A personal journey of lifelong learning, sharing resources, creating things, and trying to be better.

Tag: Beginner

Making Good Work to Get Paid

Currency, Money, before Euro. | Source

Yes, You’ll Have to Pay to Read This — And Here’s Why.

Trying to understand why you should make people pay to read what you create is about letting people pay you to fail, DRY writing, time frugality, plunging into ice-cold waters, and adding true value. Sound interesting? Let me explain…

Yesterday, I didn’t post anything. I didn’t write anything, either. Technically, by my own rules, I have lost my November rebel challenge. I’m certainly not going to achieve the 50,000 word-count. But that’s okay, I’ll keep going. That’s the important part. A bit of interesting news — I joined Medium’s Partnership Program! I have only a few articles that I changed to Members-only (1, 2, 3, 4). This article is going to be one of them, too.

Paying for Words

It’s not what you pay a man, but what he costs you that counts. 
 — Will Rogers

Why? Good question. To rephrase it: When is your work good enough to ask people to pay for it? Of course, I’m not making people pay solely for my work. It’s a small puddle in the vast ocean of Medium’s $5/month paywall.

The truth is, if you aren’t paying for something with money, you’re paying for it in some other way. If you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product. Not to mention that time is also a currency itself, with such a bloated amount of information available constantly. Creating something good enough to retain somebody’s attention is almost more difficult than getting them to pay money for it.

But then there’s sincere goodwill — giving away things with no catch. Usually when people give away things for free, they want something in return, like advertisement revenue, or your e-mail so they can write newsletters to you and eventually make you pay for something later. That’s the catch. Don’t get me wrong, I do think good work should be paid for, but I also think people and companies should be more transparent with their lead generation.

Of course, this doesn’t actually answer the raised question. It’ll take a bit of a deeper explanation to come to a satisfying answer for that.

Experiment & Fail Hard

“It is only through failure and through experiment that we learn and grow.” 
— Isaac Stern

When it comes to writing, there are topics I’m hesitant about getting into. There are subjects that I don’t feel like I have enough experience or expertise to speak about. When you’re transitioning from hobbyist to professional (in other words, from free to paid), that doubt needs to be disregarded entirely. You have to invoke confidence in both yourself and the reader.

Creating in a space you’re comfortable with is fine if it’s just-for-fun — but you need to be willing to be bold and dangerous if you’re working for a paycheck. You need to be willing to fall flat on your face and try new things that suck completely. Research and planning can only take you so far, you also need hands-on, practical experience and real-world feedback.

Have values strong enough that you’d be willing to fight and fail for them.

That may seem like completely counter-intuitive advice — to allow yourself to suck if you let people pay for your work — but it’s what your audience deserves. People deserve more than the keyword-trending or safe, formulaic nature that you’re comfortable with. This can be found all over the Internet — for free.

Invoke a sense of trust with the reader, be vulnerable enough to show your true self. Don’t try to lure them in with something enticing, only to confess that they need to sign-up for something in order to actually get it. Let them walk away if they don’t like it. Better yet, let them write long-winded criticisms if they hate it. Embrace it. That’s the whole point of having a democratic Internet. Be rational, but don’t be afraid to be polarizing as well.

DRY Writing

“Don’t repeat yourself. It’s not only repetitive, it’s redundant, and people have heard it before.”
―Lemony Snicket

There’s an principle in software engineering known as DRY, or don’t repeat yourself. From the writing I’ve seen, I think it can be applied to that as well. I see writers that come across or develop a really good idea and then milk it dry. They’ll stretch out articles with uneeded verbosity. They’ll write several posts about different things but still pertain to this single idea. They’ll go on to write newsletters about it, maybe go on a few podcasts and talk it over, too.

Nothing good comes out of this. It may seem like good practice — it gives you multiple avenues for people to discover you and your work, after all. In reality, when somebody finds you and really digs your work, they’ll go looking for more. And if they find the same concept in a different package, they’ll become disenfranchised. They could equate it to lack of creativity, or sneaky sales tactics. The impression is everything.

Instead, build on what you’ve already done. Iterate on it. If you’ve written a paragraph about an idea before, go more in-depth and create an entire post around it. Go back to your oldest writings and see how much you improve them with what you know now. There’s nothing wrong with that.

While you write and experiment with different things, you should still be finding your voice. Develop your own style and flavor that’s distinct over time, that will be what draws people back to you. The Internet is in dire need of unique writers.

Time Frugality

If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of. 
— Bruce Lee

As I said above, your time is your currency. When you buy something, think of how many hours of work it would take to buy it, not how many dollars. You can always get more money, you can never get more time. It’s permanently limited from the get-go. So in addition to not wasting other people’s time, don’t waste your own, either.

Procrastination is a great example of this. Don’t do it. You’re going to have to do the work eventually, so why not do it now? It allows you to *actually* relax afterwards, guilt-free. Not having any actual relaxation time will burn you out, which should be avoided at all costs. Take some time away from work when needed and focus on things you enjoy that aren’t work.

Pretending to work is also a type of procrastination. It’s easy to appear like you’re working hard, so you need to have results to aim for and a way to track them.

I personally have a Three-Action Rule, which means every night, I write down three things I did during the day that further progress my long-term goals. If I can’t name three things, then I know I wasted the day. And I only have so many of them to work with, same with you.

When you do get around to working, just work. Set yourself down on ONE THING and work on it until completion. Don’t try to switch between multiple tasks. Priority is singular.

For Beginners: Start Small

Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful. 
— John Wooden

When you start out, be humble. Show humility instead of cockiness. Hundreds of experts know more than you ever will, and that’s okay, so long as you’re aware of the fact. Everybody started out at the bottom as a beginner, everybody has Imposter Syndrome, everybody doubts themselves. Those that don’t are either lying or egomaniacs. Don’t mistake confidence with intelligence or authority. The more open you are to accepting that you know very little about a subject, the easier it will for you to learn new things about it.

If you don’t know where to start, start small with anything and just test it out. You still need to grit your teeth plunge into the ice-cold waters of the unknown, but you can plunge into a pond instead of an ocean. You can quit anything that isn’t working out and start again. That’s the liberating freedom that comes with this.

Don’t let your passion project slowly drift off and die slowly. I see far too many dormant accounts and people on the Internet. It’s a tragedy. If you want to quit something, that’s fine, write a goodbye message and give it a proper burial! But don’t just forget and neglect what you’ve put out there because the results sucked or there were no results yet.

Everything is incredibly discouraging at first, you need to push past that if you ever want to become amazing at something. You need to constantly work hard while also having the patience of a saint. The longer you go at it, the more chance you’ll stumble upon the right person or opportunity. The longer you go at it, the luckier you become.

Start with what you know. A lot of people worry they have too many interests to start creating content about one particular thing (also known as a niche). That’s the opposite of the problem. Find a way to combine your interests and you’ll be even more unique and interesting. That’s an asset. Diversify at first, but then centralize what works.

Value is Everything

“Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.” 
―Albert Einstein

No amount of incredible design or flashy marketing can outdo the simplest content that adds sincere value to somebody’s life. Have a personal mantra. Know why you’re writing what you are, and who the audience is. If you’re writing for yourself first, that’s great, but you still have to look deep and ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish. What problem is being discussed — what’s your solution? Detail these things before the start of each post.

Figure out your objectives and values and have your writing revolve around those. Figure out how to stand out. Format change and be disruptive. Look to the future and don’t be afraid to set a course that others can follow. Look at existing best practices and don’t be afraid to come up with even better practices. Educate people, don’t sell a sales pitch or a gimmick. Help people in any way you can.

SUMMARY | When Good Work Deserves Payment:

  • Separating Paid & Goodwill Work. Make the work you want people to pay for and work you’re willing to put out completely for free to invoke goodwill distinct, be completely transparent with people about your marketing.
  • Being Willing to Fail. Experiment with new topics and styles, and take a stance on topics that might get you flak. Take all criticism in stride, never lash out at somebody because you have a sensitive ego.
  • A Well-developed Style. Be memorable and interesting — do things differently. Some people will hate it, some people will love it. That’s okay.
  • Not Repeating Yourself. Expand and improve ideas where you can, but don’t regurgitate them for the sake of accumulating a larger audience.
  • Not Wasting People’s Time. Don’t try to lure people into something. Don’t waste your own time, either — stop procrastinating.
  • Adding Value. Most importantly, figure out what meaningful good you’re adding to people’s lives. Develop a personal mantra around your objectives and values and view it before the beginning of any project.
  • You’re Already Good Enough. Finally, shake off the self-doubt and Impostor Syndrome. Have confidence that there’s an audience for you

Current Word Count: 10,326

Why I Write

Writing Hand, Black & WhiteSource

Death, Meaningless Ideas, Timeless Work, and Paper

Perhaps the first thing that I’d like to write after the obviously required navel-gazing of yesterday is more navel-gazing today — but of a different flavor. Perhaps a bit more morbid.

I enjoy the metaphysical writing about writing, as though if I meditate on the topic enough, I’ll somehow garner the skill to masterfully execute it. As though I’m trying to bend the spoon with my mind, just looking at it. I don’t think it’s truly any sort of specialty, though.

Yet, despite the fruitlessness of particular topics — such as this one — writing does help me in a multitude of ways.

Death Writing

As I’ve written in the past, I often think about the legacy that I’ll be leaving behind. What sort of impact am I having on the world, if any? And if I am making a dent in the universe, is it for the better?

Contrary to what you might think, those questions are irrelevant. Trying to setup all the pieces of a future you aren’t apart of is a fool’s errand. There’s no point in hoping for the best, because that doesn’t change what’s going on.

Instead, there’s only right now.

“Your future is created by what you do today, not tomorrow.” — Robert Kiyosaki.

Sometimes I find myself worrying what’s ultimately become meaningless in a few months or less. When I do, I try to take a step back and look at the larger picture. That’s where meditation on death is both important and helpful.

If I only had a few months to live, what would I do right now in this moment?

When neurologist and best-selling author Oliver Sacks received a grim prognosis two years ago, his response was to write with a fervor. The subsequent result being his last book, The River of Consciousness, which has since been published posthumously.

Though I am nowhere in comparison with such a gifted man, I’ve felt a near-identical pursuit since I wrote my real first post: To write standalone essays on — what I believe to be — important topics. But what exactly are important topics? And how am I supposed to separate my good writing from my bad writing?

Trying to answer those questions is, again, just a fool’s errand.

Everything I have inside of my heart and inside of my head needs to be written down — without prejudice. It is a well-known fallacy within programming to try to optimize prematurely. The act of trying to fix things before anything is even completed. I take a similar approach to writing.

The act of iteration. To publish multiple revisions publicly.
To publish what could potentially be drivel. To turn past mistakes into better futures.

That’s why I’m writing right now. Two days ago, I didn’t really know what I was going to write about this month. I had no clue how I was going to reach 50,000 words by the first day of December! But now I have eight different articles already in the works, and it’s only day two. You can push yourself far harder than you realize. And actually throw yourself out into the wolves.

“Ideas” & Suck

You might think you can, but you actually aren’t able to see inside your head. Ideas you let linger for too long without writing down will eventually fade away. It’s akin to the longer you stay in bed in the morning. It gets harder and harder to finally get up.

Ideas are cheap, anyways! Anybody can say that they’re an “idea person”. It takes far more skill, far more discipline, and far more patience in order to be a storyteller. To take the seeds of concepts and germinate them in the real world, and let others see what you’ve made. It takes deep vulnerability — a lot of would-be storytellers have too much pride to start. Because when you start, you tend to suck:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” — Ira Glass

Current Events vs. Timeless Work

The world is volatile — we live in interesting times. The exciting — and at times terrifying — hyperactivity of information and happenings seem endless. But they really are not. It’s only a matter of time before things start to settle again. Whether the bar is raised or lowered, new normalcy always finds its place. We will adjust to a new paradigm in politics, and we will adjust to our science-fiction technology.

This is important to note, because so much work is created that only makes sense in the context of right now. An endless stream of often-times white noise that is only valuable for this week, or just today. Good work is work that can stand on its own. Good work transcends trends and current events. While past and topical content might invoke a nostalgia in some, it ultimately becomes foreign and faded.

As we see an evolution in differently growing media, a new era of democratic art, we still look back at the good work that was created centuries and millennium ago. Understand the difference between writing a shallow piece that tackles onto something popular, versus engaging it. Make great satire, critically analyze, share emotion. The important thing to remember, though, is a sense of universality. The commonality between all of humanity is the secret — and clearly simple — ingredient.

Why? Paper.

In order to finish this arbitrarily long and disjointed post, I want to talk about paper. Paper is truly a magical thing, and I think that — more than anything else — it best answers the question of why I exactly I choose to write:

“Why do you write?”, they ask. I pause for a moment before answering.

There are times where all I have is a few pieces of paper. Paper that understands me — that can understand things that I don’t yet. Any mistaken ink I spill on this page results in no consequence.

The paper listens carefully — it does not throw harsh insults at my stupid thoughts. The paper just lets me be. In return, I give it a story — an identity. And when it is finally and totally filled-up, I know there will always be more.

There will always be more paper, so I will always have to continue writing.

Current Word Count: 3,365

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