When some people say what I’ve accomplished for myself as a blogger and writer is luck, they think it’s the byproduct of my liberal arts degree from Washington & Jefferson College.
My college education was great for two particular reasons: 1) it taught me how to read and 2) it taught me how to write very well, whether that was in a creative writing class or not.
Nevertheless, my W&J college education did not teach me about the real world or the underlying business model of the writing and storytelling world we experience in our digital age.
It didn’t explain to me or my classmates how blogs and major websites make money through the use of ad dollars and digital advertising. I had to personally learn how writers can earn money by driving page views to their sites and how to properly engage with followers.
I didn’t have any classes called Personal or Business Branding 101 out in Western Pennsylvania. And I certainly didn’t learn about email marketing, lead generation, landing pages, SEO, website design and creation, or social media marketing in my classes on economic history or “marketing 302.”
From testimonials and personal experiences, I found there were no classes for the fast-paced writing styles that drive attention and distractions to virtually every piece of writing and content on the Internet. You’ll find both good and bad so be careful what you’re looking for today.
Becoming successful in anything, let alone a successful writer in the digital age (whatever your definition of success is), is not just about the writing. Of course, those are good building blocks, but just as musicians and artists have to become their own marketing managers and creative directors, and even play the role of salesman or entrepreneur — writers do much more than just write.
Here are 5 hard and soft skills you must practice if you want to become a successful writer and storyteller in the digital age:
1. The habit and process of writing.
If you want to be a writer, you have to write.
If you want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jay Cutler or Phil Heath, you have to train and lift like the three of them. If you want to be an executive chef, you have to cook delicious meals.
If you want to be X, you have to practice X repeatedly, far more than you simply “think” about how badly you want to be X. Trust me, I’ve been there and still fall victim to that trap sometimes.
I’m here to remind you that unless you establish the simple practice of writing or journaling in your daily schedule, you will have a hard time succeeding. Tim Ferriss calls these morning pages no matter how good or bad they are, just get them done! Read and write every single day. Period.
2. The patience to play the long game.
This is where the micro and macro conversations come into play. We all, to a certain extent, create two types of writing: the kind we share for free, and the kind we sell.
95% of artists — whether you’re a painter, a musician, a clay pot maker, a writer — want to round 3rd base and sprint for home to have someone (they’re not quite sure who yet) pay them to create whatever it is they want to create. I admire the ability to create demand but what are you actually giving away and supplying first? Is it good work or is it great work?
Consumers today only buy two things: things they like, and things they need. The reasons why we buy are twofold: to avoid pain or gain pleasure. Everything else, we ignore no matter how fascinating someone else says it is.
If you’re in it and expect to make a fortune overnight, you’re in the wrong room. If you’re also the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.
You have to become the man or woman first off that people like, see themselves spending time with, giving so much value first, and just happens to create something that solves a consumer need or problem which then allows you to turn profits overtime. Macro patience and micro speed, right Gary Vaynerchuk?
3. The art of personal branding.
Thankfully I learned a long time ago from mentors that people don’t just buy products and services. They buy you first. If they don’t like or know you, they’re probably not going to buy anything from you.
In our fast-paced digital age, shit it’s August 2018 already, the single most valuable thing you can create for yourself is a brand around who you are and whatever it is you enjoy talking about.
Unless you have an audience, nobody will read your work or buy your products or services. That’s why ATTENTION is so important today and moving forward. If nobody knows who you are, that’s a red flag and a PROBLEM.
Writers, artists, marketers, entrepreneurs, and storytellers don’t have the luxury of not “putting ourselves out there” anymore. We’re all competing against YouTubers, Instagram “stars”, and keyboard cat videos. That’s why we can all improve upon our knowledge of branding, positioning, marketing, and storytelling to attract (and importantly keep) people’s attention.
Give them something to feel loyal to — and that’s you if you’re a person of integrity.
4. The will to be both an artist and an entrepreneur.
I truly do believe that every artist today must also become an entrepreneur — if he or she wants to be successful independently long term, especially in our global economy.
This dual-specialization is the hardest skill for an artist to acquire. Do you know why? Because we were lied to growing up. We were sold (yes my hand’s up too) that going through school, getting good grades, graduating, saying yes to a corporation or job, working 45 years, and retiring on half of our take-home income was “successful” by societies standards. We were never taught how to become business owners, entrepreneurs, negotiators or investors.
Because being an employee and being an entrepreneur are two opposing forces, both striving toward very different goals. Think of the classic feud going on between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.
As an employee or artist, you want to express yourself and write what feels most truthful. As an entrepreneur, you are always searching for the best idea, what’s going to perform well, generate results, connect with readers, and ultimately sell.
You cannot have one without the other. It’s similar to the good voice and bad voice feud we all have going on in our minds.
You will never become a successful writer, artist, salesman, marketer, or entrepreneur in the digital age without some sense of self-awareness of how the business world, economics, and trade work.
The entrepreneur is who you want negotiating deals, signing contracts, bringing on new opportunities, challenges, problems, and more. The entrepreneur needs to have an understanding and working knowledge of the business world so he or she doesn’t have to give up ownership — or worse, work for minimum wage or a job they hate.
It’s never about being one or the other — an artist or an entrepreneur.
Ultimately, it comes down to understanding the rules of the game so that you can do what it is you like, on your own terms, with whomever you’d like, wherever you’d like, for the rest of your life. How does that sound?
5. The humility and vulnerability to ask for help and feedback.
I’m not perfect. I have flaws, weaknesses, and problems just like everyone else does. If someone hints at perfection, they’re lying. I’ve had multiple people within the past few weeks and months reach out to me directly thanking me for my motivation and work I’ve been pursuing.
Do you realize how grateful I’ve learned to become from messages like these:
“Hey Donovan, hope all is going well. And I just wanted to say your posts here recently keep me motivated so thank you.”
“I would have to agree with you & add that your strength is influence and confidence. Although you may not be an extrovert or the loudest in the room, what you say when you speak is resounding because of your intentions to be of service to others around you.”
“With that said, focus on others, come from a place of willingness to be vulnerable meaning to be seen and to be heard without fear of judgment. And trust yourself. Know that people do see what’s great in you. And I would add it would be a damn shame if you didn’t show more people that part of you because if they didn’t have you in their life things could be drastically different.”
Recognize, audit, and become self-aware of what your strengths are. Ask for help and feedback in a few areas if you’re not 100% clear like I am sometimes. Vulnerability is tough, and a punch to our ego most times, but that’s what makes you and I better men or women in the long run. Be grateful for what you have, work hard for what you don’t have. The humility is key and others will always respect it.
My Very Best,