Welcome to this guide for writing articles. I will share everything I’ve learned about writing articles with you. I started my blog in 2015, and I’ve published over 300 articles on my site, and a dozen articles for other publications.
I probably wrote more than 100 articles that I never published. In fact, I started writing articles in 2011, when I finished grad school. And it took me four years to build a foundation to finally start my own personal blog.
Whether you’re reading this guide as a blogger, journalist, student, or writing enthusiast, know that I understand the struggle. It’s real. But it’s not as bad as people make it seem. With the correct strategies, ideas, and tools, you can write good articles without beating yourself up.
That’s what this guide is for. Like my guides on improving productivity and beating procrastination, this is a dynamic guide. I’ve been researching the craft of writing for over 10 years now. And I update this page as I find new ways to improve your skills. Feel free to bookmark this guide as a reference. I hope you find it useful.
Content Of This Guide:
- 2 Questions I Ask Before I Write
- Dealing With Failure (and other obstacles)
- A Collection Of Writing Tips
- Using Visuals
- Apps For Writing Articles
- Best Books On Writing
- Building An Audience
- Writing Platforms You Can Use
2 Questions I Ask Before I Write
There’s nothing more frustrating than staring at a blank writing document. You know that blinking text cursor you see on your screen? It looks like this | and your job is to move that little thing down your screen. But often, it just sits there at the top of your document.
Everyone knows how it feels. You have a good idea to write something, you get excited, grab a cup of coffee or tea, you sit down, rub your hands, and say to yourself “Watch this! Here we go.” That’s great and all, but it does nothing for you.
You can try all kinds of “writing routines” but none of that stuff works. To avoid staring at a blank screen, ask yourself these two questions before you start writing:
1. Who is this article for?
The reason this is such an important question is that we often want everyone to read our articles. That’s the same with entrepreneurs who create products or services for everyone. I’m the same. I’d love to create an online course that’s for everyone. But I can’t. For example, my writing course is only for people who want to improve their professional writing skills. It’s for people who make a living with their words. It’s not for every single writer.
That helped me to be very specific with the content of my course. It’s the same when you write an article. If you know who you’re writing for, it will make it easy to determine what will be in your article. Because what happens if you don’t think about this question? You risk writing an article that’s for everyone. And articles that are for everyone are usually for no one. It’s better to focus on a specific group. That will not only make the writing process more focused, it will also increase your chances of reaching the right readers.
2. What does my article do?
An article takes the reader on a micro journey. I like to look at it this way: What will the reader know at the end of your article that the reader didn’t know at the start? The article doesn’t have to share only information. It can also give the reader a feeling or experience. The point is that we want our article to do something.
For example, the article that you’re reading right now should make writing articles easier for you. Obviously, you can’t control the outcome and whether your reader actually uses the article the way you intend. Thinking about this question will help you get clear on what you’re trying to achieve with the article.
Dealing With Failure (and other obstacles)
As you can see, a lot of thought goes into writing articles before you even write a single word. The reason I spend so much time on writing strategy and developing the right mindset is because it’s the most important thing. Look, you know how to write. If you know how to speak correctly, you also know how to write.
Writing is not about grammar or style. It’s about knowing what to write. But most of us never get to that point because we don’t start. There are so many obstacles that hold us back. One of the biggest things that prevent us from writing is the fear of failure. I get a lot of questions about that from my students. Recently, someone asked me the following: “I also want to publish my book but deep down I have fear what if it failed. How does one live when lost his or her last hope/light/dream? So I delay every day.”
It’s the same for articles. Another reason to not start I hear is this one: “I think there are already thousands brilliant writers then why would anyone read my work.”
There’s no easy fix for overcoming obstacles. You must realize that the only way to overcome your fear is to go through it. You can do that becoming aware that you’re only sabotaging yourself. Because all these obstacles are made up and not real reasons. So what if there are a million other books or articles? So what if you fail? So what if people don’t get your writing? So what?!
How do you live with fear? You don’t. You become fully present. In the present, there is no fear. Focus on the craft of writing. Did you know that the act of writing is one of the most pleasurable things in the world? I write primarily for my own inner satisfaction. Sure, it’s great that others find it useful. But you write because you enjoy it. And if you don’t enjoy it, either learn to enjoy it or go do something else that you do enjoy. It’s not about external factors. Writing is purely an internal matter.
A Collection Of Writing Tips
To write more effectively, use the following writing tips. All the techniques have been tried and tested.
- Two Tips That Instantly Improve Your Everyday Writing Forever—If you apply these two practical tips, your writing will become simple and to the point. That alone will make it stand out from the crowd.
- How Writing Changed My Life & Career—Thoughts on why writing matters. I also share 7 practical tips that will help you to write more.
- The 3 Rules Of Writing Successful Pitch Emails—There are no “blueprints” to successful writing. People who pretend they have it are lying. Instead, we must focus on principles. In this article, I share 3 of those principles that make your pitches more effective.
- Writing As A Spiritual Exercise—Writing for yourself is one of the most satisfying things in the world. It’s also an ancient habit.
- Should You Build Your Own Audience or Focus On Guest Posting?—People ask me a lot about this. You can read my take in that article. I also share more thoughts on building an audience in this guide.
- Form A Daily Writing Habit—It Will Improve Your Life—Thoughts on why it’s beneficial to write every day. And a few tips to form the habit.
- How To Journal For Self-Improvement—I’ve been keeping a journal for years now. It’s one of the pillars of inner strength.
- 30 Things I’ve Learned From Publishing 100 Articles—Practical lessons I learned from writing my first 100 articles.
- The Most Important Working Habit Of Hemingway: Stop At The Height of Your Day—This is one of the most important things if you want to write for a long time.
This should be enough to get started. If you’re interested in learning more about my whole writing system, take a look at my online course, Effective Writing.
The headline of your article and the main image you use are the two most important things in capturing people’s attention. As you and I both experience every day, we’re bombarded with messages all day. We get messages from our friends, co-workers, family, but also from the news, social media, entertainment apps we use, etc.
Since human beings rely on multiple senses, it’s important to make sure the headline of your article matches your image. Both need to stand out. How can you do that? I can’t tell you that because it won’t be novel anymore. That’s one thing an effective writer understands: You must be creative.
How? That’s the whole point of creativity. It must be unique and different. A misconception is that you have to come up with new and groundbreaking ideas. That’s false. Just create something that’s different than what people are used to in your industry.
When I started my blog, I used free stock images. But then I saw other writers using the same images on social media or on other sites. Somehow, readers connect your headlines and images together. So if you see “your” image somewhere else, you get confused.
Now look at it this way: Let’s say you’re using a stock image that thousands of others used. Your article is great and people start sharing it on social media. Other people see the image and every single person might connect that image to another writer. You see? Place yourself in the shoes of other readers. What do they think when they see an old image? The image might be new to you, but it’s definitely not new to thousands of others.
That’s why I started drawing my own images. It works great for what I’m doing. If you can’t create your own illustrations, go and take your own pictures. Do whatever it takes to stand out. Now, I’m not the only person who draws stickman images. But I’m the only one who does it my way. Find something you can do your way.
Apps For Writing Articles
You don’t need a lot of tools to write. You need a laptop or computer, that’s for sure. But other than that, you can use any app you prefer. These are my favorite writing apps.
- Ulysses—My go-to writing app for articles. I like how this app works. You can access all your documents from the same window. And switching between documents is easy. That helps me to get clear on what I’m working on. The design is minimalistic and not obtrusive.
- Grammarly — I use this tool probably the most out of all the resources on this page. If you’re writing anything that’s more than an email, use this app. I highly recommend getting the premium edition.
- Office 365 — MS Word used to be my favorite word processor. But I stopped using it because it’s not practical if you write a lot of articles. You either have to create a new document every time or you have to use one long document with multiple articles in it. That get’s cluttered quickly. It’s also slow.
Best Books On Writing
I can probably share 50 good books on writing here. And it can be great to read a lot about writing. In fact, reading about it is easier than actually writing. At some point, you must put it in practice. So read, but also write. Here are my favorite books on writing.
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser—A solid book with solid advice about writing non-fiction. When you start reading this book, you immediately can tell the man knows his business. And he knows it well. Zinsser, a respected writer and teacher, talks about the principles and methods of writing in this book. But he also shares tips about different writing forms such as memoirs, sports, business, and humor.
- The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White—And every job has some form of written communication. So you don’t want to write in a way that people don’t understand. That’s why The Elements of Style is such an important book. Especially now when most communication is written. And this book teaches you how to think and write clearly—so that people understand you. A valuable skill. The Elements of Style is a must-read for everyone, not only journalists or writers.
- On Writing by Stephen King—Stephen King is one hell of a thinker and writer. And the man churns out books like it’s nothing. Only that fact makes you want to read more about how his mind works. If you write, and you haven’t read On Writing, it’s time to stop everything you do and get that book.
- The Writers Journey by Christopher Vogler — The Writers Journey is the most in-depth book on this list. It’s also the most comprehensive book I’ve read on storytelling. It’s also a very practical book. It’s more like a textbook that you want to take notes on. Vogler, a story consultant for major Hollywood film companies, talks about the relationship between mythology and storytelling in this book.
Building An Audience
I wish I could tell you “do XYZ and get 500.000 readers.” I get that it can be very frustrating to write without external success. I want to emphasize that writing is not only about recognition. But here’s the thing: If you’re writing for a long time without any success, it’s time to make a few changes. Here are some things I’ve found useful for building my audience:
- Go where the readers are—No one will magically appear on your blog. People are always referred to your blog. The best way is to rely on search engines. But in the beginning, no search engine will rank your site. So you need other ways to find readers. And that’s the keyword. You must find your readers. If you know who your readers are, you will know where to find them. And I’m not talking about social media. What media outlets do they read? Do everything you can to get your articles published over there. More on that in the next section.
- Don’t forget your own blog—It’s tempting to write guest posts because you can tap into an existing audience. But that’s also a downside. You will become one of the thousands of writers. I prefer to build my own blog. So when you start, write guest posts and post on other sites, but also post on your own site. And later on, you can focus on your own site even more.
- Be consistent—To build an audience, you must publish every week. It’s as simple as that. Publishing more articles means you have a higher chance of reaching more people.
- Ask—Once you’ve built an audience, get your readers involved. Ask them what they want to read from you. I do that with surveys. But mostly, I welcome people to reply to my newsletter. I can use that feedback to write more relevant articles.
- Keep improving—Always keep improving your articles. Readers get used to everything. So you can’t keep writing the same old articles year in year out.
Writing Platforms You Can Use
Getting started is difficult. You have to come up with original ways to write, create images for your posts, write creative headlines, and so forth. And if that’s not difficult enough, the publishing options are endless. Here’s a question I received about that:
“I’ve noticed that you actively publish articles on Medium, LinkedIn, and your personal blog. I am curious how you organize content for three different platforms? Do you repurpose your content? If a young, new writer like me were to start out, which platform would you recommend? It’s a confusing world out there. Considering LinkedIn and Facebook does not promote third party content as much, is it better to just start writing on these platforms rather than Medium or a personal blog?”
Here’s the thing: You’re overthinking it. I go where the readers are. Right now, I’m publishing on my site and Medium. I also work with a few sites that syndicate my articles (they republish my articles with a link back to my blog). Outside of that, I simply distribute my articles on social media. I’ve published a few articles on LinkedIn but it’s not really my crowd.
I like to focus on my WordPress site and on Medium. That’s all. If you find a platform that works for you, stick to it. And if nothing works, keep going until you do find something that works. But always remember to build your own home that you own. When you’re using other platforms, you’re always renting space. I write more about that in my article with tips to start a blog.
I hope you find the content of this article useful. I wish you all the best with writing articles. And if you join my writing course, I’m looking forward to connecting with you there.