Lindsey Quinn, former managing editor at The Hustle, joins Stew Fortier to discuss some practical ways to figure out what to write about.
The call was a private workshop for Compound Writing members, but the summary notes are below. Apply to Compound here
How do you choose what to write about?
- To start writing, get bored.
- Sit for an hour with no screen and get as bored as possible. Notice what your mind does. Where does it naturally wander? Let it surface what you want to write about.
- Don't be too disciplined. Enjoy it!
- If you force yourself to write ("I'll write every single day!"), you may start to dread it. You want writing to be mostly fun.
- Capture inspiration when it strikes.
- If an idea strikes you, write it down. Chances are you'll forget it if you don't.
How to create a writing habit
- Use deadlines
- Use accountability (like this group!)
- Keep writing fun
- Decide that you'll sit down for 30 minutes & don't even promise to yourself that you'll produce something. Just sit and see if anything happens.
- Write about something stupid. It will help you get started. It will also help you find your voice.
How to find your voice
- Everybody has their own approach to writing a first draft.
- It's fine if you need to organize your thoughts to start. Maybe you'll use a "dry" voice to write that draft.
- But after you've put together your thoughts, do a punch-up.
- Imagine you're three beers deep at a happy hour with a friend. How would you say the same idea to them? Write it like that.
- Remember: "Good" writing is writing like yourself. ****
- Don't write about what you know (you may know stuff, but hate it), write about what you like.
- Write what you want to read. Write what you wish was being said.
Before you write a new post, answer three questions:
- Audience - who are you writing this for?
- Objectives - what’s the reason you’re writing this?
- Remember - what’s one thing you want your reader to take away?
- Cut any unnecessary language. Don't ramble.
- Avoid generalities. Be specific.
- The first sentence of any piece should "smack you in the face."
- Not in a clickbaity way, but in the way a compelling story would start.
- Vary your sentence length. Have rhythm.
- Ask yourself: does the piece have an overarching feeling?
- "Knowledgeable" is not a feeling
- If you want your favorite newsletter to plug your latest post, send a one-line summary & a short explanation of why it might be interesting to the right person.
- Ex. don't send it to the CEO of the NY Times... send it to the editor of the particular section that would actually make sense for your work to be featured in.
- Make it a point to own your audience. I.e. on a newsletter or blog.
- Medium can be a great place to get distribution, but be wary of a) not owning the audience and b) making sure you've found your voice first so that you don't start copying the Medium-style writing & losing your originality.
- Adjust your writing to the tone and format of the specific channel. How you write on Twitter is probably not how you write on Medium, etc.
- Cold email cool people to interview. Typically, they'll love an opportunity to talk about themselves and they may share the interview with their audience once it's published.
- Twitter is not great for sharing long-form content because people don't click through on Twitter.
- Twitter is better for sharing standalone thoughts that don't quite have a place to live yet