain?

    Always enjoy hearing about your journey Jon and love using Unpop!

    Cheers!

    –Wyatt

  9. That’s what I waited for. I asked for this file from the beginning of the writer files series.

    Really great inspiration. Thanks Jon for taking the time to do this and thanks Demian for making it happens.

  10. Great interview, and Jon has revealed his biggest writing “secret”. Writing by that gorgeous view. I would love that!

  11. Thanks for allowing us insight into the mind of a genius. Too big word, genius? Ok, genie. What the genie does to lamps, Jon does to people – he sets them free.

    Much of ‘advice’ out there is like The Secret of Playing Tennis like Roger Federer, for carbon copies of Roger Federer (whom the advice-giver likely has never met).

    Jon’s genie is to speak to everyone – people who haven’t won a grand slam (yet) as well as champions.

    This Writer File lets me know more about the man I feel lucky to have stumbled upon on the internet. In part because everyone else inside Jon’s membership site and forums seems to feel the same. Which is great because I prefer and enjoy the company of lucky people over that of most others.

  12. Jon Morrow has been one of the most inspirational leader in my blogging career. For him I have learned many things about blogging. Yet it’s really a great pleasure to see him and knowing his strategies.

    Thanks a lot Demian Farnworth, for the great contribution.

  13. What an inspiration!

    It takes a ton of motivation and self-determination to succeed as Jon did.

    I chuckled a little when he said he’s been traveling so much that he doesn’t look for any new vacation spots. That’s inspiration right there!

    I find it amazing how he’s been able to write for such popular blogs. I know it must have been hard work to get on those.

    The amount of reading he does is definitely done another level than mine.

    This year, my goal is to do a lot more research through the more reading I need to do.

    Great post to learn from today.

    – Samuel

  14. Jon Morrow, I am new to this community but your writing is certainly going to make me a regular member.

    I often remain busy with projects but your writing was such an inspiration for me,

    I will certainly visit again , keep up the good work

  15. Jon – Thanks for sharing your story with the world. It’s incredibly inspiring.

    My favorite tip in this post is the reminder that it’s the little things that make writers (and anyone else) great.

  16. My favorite takeaway is that empathy makes writing sparkle:”If you can’t ride in the reader’s skin, you’ll never be a great writer”.

  17. I’m a longtime fangirl of both Jon and Copyblogger. I’ve been in binge mode absorbing material in Authority [finally joined NYE] in preparation for starting Jon’s guest blogging class tomorrow.

    3 months of Jon’s tough love! Yep, it took me over 3 years to muster my courage. To quote Jon above, “Goodbye cruel world.” And hello to the professional life I deserve.

    Thank you for the metaphoric kick-in-the-pants.

  18. OMG

    Stephen King is one of my favourite authors!!! I look forward to reading 5-10 mins of Stephen King before I write each day.

    Thanks for the awesome hack!

    Can I also say that Jon Morrow is one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever spoken to and that I really really look forward to our next conversation!

    Oh and the Guest blogging course rocks!!! Check it out at http://www.guestblogging.com

  19. I always enjoy articles like this that make me think. While there is no perfect blueprint to blogging success, posts like this nearly always open my mind to the endless possibilities and ways success can be obtained.

    Not necessarily related (but I guess it really is), can anyone offer a list or even a single blog that is beneficial to the reader and makes money that isn’t predicated on telling other people how to run a successful blog that makes money.

    I believe that there is definitely a place for blogs that help you run a successful blog, but would like to know of other blogs that are successful in their own right.

    Do you know of any success stories?

    Respectfully,

    Adventure Insider

  20. I kind of love this line: “Silence. Good writing has a rhythm. If I listen to music, it makes it harder for me to “hear” the words.”

    I thought I was the only writer in the world that hates listening to music. Every time I do, I find myself lost. I’ve never been able to articulate why. Now I can :)

    • Abbey, your comment made me pause and relook at Jon’s quote on music…I’ve always been one of those people who listens to music while they write, but it had to be instrumentals.

      You know, music without lyrics. If I recall, Brian Clark once said he also writes to instrumentals only.

      But Jon is so right about the rhythm of words that I’ve made a spontaneous decision to write primarily in silence for the next few months. Because I can recall when writing in silence made a positive difference in the result.

      I just needed this article to point it out. Thank you, Jon. Enlightening as always.

  21. Great interview, Damien. And Jon, you’re my hero.

  22. Jon has a killer work ethic.

    Overcome the resistance!

  23. Inspiring isn’t the word.

    Stephen King talks about those writer’s retreats you see in creative writing mags.

    You pay to go to a writer’s colony – set in idyllic woods – and spend the day scribbling away in your own little cabin.

    Every lunchtime, a waiter brings you a lunchbox – quietly setting it down outside so as not to disturb your creative flow.

    Most of us – especially me – are guilty of wanting to postpone writing until it’s quiet. Until the environment is perfect. Until the stars align.

    Jon’s determination (2,000 words a day 24/7/365) and the results he’s achieved sure put that the ‘wannabe’ stamp on that habit.

    Thanks Jon and Demian.

  24. So many take aways here, I don’t even know where to start. Jon Morrow is a tremendous inspiration to all of us. He’s style is so unique that he makes me cry when I go back and read my own stuff. I wish one day I can be like him. His writing is an example and all I can say is that he is a real role model to me. Thanks a lot Jon!

  25. Jon inspires me to be better. And I’m thankful.

  26. I’ve been so curious about HOW Jon writes like he does. This post explains it all and motivates me even more.

    THE BEST PART: “The secret to being productive is finding metaphorical guns to put to your head.” LOVE THIS!

  27. I’ve been very blessed and fortuitous to have Jon as a coach. It is terrific to see some of his “back story.”

    Glad I could help with that payroll, Jon!

    Words from the wise master include:

    “Be totally awesome.”
    “Know your audience better than you know yourself.”
    “Write headlines and then write some more, and when you are done with that write a couple hundred more just for fun.”

    For me, its not everyday somebody asks you to step up like Jon does. He lives it. Authentic, powerful, inspirational.

    It has been a true honor to be one of his students.

  28. 2,000 words every day. I love the idea of a daily word target. This is something I’m going to put in my writing armoury. Great interview!

  29. Jon Morrow, that’s what made me dive into this post and as usual I wasn’t disappointed. This is one of the best interviews that I have ever read.

    Marsha will spare you for sure Jon, she knows that we all need you ;-)

  30. He wants to have dinner with himself? Wow. I’d let him.

  31. Jon is the most inspirational person. I don’t know how I found my way to his course but I call it my Harvard education.
    Love this interview.

  32. I don’t know how I found you Jon, but I’m bloomin’ glad I did. Cutting through the BS, transparency, not taking yourself too seriously – all things I greatly admire in you.
    Thank You Damien for writing this.

  33. He is an inspiration to all of us. I am not sure many know about the types of Muscular Dystrophy but having one can really change your life and it is amazing how he is doing what he doing.

  34. He had me at riding in the reader’s skin. Jon Morrow, for what it’s worth, you now reside inside my monkeysphere.