In the past two years, I have gone from being a coffee shop writer, to having had articles published in TIME, Inc, Forbes, Fortune, Business Insider, The Huffington Post, and more. I am a Top Writer on Quora with over 9,000,000 article views. And I am a columnist for Inc Magazine.
And now I’m about to publish my first book, Confessions of a Teenage Gamer.
However, it’s been a long road to get to where I am right now. If you are an aspiring writer of any kind, no matter what industry, here are the five major steps you need to take to find your voice, establish your credibility, and create something of value.
1. Practice In Public
I attribute a large part of my success to my early years blogging about World of Warcraft. When I was 17 years old, I was one of the highest rated players in North America, and I started a blog where I shared tips and tricks on how to compete at that level.
After a few months, the blog ended up being a much more a public journal of what it was like being a celebrity on the Internet and an awkward, reclusive teenager in real life. I didn’t have many friends at school. I never got invited to parties or went to get pizza with kids from my class. I didn’t have a girlfriend. All I did was play World of Warcraft and write on my blog.
As a result, I found my voice at a very young age. I had one of the most popular World of Warcraft blogs in the community, and close to ~10,000 consistent daily readers. Everything I wrote received 50-100 comments, and I was constantly receiving feedback on my work. Some people loved it, some people hated it but with every post, I saw myself improving bit by bit.
By the time I went off to college, I had written probably 100+ blog posts.
2. Experiment With Different Styles
Blogging is where I started, but that is not where I stopped.
My first year of college, I studied journalism at the University of Missouri (the #1 Journalism school in the country). I will never forget sitting in one of my entry-level journalism classes and my teacher telling us all that blogging was a fad. I raised my hand in our 500 person lecture and said, “Actually, blogging is the future of journalism.” I never went back, and transferred the next year to Columbia College Chicago to study creative writing.
From there, I went on to write fiction, non-fiction, poetry, even songs—I have over 150 songs, written and recorded on my home computer, everything from pop to rap. All of these different writing mediums taught me things about language I couldn’t have learned through blogging. Fiction taught me plot and character development. Non-fiction taught me how to get to the point and write honestly. Poetry and rap taught me sentence rhythm and internal rhyme, syllable-stacking and double meanings. And when you combine all those lessons on top of what I learned from blogging—voice and the importance of putting out content every single day—my writing style become very methodical and very well rehearsed.
3. Build An Audience
When I graduated from Columbia College Chicago, I started writing on the Question/Answer social platform, Quora. At first, my focus was on sharing health and fitness advice since I’m very physically active and at the time I was doing a bit of fitness modeling. Over time, however, it became apparent what people on Quora really wanted from me: they wanted to know how to improve themselves.
I went all-in on the self-development questions and within a year had acquired almost 10,000 followers and well over 5,000,000 article views.
This is also where I started to experiment with sharing material I had been working on in seclusion. I answered questions about video games and shared parts of my story, Confessions of a Teenage Gamer. When I started seeing answers in those categories go viral and accumulate hundreds of thousands of views, I knew I was on to something. I had validated my concept, and I had an audience to prove it.
4. Take The Opportunity, Volume, Level Up
My recipe for success in any industry is simple:
Step 1: Take whatever opportunity is in front of you and grab it by the horns.
Step 2: Pump out volume within that opportunity until you become the undisputed king.
Step 3: Take that accomplishment and ladder it up to the next opportunity. Level up, and repeat.
Once I had built an audience on Quora, and I had a few answers republished in Inc, TIME, Forbes, and Fortune, I took those small wins and laddered them up to big opportunities. I reached out to everyone. I offered to guest blog on people’s websites to provide value and keep building my audience. I reached out to big publications and offered to write for free. I pumped out quality content on Quora every single day for a year until I had over 30 publication mentions under my belt. I went to New York to network at the Quora Top Writer meet-up. I introduced myself to one of the people at the meet-up and he said, “So, when did you start writing on Quora?”
“Oh, about eight months ago,” I said.
He seemed really surprised. Zero-to-Top Writer in eight months was unheard of.
I took every opportunity I could on Quora and just kept laddering it up to bigger and bigger things, until one day (after months of following up) Inc Magazine got back to me, offering a columnist position for their Innovate section.
And you can better believe I am going to write vehemently for them.
Volume. Volume. Volume.
5. Share Your Soul
On paper, I have everything I need to publish a book. I have an audience, I have the credibility of other verified publications, I have friends and contacts with audiences of their own that I can tap for additional promotion, and I’ve validated my first book concept, sharing the big lessons I learned from spending all my time playing World of Warcraft as a teenager.
I’m finally ready to put something out there of my own.
But once you get to this point, the game isn’t over. In fact, the game has only just begun.
A book is a big project. In a sense, it is a culmination of everything learned along the way thus far. And the book itself isn’t the “end point” of the transaction. I know that once this book is out in the world, it will then be on me to make it live and to find new ways to bring people to it. This means creating even more content, pumping out even more quality volume.
However, at the same time, a book is a deeply personal project. It is really you standing all by yourself and saying “This is who I am.” There is something very cool about that. But just like an artist who has to perform for a crowd of five before they go sell out Madison Square Garden, you have to start at the bottom and find your voice first.
For me, I found it on the Internet. I found it blogging for tiny, tiny audiences until I built an audience of my own. I found it by hustling and writing anywhere and everywhere I could. I found it by exploring.
So before you go off to write your first book, go through the process. Practice in public. Experiment with different styles. Build an audience (no matter how big or how small). Level up a few times and get some credibility under your belt. And then, then, take everything you’ve learned and put out a quality product.