This guest post is authored by Nicolas Cole’s (@Nicolascole77), whose writing for publications like Inc Magazine, Forbes, Fortune, and Harvard Business Review has racked up more than 100 million views. Nicolas is also the Founder and CEO of Digital Press, where he’s helped over 300 leaders create great content and, in many cases, publish their first book. Digital Press’s clients include NYT best-selling authors, Olympic athletes, award-winning musicians, Silicon Valley venture capitalists, and founders of some of the fastest-growing companies in the world.
His latest book, The Art and Business of Online Writing: How to Beat the Game of Capturing and Keeping Attention, is an incredible primer to writing online. It includes a slew of counterintuitive tips, tricks, and ideas for finding your voice and building an audience in record time.
What follows is an excerpt from Nicolas' newsletter, How I Wrote This, which builds on the ideas in his latest book.
Dear Friend & Subscriber,
First of all, I have to say, I was not anticipating the amount of INCREDIBLE feedback I have received in the past week regarding my publishing company, Different.
I expected a few emails and excited writers—but the amount of positive support has been overwhelming. Clearly, writers are hungry for a Different way of bringing their works to market, and I am excited at the prospect of helping forge that path.
Second, after speaking with dozens of writers in just the past week, I wanted to share something I have noticed (this is a trend I’ve been aware of for a while now, but it is becoming increasingly clear to me):
Writing 1 book, and expecting it to “change everything” for you, is not a viable strategy.
One of the things I am seeing—not just in publishing but in other industries like music as well—is that the days of a “hit book” or a “hit album” are long gone.
Does it still happen? Yes, to about 0.001% of creators.
For everyone else, it just doesn’t work. 1 single book, album, sneaker design, etc., isn’t enough to sway the attention of the masses and get them to: 1) find you fascinating, 2) buy your product, 3) evangelize your product, and 4) buy MORE of your product.
The Netflix series Selena (about the singer-songwriter from Texas in the 80s and 90s) is a great example.
It’s trending on Netflix right now, and I just binged the entire first season with my girlfriend, so it’s fresh on my mind. The show is about this girl born into a musical family whose father essentially sacrifices everything to give his talented daughter the shot she deserves at becoming a star. Well, 18ish years later, it happens, and Selena becomes one of the most critically acclaimed Latin artists in the world. (If you’re not familiar with her story and want to watch the show, I won’t ruin the rest of the narrative for you.)
Now, despite the fact that she was incredibly talented as a young girl, did she become famous overnight?
Of course not.
She sang in her family’s restaurant for guests sitting in plastic chairs eating plates of chicken, beans, and rice. She sang at weddings. Her family lived in a bus together while they toured around the country. They were homeless at one point, all sharing a single bedroom with her uncle. The story is longshot to stardom, to say the least—and yet, more than a decade and a half later, she finally “arrives.”
What nobody seems to acknowledge about these “nothing-to-something” stories of success, however, is how the process of “arriving” happens little by little.
You could say she “arrived” the first time she won Female Vocalist Of The Year in 1987.
You could also say she “arrived” the second time she won that same award.
And you could also say she “arrived” when she won that award for 9 straight years in a row.
“Arriving” for her, and for many artists and creatives, happened over a long period of time. It was a process, with each milestone unlocking the next opportunity to “arrive” again.
This isn’t how most people think about publishing.
Instead, they think, “Well, if only I could write this book, THEN everything would change for me.” But that’s not really true. Some things might change. 1 or 2 more opportunities might present themselves. But then those opportunities will ask you to “arrive” all over again. And again. And again. And if you keep “arriving,” then sure, maybe 10 years from now, you’ll have “EXTRA ARRIVED” and reached some pinnacle of success. But even then, all that will happen is that a new summit will reveal itself—and you’ll be asked, once again, if you’d like to “arrive” one more time.
Success is never a destination.
It is a process of arriving.
And so the moment you talk about whatever it is you’re setting out to do as strictly a destination, you’ve already lost. Because unless it connects to a larger journey, a process of arriving, you’re never going to “get there.”
There’s nowhere to “get to.”
Only a direction to head.
1. Coffee With Cole ☕️
If you do not think of yourself as a serial writer, or serial author, or serial entrepreneur, or serial <anything>, I urge you to reconsider.
Volume is the new secret to success.
At the beginning of this year, I made it my goal to publish at least 2 books. So far, I have published 4, and I’m racing against the clock to get this 5th one out the door but because of cover design and formatting issues, it’s looking like it’ll be a 2021 project.
When the pandemic started, I was catching up with a friend of mine and he congratulated me on publishing my first book of the year: Slow Down, Wake Up. He said, “That must feel pretty good, huh?” But the truth is, I was already half-way through my next one, and lightly outlining the one after that.
I wasn’t married to the outcome.
I was married to the process.
Being a serial creator ten or twenty or fifty years ago was considered “prolific.” Some people use the word to describe my own approach to writing. I disagree. I don’t think I’m prolific. I think being a serial creator is the new MINIMUM expectation. If you aren’t creating daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, then what the hell are you doing? Better yet, what are you thinking? Do you think that by sitting around and letting other serial creators, create, you are somehow advantaged? What’s the logic?
To succeed in the digital world is to create fanatically.
2. “How I Wrote This” Breakdown 📝
How do you create fanatically?
I have been asking myself for a very long time if other people are “as aware” of their own creation processes and “mental models” as I am of my own.
I genuinely don’t know—because I spend a considerable amount of time “thinking about the ways I think.”
For example, when I sit down to write an article, in my mind I have probably two-dozen different puzzle pieces I know work. I know which introductions work. I know which pacing styles work. I know which transitions work. I know which conclusions work. These models have taken me years to discover, learn, pinpoint, name, and ultimately memorize to the point where my intuition just picks the ones best suited for the moment, but I’m aware of how I acquired them: practice.
The same goes for writing certain types of books. I’m aware in myself that because books are longer projects, and technically “newer” projects considering I have written thousands of articles but only a small handful of books, I still have much more to discover, learn, memorize, and embed into my intuition. But still, I’m aware of how I “think” about constructing books, and I think about that thinking often.
This is what fanatical creation is all about.
Once you discover, learn, and memorize a working model for “how to create” something, the hard part is essentially over. Everything that happens from there becomes a repetition game. The more times you repeat it, creating within a pattern you have already established beginning-to-end, the easier it becomes. The faster you get. And the more that pattern is embedded into your subconscious.
This is how any “fanatical creator” operates. They have their set of models. They know how they work, start to finish. And then repeat them, day in and day out. YouTubers know how to make YouTube videos. Songwriters know how to write songs. Authors know how to write books. Etc.
3. The MISTAKE 🤯
The thing that KEEPS people from fanatical creation is the frontloaded work:
- The discovery process
- The learning process
- The memorization process
- And finally, the embedding process (aka: doing something so many times that it becomes part of your subconscious).
This reminds me of how much I hated learning new songs on the piano growing up.
From the ages of 5 to about 20, I played classical piano. And when I say, “I played classical piano,” I don’t mean I dinked around for a few hours each week or my parents signed me up for lessons just because. I mean I was playing Mozart before I could even read an entire chapter book, Chopin before I’d entered puberty, and extremely complex performance pieces before I’d lost my virginity.
However, it was a painful path to get there.
Every time I sat down to learn a new piece, I agonized at the journey ahead. I hated it. My sheet music was always littered with red markings from my piano teacher who, week after week, seemed incredibly unimpressed by my lack of preparation for our lessons. But once I got through even just a WEEK, just one single week of slow, painful sightreading, the wheels started turning. The melodies started clicking. The notes started sticking. And within a month or two, I would essentially be able to play the piece start to finish.
I’ll say it again: I hated it. PAINFUL.
But once I got through those first few steps, I loved it. Very few things brought me as much joy as sitting down and playing an entire piece by heart.
I see this same mistake in writers all the time.
The discovery process is always the hardest.
You hate it too. It’s agonizing. You wish you didn’t have to. You don’t know where you’re going. It feels like you’re groping in the dark, trying to find an answer you aren’t even sure exists. But then something *clicks*. You feel yourself making progress. And all of a sudden, a “style” starts to emerge.
This, multiplied by TIME, is what creates great writers.
4. The Pulse 🚀
Here’s what you need to know this week:
- Amazon Ads just got better for authors. Some interesting new changes to their Sponsored Product ads, which you can use for books.
- 2020 Book Launch Checklist
- If you don’t know what GPT-3 is, and you’re a writer, you should. Because it’s a terrifying glimpse into just how many writing jobs are about to be automated away in the next decade. Here’s an excerpt from the linked article:
“It quickly became apparent, though, that GPT-3 could do much more than this. The system has proven itself capable of writing entire articles based on a simple prompt, translating between different languages, generating recipes, composing songs, and much else. Recently, the system even taught itself to code, producing usable SQL and Python. How it does this is not immediately clear even to its creators — as a system based on neural networks, GPT-3 is a “black box,” and its internal workings are so complex that they’re likely unexplainable using any currently available mathematics.”
5. What You Should Be Reading 📖
I can’t tell you how excited I am about what I’m currently reading.
I have been on such a philosophical/financial kick lately, and recently was introduced to Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s work. To quote Wikipedia, “He is an essayist, scholar, mathematical statistician, and former option trader and risk analyst, whose work concerns problems of randomness, probability, and uncertainty.”
I picked up his book Antifragile, and already in the first few pages have learned so much about the way our world works. Essentially, it’s about how as we continue to optimize aspects of our society, we end up creating a lot of “fragile” things: fragile businesses, fragile environments, fragile social constructs, fragile markets, etc. The term “Fragile” means the system breaks down easily when unforeseen events occur (example: COVID-19).
“Antifragile” means the system actually sustains and, in some cases, strengthens when unforeseen events occur (example: earth itself across millions of years).
For more of Nicolas Cole, listen to my interview with him on Outliers with Daniel Scrivner. We discuss his approach to writing, advice for writers, and why he emphasizes using data to shape your voice. You can also read through the full transcript of the episode. Our conversation was one of my all-time favorites.
Copyright © 2020 Nicolas Cole. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.