I posted my first article on LinkedIn on May 22, 2015. I labored over it for about a week and then finally hit “Publish”. And basically nothing happened.
Over the next several days, it eventually got about 50-100 reads. My Followers inched up from 500 (my connections) to like 505. But it was a pretty frustrating beginning overall.
Now 18 months later, I have +700,000 Followers and my articles have been read by over 1M people (in 2016). This is great and something I am really thankful for. But there was a lot of struggle along the way. There was a lot of trial and error (mostly error). Looking back, here are 6 things I wish I had known when I started.
1: Choose one valuable question to focus on.
Albert Einstein used to say the secret to his success was choosing the right question to answer – and then keeping at it. If you view writing as mostly a research process, then that’s a good approach.
Choose one question you are going to answer with your writing. Be specific. Write it down. Make sure it is valuable to readers and in your own career. And then just keep digging into it month after month and year after year. .
The question I eventually chose was: “how are competitive advantages different in developing economies, cross-border situations, and State capitalism”. I am basically adapting Warren Buffett / Bruce Greenwald / Michael Porter thinking on competitive dynamics to special situations like China and US-China.
2: Have a “unique take on a trending topic”.
My writing falls under the heading of: How rising Chinese consumers and competitors are impacting global markets. You’ll note this is different than the question I just said I am focusing on. What I am doing is leveraging my research into a frequently trending topic (i.e., Chinese consumers). And as my research is in competitive dynamics, this usually gives me a fairly unique take on Chinese consumers. Most people who write about Chinese consumers focus on market research.
I have found “a unique take on a trending topic” is a good phrase to remember.
3: The headline is 50% of the article.
People say you should spend 50% of your time on the headline. I don’t really know how to do that. The more I play with the headline the worse it gets. But I have found that the headline really does determine your readership. Plus it helps with focus. If I have a good headline, the article is much easier to write.
My approach to writing headlines is just to do lots of iterations. Every time I look at the article, I redo the headline. And over lots of iterations, I eventually get to a good headline (usually).
4: Don’t write on a computer.
When I type I get lost in the language. I do lots of re-writing and copying and pasting. I get sucked into the verbage.
I now do most of my writing while walking. I have a notepad and I just walk somewhere pleasant and think. I jot down notes as I go. The below picture is my favorite spot for writing in Santorini, Greece. The picture at the bottom is Rio. Yes, I do seem to have alcohol next to my notepad in both photos.
My thinking is just much better when I’m active – and away from a computer. By the time I start typing, the article is usually 75% done.
5: Publish weekly – but write slowly.
Digging into your question and building an audience are long-term activities. This is a marathon. So it helps to have a schedule. My schedule is to write only on weekends (I never write during the week) and to publish one article per week.
However, early on I became worried that writing and publishing quickly (say in 3-5 days) was resulting in shallow thinking. Plus I was probably making mistakes (See my article Two Ways Writing (and Publishing) Can Make You Stupid).
So I forced myself to slow down the writing process. I still publish every week but each article now gets about 3 weeks of thinking and re-writing. I typically have +20 partially written articles in my Draft Folder. My advice is to publish frequently but write slowly.
6: Do a final re-write where you only delete.
Ultimately, I am not trying to be a great writer. I am trying to be a great analyst, who can communicate clearly. So I always do a final re-write where I only delete. I start at the end of the article and read it in reverse. And I try to delete everything I can. I delete paragraphs that are not 100% necessary. I delete weak or extra sentences. I try to delete a couple of words from every single sentence. I am trying to write as simply as possible.
So those are my top 6. I hope they are helpful. If you are just starting out or struggling, don’t get discouraged. Keep at it. And thanks for reading. I really do appreciate it.
I write about how rising Chinese consumers and competitors are changing the world. If you would like to read my posts, please click ‘Follow’.
Previous posts include:
- Why Chinese Moms Are the World’s Most Important Consumers
- Why Did Apple Invest in Didi? Because That’s How Big Companies Start Dating.
- How China’s Increasingly Emotional Consumers Are Shaking the World
- Stop Calling Me an Introvert. I Prefer “Power Thinker”
- How I Went From NYC to Working for Prince Alwaleed
- My Favorite Map for Understanding China
About: I am a Professor of Investment at Peking University Guanghua School of Management in Beijing. I am also an investor and former executive / slave to Prince Alwaleed.
I send out a monthly “Recommended China Reading” email. It lists the best recent articles and books I have come across. You can sign up at www.jeffreytowson.com. You also get a free chapter of my One Hour China Book there too 🙂