Why Your Blog Is Going Nowhere (and the Truth about Getting Traffic)

by Johnny Truant


Note from Jon: This is a post by Johnny B. Truant. Aside from being a close friend, he’s also one hell of a writer, and I don’t say that lightly. If you’re a writer, be sure to check out his books.

Ever feel like you started a blog on the right foot, but now it’s stuck in quicksand?

You’re writing lots of posts. You’re promoting them. You’re responding to each and every commenter like they’re your best friend.

But it’s not working. The more you work, the harder you struggle, the deeper you sink.


Well, it might be a little tough to swallow, but here you go:

You could suck at writing.

That’s not the only reason people fail. Some people are just lazy, thinking it’s going to happen without doing any work. Other people never learn how to promote their posts. Still others are totally anonymous, and they need to improve their connections before they can succeed.

But there are also bloggers who do all of that right, and they’re still stuck.

They are working their butts off, doing everything imaginable to promote their blogs, promote affiliate products, and they’re even networking masters who know everybody, but they’re still failing. And it’s because they suck at writing.

Think about that for a second.

You build it and they come … but it sucks, so they leave.

And another potentially great blog bites the dust.

Why sucking at writing sucks for your blog

Let’s start with a little mental exercise.

Pretend you’re standing in front of someone, trying to convince them of something. You could be trying to persuade them to bet on one sports team over another, to buy a new car, or that the climax scene in The Devil’s Advocate is overacted and stupid. Doesn’t matter.

Now, pretend you’ve given your entire persuasive argument to a transcriptionist instead of to the person you’re trying to convince. The transcriptionist will write down all of your powerful words and hand them over for your target to read.

See the problem?

You’ve just been robbed of your body language, your tone of voice, your subtle inflections, your facial expressions, and your withering stare. And all of this while you’re trying to make someone change their mind… and hopefully to tell their friends to do the same.

Unless you use a lot of video and audio, this is your task every time you write on your blog. You’re trying to persuade people to feel what you feel, to tell their friends about you, and maybe to buy from you using only words, which some studies suggest might comprise just seven percent of your total communication arsenal.

You’ve got your hands tied behind your back to the tune of ninety-three percent when you’re writing words on your blog, so you’d better make those words count.

Calling B.S.

You might think this is a lot of hot air.

You might be sitting there and saying, “Words are words. As long as the reader can understand the message, that’s all that matters.” And you’re right. Tossing together words will indeed get your message across. Your reader will, in fact, be informed. Unless you’re incompetent, that reader will understand you.

But will they be moved?

Will they feel that they must share your post with their friends?

Will they come back to that post over and over?

Will they join your list or subscribe to your feed so that they don’t miss your future posts?

Will they feel a connection with you that they will remember the next time your paths cross?

I kind of doubt it. Nobody has ever said, “Hey Jim, you absolutely MUST drop everything and check out this post I just read! It wasn’t well-written, but MAN did it objectively convey some information!”

You want your message to spread? You want your posts to go viral?

Then don’t just “effectively convey your message.” Instead, write your posts well enough and strongly enough that your words will (as Jon once told me) “hit people with a baseball bat.”

Exhibits A, B, and C

Take a look at this post of Jon’s. Now look at this one.

Do you think people shared those posts because Jon effectively conveyed the fact that he’s got a lethal disease, and then informed the reader that his childhood was, factually speaking, adequate?

The objective, factual content of those posts could be conveyed in a five-second elevator pitch: “Jon Morrow built a successful business while being in a wheelchair.”

And if you heard that pitch without Jon’s careful and deliberate delivery, how much would that information impact you? Would you love that “factual content” enough to share that post over 7,000 times and turn it into the most popular post in Problogger’s history? Would you feel compelled to begin following Jon, to join his list, and possibly hire him or join his courses, as many readers of that post did?

Now, if you don’t mind profanity (but ONLY if you don’t mind profanity; you’ve been warned), check out this post I wrote.

That post’s objective content informs the reader that he or she will eventually die. File that little factoid under “shocking epiphanies,” right? Yet almost five thousand people shared that post with their friends — not because of what I said, but because of how I said it.

If you want your posts to go viral — if you want your blog to be found, followed, shared, and loved — you need to do more than to convey your message.

You can’t just share information. You have to share it well. You need to write your posts well. And the bad news is that if you suck as a writer, your blog is doomed — no matter how good your traffic strategy is.

How to know if you suck

I’m not saying you suck. You might not suck at all. If you aren’t getting enough traffic, it’s possible that you haven’t found a good traffic strategy. You might be too new, or you might just have gotten some unlucky breaks.

But let’s at least consider the possibility that your writing sucks. Let’s take a good, hard, honest look.

Now, even if you’re brand new and haven’t gotten much of an audience, I’m sure at least a few people are reading your posts. So, right now, think of those people… and eliminate your mom, dad, cousin, best friend, or anyone else who would tell you that your posts are great even if they aren’t. And then ask yourself some questions:

  • Are those people (even if there are only a few) sharing your posts without you asking them to do so? And when they share, what comments do they make when they share (i.e. “This is amazing!” vs. “Here is a useful post”)?
  • When people leave comments on your blog, are they raving comments, or are they noncommittal comments like, “You make an interesting point”?
  • Do you ever get comments, emails, tweets, or Facebook mentions that are similar to any of the following: “This is exactly what I needed right now,” “You’ve really opened my eyes,” “You said exactly what I was thinking,” “This is going to make a huge difference in my life/business,” or “This is absolutely amazing/astonishing/moving/awesome”?
  • Do you ever receive thanks for your posts? (I’m talking about literal thanks: “Thank you for writing this” or something similar. Note: “this was helpful” is not a thank-you.)
  • Do you ever get emails from readers in which they share their own personal stories that are similar to what you wrote about in your post?

Well, I have bad news. If you can’t answer yes to any of the above, there’s a decent chance you might suck as a writer.

But all is not lost. Here’s how you can get better.

What to do if you suck


What to do if you suck (in more detail)

This is the part where I give you the magic formula for becoming an amazing writer, right?

Well, bad news. I don’t have a magic formula. Sorry.

I do have a formula, but it’s not magic. It’s the one I just gave you:


The honest answer as to how you improve as a writer is to do more writing and do more reading. No matter what you learn and no matter what whiz-bang writing course you buy, there is no substitute in the end for simply gutting it out and putting more words on the page.

So if you suck, keep writing. Write through the suck. Write a crap-ton of posts. Write copy, e-books, posts, letters to the editor, screenplays, novels, whatever.

It’s like clearing a drain… there’s a certain amount of crap in there, and the only way to get it out is to get it out. Ship what you can and throw out the bad stuff if you must, and then keep writing.

If that sounds disheartening, listen to what Ira Glass, host of This American Life, has to say about putting in the time:

YouTube video

The good news is that none of this is magic or the elusive concept of “artistry.”

Regardless of innate talent, the more you write and the more you read, the better writer you will become. You’ll begin to recognize that certain sentences work while others do not.

You know how when you’re reading something, and it just kind of loses its “flow?” You’ll start to see that when you read your own writing… and when you do, you’ll go back and make a change, read it again, and see if it flows any better. You’ll learn to do that until you get it right.

I wish I had an easier system, but I don’t. Ask any good writer how he or she got good and they’ll tell you: “I kept writing.”

Writing is not an art — not the kind of art you’re born able to do, anyway. Writing is a job. You put your butt in a chair and you work. And work. And work. Great writers are great because they put in their 10,000 hours. That’s all.

I’ll tell you, as a guy who sends a decent number of posts viral, that the posts I write today get vastly, vastly more traffic than they did two years ago. I’m able to write faster all the time. I “hear” my message more clearly each time I write a blog post. I’m more popular each year than I was the year before.

Is that a coincidence? Is it luck?

Or is it the fact that I spend about a thousand hours per year putting words on the page?

(By the way, If you want to see the details of my own process, here’s a post I wrote about how I turned a brand-new idea into a finished, published novel in 29 days.)

A step by step plan to get more traffic

Here’s what to do:


If it looks like you might suck as a writer, don’t beat yourself up. Stephen King says that he believes that with a lot of practice, it’s possible to turn a merely competent writer into a good one, and I agree.


Speaking of Stephen King, pick up his book On Writing. It is without question the best book I’ve ever read on the actual practice of writing. Do this step whether you like Stephen King or not, and do it even if you’re a nonfiction writer (as most bloggers are.) Then study it. Trust me on this one.


Put in your hours. It’s not glamorous, but this is how you get better.

If you start to put as much conscious attention on your style and delivery as you put on your actual content, people will, with time, start to share your posts. They’ll start to tell their friends how amazing those posts are. They’ll start to send you notes and leave you comments, thanking you for writing what you’ve written. You’ll gain fans instead of mere visitors, and those fans will tell their friends about you.

When that happens, just watch what happens to your traffic. Wait’ll you see how much more effective your guest posts become. Wait’ll you see how many more people follow your calls to action, join your list, or become customers making it easier to monetize your blog.

Writing well requires hard work, and there is no substitute for hard work. But that’s good news, because few of your competitors are willing to put in the time and effort to become better.

Are you?

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Johnny Truant

Johnny B. Truant is co-founder of Sterling & Stone and the author of almost 100 books.


Make 2-5K per month, even if you're a beginner. We're seeking writers of any skill level.
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Written by Johnny Truant

Johnny B. Truant is co-founder of Sterling & Stone and the author of almost 100 books.

119 thoughts on “Why Your Blog Is Going Nowhere (and the Truth about Getting Traffic)”

  1. Hi Jon,

    I have been making every attempt to become a better writer. Something that often inspires me that all this writing is working is to look back at old posts and check out my improvements over time. This has worked a couple times to keep me moving forward!


    • Not to sound conceited, but yeah, I do this all the time. I think it works better when you have some successes under your belt, because it builds your confidence, but it can be a good idea even when you’re just getting started.

  2. I got to Ira Glass (love that video, btw), and was getting ready to offer On Writing. But, sure enough, there it was. This is why I love you guys. I’d also include Brohaugh’s Write Tight in that list.

    If you do ever find the magic formula, let me know. In the meantime, back to practice. 😉

  3. Rock the fuck on, Johnny and Jon.

    We all know there’s MORE than just writing (community building, tech know-how, storytelling, etc.), but writing — great writing — is the heart and soul of the matter.

  4. It’s great to see the Zombie Vampire creator here!!!

    I love Stephen King’s On writing. That’s kind of an emotional and practical bible for writing isn’t it? Practice is really important. One thing I learned that motivates me is reminding myself about it every day. I have a poster on my wall that I printed out that says, “Write 4,000 words today… or DIE!”

    I’m not even kidding. It’s working so far, although most of my writing is for clients and that’s good news. 🙂

    Thanks for the reminders, Johnny!

    • 4,000 words per day is a LOT. That’s even more than Stephen King manages. Are you able to achieve that on a regular basis?

    • Yeah, that’s pretty hardcore. The most I’ve managed is around 7000 of a fiction rough draft, so it’s far from polished stuff, and nonfiction (like blog posts) takes me much longer.

      Nowadays I probably do manage 4000 or more, but I am CRANKIN’ to make that happen!

  5. Agreed — practice, practice, practice!

    I started writing when I was in the 7th grade, then gave it up when more pressing issues came along. Such as hanging out in the bathroom with the cool girls, learning how to smoke. (Gave that up a looooooong time ago.) I often wonder how damn good I could be at this point if I’d stuck with it every day since then — just imagine!

    But I did come back to it in my adult life, and luckily, I get to write for clients every day of the week now. And for myself — well, I’d love to say every night of the week, but that would be a lie — but at least a few nights a week.

    I used to wonder if I’d made the right choice by majoring in English when I was in college, but now I know that reading a few 300 page tomes each week ultimately made me a better writer, and a great appreciator of excellent writers in all genres, and of the amazing power of the written word.

    Love this post, by the way. Excellent stuff, and definitely shareable! : )

    • Kimberly, I also started writing in the Middle School. I had so much time back then to write whenever I wanted. I also major in English, just to learn more about writing. I do believe reading a lot helps with writing, but the most important thing is to just write more. I AM currently reading Steven King’s, ‘On Writing’. It’s so amazing to read his actual thoughts on the craft that he does so well.

  6. I absolutely love reading the TRUTH! Keep on writing and reading to improve your skill set as a blogger. It doesn’t take much effort set aside four hours a day to accomplish and master writing goals.

    Keep on inspiring!

    Many Blessings,
    Stacie Walker

  7. Hmm, write more.

    That’s so cliche. Yes, you have to work at something to get better. Not shocking.

    Does anyone else subscribe to the school of thought that good writing is clear thinking? And maybe banging your head against the wall to write more when you’re tired isn’t necessarily the best strategy?

    • Clear thinking is definitely a part of good writing, but most great writers think BY writing. You just keep writing and writing and writing until you finally get to what you really want to say.

      Also, I don’t think Johnny is suggesting you write when you are tired. He’s saying you just need to write more.

      For most of us, that means writing in the morning when you are fresh. Every morning. 365 days per year.

      Other times of the day can also work, but the important thing is consistency.

    • Well, cliches are cliches for a reason. “Eat your vegetables” and “look both ways before crossing the street” are also cliches, but I do both and wouldn’t dare do otherwise.

      The thing about stating the obvious — like “write more” — is that you risk getting called out for being obvious. But in my experience, so few people do the obvious stuff. I’d bet that a lot more bloggers are looking for a magic, super-secret thing that will make them better overnight than are looking to put in more hard work. Empires of cash have been made by people looking to capitalize on people’s need for a quick fix.

      So yeah, it’s cliched and obvious, but I plan to keep saying it until people start doing it.

  8. Wow, this is just the kind of thing I needed to read today 😀

    No seriously, I’ve been reading a lot on this as of late. Here are a couple of links that I think complement this post quite well:

    * George Orwell’s 5 Rules for Effective Wrting

    * The Boulder, by Colleen Wianwright

    * James Altucher’s Summer Reading List (the relevant part of the list is under “Fiction” towards the end of the post)

  9. “Write Through The Suck”??? WRITE THROUGH THE SUCK!?!?!?!?!

    I mean, who comes up with lines like that? It is no wonder fans can read you and immediately identify with your voice and latch on for good. You don’t write “safe” like most of us do. You let personality show, like I tried to hide in the beginning. I wanted to sound like everybody else.

    It was not until recently following you and Jon both before I started to truly understand how much work it takes just to be “Authentic”. You would think being yourself was the easy part.

    I have learned so much from you two this past year and I am forever grateful.

    From one writer who is continuing to write through the suck…. Thank you!

    • I’m pretty sure I didn’t come up with that… I don’t remember where I got it, but I don’t think it’s an original thought.

      And if you thought that was great, the original post title I gave Jon with this was “Here’s Why Your Writing Sucks.” This may mark the first time that the “King of Mean” has toned someone else down! 🙂

      • That is hilarious! His Royal Awesomeness should be ashamed of himself!

        That title would have been WAY better! Yeah you would have made a few grown men cry, but hey, you have to expect that if you want to become Legendary.

  10. Truant I get what you are saying, but everyone has stumbled upon a blog or a book that had an incredible story but was buried up to its neck in obscurity. Great content is only part of the equation as both you and Jon have noted.
    I think Ira Glass made a much better point with his explanation of the difference between vision and talent.

    • True, but I’m just hitting the other side of the balance with this post. Jon actually edited my intro a bit, and the original played off of the “if you build it, they will come” line from Field of Dreams. Basically, it’s NOT true that if you build it (write well), that they will come… but that if you don’t build it (if you write terribly), then even if they come, they’ll leave because it sucks.

      So yes, you DEFINITELY need both.

  11. To Ed,

    It sounds to me like you have other issues other than writing.

    My suggestion is rigorous exercise where you’ll sweat out your current attitude.

    Then start reading some books. Your comment sounds like you’re stagnant and you need a break. So give yourself a break – avoid writing for two weeks and opt for intensive exercise and reading. As you do this I bet you’ll have a plethora of ideas come at you where you’re dying to pick up a pen. But don’t. Instead take a photo, jot down a note describing your idea and then get back to enjoying your vacation.

    Once your holiday is over, then, start writing.

    If this still doesn’t work you either need a longer holiday or you never wanted to be a writer.

    To Johnny,

    Once again stellar work! My challenge though isn’t the writing or lack of ideas. It’s finding the time to post them.

    Faithful friend & Bootcamper,

    • Thanks, Alexandra. I guess my current stress is showing through. And I do like your advice, as I’m headed out for a run right now. And I do need to read some more books.

      But I stand by comments: work hard is an overused cliche in this country.

      • It might be a bit of a cliche Ed. In your country and elsewhere… but wouldn’t you agree that nowadays what’s becoming a quite more dangerous cliche is that hard work is totally overrated, and that we can hack our way to a life of 4-hour workweeks without much effort if we just work smart rather than hard, yada yada yada?

      • Yeah, I don’t want to leave the same comment again, but “work hard” is one thing that we hear all the time but that very few people do. Many more people are looking for the easy button.

        What would sell better? A course where I could totally guarantee you that if you worked for years and years and years and faced failure over and over that you’d succeed? Or one where in seven days you’d know all the tricks the top gurus use and could “solve that one thing that’s wrong” with your business?

        IMO, hard work is VERY underrated. Most people want instant results.

  12. Excellent! Doesn’t the truth always boil down to “practice” and “hard work”? Love how you don’t dance around the truth to boosts everyone’s egos, but you give it to us straight. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it keep on keeping on. Thanks for a great post!

  13. To Ed,


    Awesome stuff! Now instead of working hard make your had work fun.

    Yup, turn every task into a game. A friend once I could make watching paint dry fun. So your have infinite possibilities!

  14. I second the On Writing recommendation. A great writing book which is also ridiculously entertaining.

    A year ago a good friend told me to not be afraid to piss people off. And although I write about kids and sleep, it’s actually REALLY easy to piss people off (parents are touchy types by nature). But I found that once I really took a position on something I DID start to get thank you emails, big long comments, and real FB engagement. Traffic over the past 9 months is easily up 10X. So I absolutely agree with everything you are saying here!

  15. There was a time I really struggled to attract traffic to my website and could not hack it despite all I did and the eBooks I read. However, things started to change as I wrote more and send it out there. Sometimes, you cannot know what people want to hear or share, the best reproach is write, write a bit more and practice with it on the target audience. It works. Your post has been really insightful.

    • Watch your traffic stats too. When you hit an angle that seems to be resonating with people, try talking more about that, and when a topic doesn’t do well, cross it off your list for a while. Over time, you’ll build a thorough understanding of what your audience likes, and that kind of information is gold.

  16. Great post. I never realized how many people thought they were “writers” simply because they had a computer and a blog. There’s a whole lot of sucky writing out there. And it annoys the hell out of me.

    However, the reason I am commenting is because I wanted to take you up on one of your earlier points, regarding the climax scene in Devil’s Advocate. Come on. It’s the best part of the movie. With all due (and proper) respect to The Godfather I & II (not III, for the love of all that is holy) and a few other gems in his arsenal, that scene is perfect Al Pacino. Grandiose, self-important, melodramatic, self-absorbed…it’s pure Pacino.

    I guess I’m not really making a case for it NOT being over-acted and stupid, but I attribute that to Keanu Reeves.

    • Oh man, I HATE that scene! And it kills me because I love 95% of the movie, and then Al Pacino, instead of being a believable devil, goes all “Al Pacino crazy”!

      It’s cool; there are like three people in the world who agree with me on that. You’re in the majority. 🙂

  17. Great stuff as always, Johnny!

    One thing that I’ve always found to be equally as powerful as putting in the practice time – actually doing it – is having the best mentors/coaches I could find.

    Our audiences can signal us that we’re not “there” yet, but a good mentor can tell us why and what we can do to fix the problem – usually much faster than we can figure it out on our own.

    I know you’re not selling coaching services here but this has always been important for me. I don’t want to be wasting time, spinning my wheels. I’m not 20 anymore.

    Combining practice (doing it) with learning from a good teacher, and then turning around and teaching others myself was a VERY powerful formula for fast growth in my music & business careers. (See one, do one, teach one.)

    But you’re right, it all starts with getting something out there that our audiences can respond to and our mentors can help us with. Nothing else works if we don’t put in the time.

    So I’m going back to writing now. 😉

    • I love coaches and mentors. I’ve been both coach and protegee/client. The trick is understanding the role they should play — as support and fine-tuning, giving you the right bit of info at the right time. They are NOT magic miracle-workers, and that’s how I think a lot of people unfortunately enter into coaching.

      • You’re probably right about that, Johnny. I’ve always been – I dunno if skeptical is the right word – but I run what anyone tells me through my own filter to see if it rings true for me.

        Over time I definitely got better at finding the right mentors & communities to work with. 😉

  18. I don’t know how the hell it took me so long to find Johnny B, but I’m stoked that “His Royal Awesomeness” introduced me to him.

    I like that how you describe the “Practice” part.

    The other day I opened a fortune cookie and it read “Practice Makes Perfect” and I thought

    “That’s a bunch of shit. Perfect Practice Makes Perfect. What about all the people who practice Stupid?”

    I think my second favorite Bruce Lee Quote helped me understand that; “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Bruce Lee

    • There’s a quote I recently used in a post from tennis coach Vic Braden: “Losers have tons of variety. Champions just take pride in learning to keep hitting the same old boring winning shots.”

      • Four years ago I saw James Taylor in concert (I’m not too proud to tell you that) and he talked a fair bit about how utterly sick he was of singing Sweet Baby James and some of the others, and how he never DREAMED how many times he’d be doing the same stuff over and over again. But he smiled while he told it, and thanked us all for listening. Then he sang them all for us, thank God, or we would have rioted.

  19. Hi Alan,

    I completely agree that work is necessary. Especially at this writing thing. But it’s always better to work smart. I can’t write when I’m tired. Do you really suggest I do it anyway just to get some more words down on paper? No, the better thing is setting aside a few hours every morning to work on the craft.

    • Ha, I feel like I’m having a discussion with you, Ed. 🙂

      For clarity, I guess I should say that my message isn’t “Bulldoze through no matter how terrible it’s going, how bad you feel, and if you’re technically inept.” This isn’t a case where I think that pure effort yields alchemy.

      YES, I think you need to hone and get help and tips and all that. But I also think you need to sometimes just be content to let the hours pass.

      • Thanks, Johnny. I agree with your point about hard work. But with Asian parents, I’ve heard it so much that it gets tiresome for me 🙂

        But I’m intrigued by your hypothesis that very few people actually work hard. Of course, the owner of this blog could answer that question. He’s had over 500 people sign up for a course on guest blogging. He even asks for only those that want to be the best. I wonder how many of his students “work hard” by the criteria of finishing the course? By finish, I mean get a guest post published.


      • Yeah, I guess you have to take environment into account, and a lot of people focus TOO hard on “just work hard.” I also believe in working smart and am NOT a workaholic, so I guess that. I just think so many people default toward the magic button.

        I’d like to hear Jon’s answer too, but in general (i.e. outside of the GB course), I’ll bet I know it. We’ve discussed it a bunch in recordings we’ve done. 🙂

  20. I think I have a crush on this post because it’s that freaking awesome. And I agree with every point, particularly the one about reading. I’m an avid reader and I find the more I read, the better my writing becomes.

    It’s so frustrating to hear bloggers complain that no one reads their site because they’re doing “everything right” but in the meantime, their writing is horrendously awful. I’m not just talking boring; I’m talking grammatical and spelling errors, poor sentences, horrible readability. It’s actually almost offensive.

    • I’m probably more snobby than most, but a lot of stuff that’s just plain WRONG in terms of typos and grammar actually will turn me away. I can’t see through that stuff… it flavors my opinion from the start.

  21. Damn fine post, Johnny.

    The truth hurts. For a very select few, the creative geyser comes easy; for the rest of us, it seems like an excruciating process. Dedication and perseverance. The 10,000 hours concept. Tools like King’s On Writing — and Henry Miller on Writing — for guidance and support. And constant practice. It’s no secret. It’s obvious — it’s just that we try to avoid admitting it, convincing ourselves there’s a magical way to be like those select few (or as we imagine them to be).

    Thanks for another mighty dose of inspiration and tough love. Cheers!

      • Por supuesto, amigo! I don’t always get to read and/or comment on every post, but as someone who appreciates exceptional writing, I know where to go for a fix (and that includes your guest bloggers)!

    • I think a P.S. on this is that in many cases, the “extraordinary” person we look up to just practiced more. I mean… yeah, there’s something to be said for innate talent and (in athletics) body shape and composition and whatnot, but in so many ventures, the stars simply put in more time. It’s quite grounding to realize that often, effort is all that’s different between you and your heroes.

      • Absolutely, Johnny. I saw Malcolm Gladwell speak a few years ago when Outliers came out, and he talked all about the 10,000 hours (~10 years) concept. Even while that exact timeframe doesn’t always apply, and some examples — like Fleetwood Mac — don’t hold up today because of accelerated digital media cycles, the bottom line is still the same: you need to put in the work, the time and the effort.

        At that point, it’ll either pay off big … or you end up like Van Gogh. Note that this concept does not account for the “Jersey Shore” loophole, also known as the “Kardashian Caveat” in some circles. But except for those flukes, yeah, more time and effort is critical. Thanks again for a great read.

  22. Good thing you’re a good writer, Johnny, or nobody would want to sit still for this message.

    I review a lot of writer’s blogs and websites, and most of the time I feel the writing is tossed off and lazy. So many writers don’t want to put in the time to burnish it until it’s fascinating to read and tells a compelling story you can’t leave ’til the end.

    When I came to blogging, I had done 12 years as a staff writer, having to file 3-4 stories every week or get fired. That discipline and just doing that volume of writing made a huge difference.

    With the rise of blogging, everybody can get that writing practice and improve and get better. But most folks keep spending 5 minutes on the writing and 20 minutes on complaining about how they’re not catching fire and making bazillions.

    Keep up the good work —

  23. “It wasn’t well-written, but MAN did it objectively convey some information!”

    I grinned so wide reading this post, I actually split my lip. (Don’t worry, that’s not typical. I’m just recovering from flu.)

    Thanks Johnny!

  24. I think maybe you write that much to find your voice, and when you find that true thing about how you write and how you express your ideas, it comes out whether you are tired or lonely or not wanting to write another word.

    It just is who you are. You can get better at writing, you can learn more words, set your pomodoro so that you force yourself to write a certain amount of time.

    But your voice becomes itself clear. Kind of like the idea of creating the statue by taking away all the marble that is not the statue. You write to clear away everything that is not your authentic self.

    You can certainly sit and work at your craft and hone your sentence structure and learn to diagram your chapters so that you don’t need a continuity editor, but you need to hear your voice. And that discovery come through writing, then reading what you have written to see if it sounds like what you meant in the way you intended to say it.

    Rock On JohnnyB. 🙂

    • I 100% agree… voice comes from time more than anything else. I think we start out trying to sound like someone else, but then we realize we can just be us… and lucky us, if we’ve put in the time, because we’ll have built that voice from simple repetition.

  25. I wish a place existed where bloggers could study from a master of persuasive writing, then have a substantive editor and a line editor polish their work. Wait! #GuestBlogging 😉

  26. That was interesting, Johnny. I feel better informed today. Thank you. Just kidding 🙂

    As always, your posts are jarring and industrial strength attitude. Loved it!

    One book that changed my life in a big way was The Artist’s Way. If you haven’t read this book yet and feel like you suck or are stuck creatively, you have to read this book like now! But to your part about clearing your creative crap out of the way. There’s an exercise in there called The Morning Pages.

    Basically, you sit down in the morning first thing and you write (as in with pen and paper-physically write!) whatever is on your mind without stopping or thinking until you fill up 3 complete pages. It is an absolutely awesome creative cleansing process that totally clears out the grist inside your brain. Afterward, you’re left with a clear head that allows the good creative stuff to come through you.

    You would be amazed at how much better you can write, paint, play music, whatever after going through this exercise. Highly recommend this.

    Rock on, Johnny B!

      • And just to keep going here on that subject, another great book about developing your writing chops that was recommended to me is Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott. Really cuts through so much of the bullshit most people go through and will save you a ton of time trying to figure it out on your own.

  27. I’m thinking it’s not my writing that sucks. I get lots of the above-mentioned comments. I just don’t know all the other “secrets” to getting traffic. Experimenting with the headline hacks now…

    …Love Stephen King’s book, by the way! Highly recommended. 🙂

  28. True, writing improves with practice. Somewhat like math skills. I think today too many people try to work smart instead of hard. Maybe their arrogance pays off if they are born with the proverbial golden spoon. However, the rest of us can only climb up a notch by hard work, sweat, and persistent practice. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  29. Hi Johnny and Jon,

    Great article! Some awesome writing challenges you have presented.

    Let’s raise the stakes here. If discipline is the object, and blogging is the platform, you wouldn’t go far wrong if you took notice of the screenwriters success.

    I would have to say, I’ve never been able to keep up with their examples, although I’ll keep trying.

    Screenwriters’ determination and drive make it the most rigorous and demanding of all writing disciplines with consistent success. And if their example is followed and fulfilled, you will be successful in all your writing efforts.

    A point to keep in mind and be afraid of, is losing your reader at the turn of any word.

    After all, we’re all writing for an audience.


  30. I just purchased “On Writing” and am looking forward to reading it.
    I agree that sometimes it is difficult to write, but as a musician I have learned that working through the “Suck” can really have an impact on your skills.

  31. Write. Practice. Write. Practice. Test. Write. Yup, that’s what it’s all about.

    In my writer’s toolbox, I collect copywriting that inspires me. It’s full of other people’s great writing that’s inspired me, got me to buy, or just had me knocked back in my seat. It’s like having my own master class of writing geniuses. I recommend everyone who ever writes to do this. Not only that, practice writing your own, and test it out for real on people.

    And read! Even though this is hard for me (I cheat and buy audio, or download), I just absorb the techniques, and the writing just for itself.

    I think I probably spend about 70% reading, 30% practising.

    A technique that’s helped me in the past, is writing out pieces of copy that have been successful for great copywriters, sometimes up to 3 times each, just writing them out in longhand. You wouldn’t believe how much this kickstarts your creativity. It’s like being hot-wired to genius.

    It’s about letting yourself go, and daring to show off, of giving something of yourself so that others can be inspired. It’s worth the struggle.

    Oh! And guess who just got added to my masterclass:-)



  32. This is just the encouragement I need! It seems like it takes years to develop your writing style. Some bloggers write in the first person and some concentrate on “you”. It seems like there is no one way, but you have to find your way and that takes time and practice as you express so passionately here.

  33. Man, just say it already. It’s not about writing, it’s not even about personality – those count but it’s not that.

    What you guys do is selling shovels to the gold seekers (the rest of the blogger). So that’s a damn smart decision you made and I congratulate you for that.

    But seriously, you should be teaching the real juice:
    – choose a niche in demand (increasing demand if possible)
    – solve a stringent problem
    – don’t do personal journaling unless it teaches something of value (related to the topic of your site = preferably a high demand/low competition niche)
    – go where there’s no competition or very little competition
    – if there is competition, piggyback on the A listers
    etc etc.

    And some niches just don’t make money. Say that. It’s important for people to know.

    I know it works for you – otherwise you would’t be doing it but seeing this over and over just makes me laugh. At least tell me upfront: “Hey! My content is not for intelligent online marketers. Opt in only if you’re a beginner.”

    Teaching about how to teach… Making money about teaching how to make money… What’s this?!

      • Not really!

        The audience looking to learn online marketing is sooo jaded. They know the tricks, they know persuasion, etc. And they’re wannabe marketers so they’re also scrappy – don’t buy as easily.

        Other niches perform much better.

  34. I understand the concept of practice, practice and practice. I lived that feeling during my sport career.

    For a few years I have created a few websites and used SEO to promote them. Nothing worked. I never wrote my posts for my websites.

    Now I’m a student of Jon’s guest blogging course.

    Reading the first half of this post, I had a feeling that somebody hit me in the face while being in a big big crowed where I would feel ashmed of not being able to protect myself.

    Writting is one big fear for me, and I decided I need to start writting as fast as possible. I know I’ll make mistakes (english is not my native language), but this fear of writting is destroying my dreams.

    I need to get rid of this fear by starting to write.

    • If it helps at all, what you wrote in this comment reads 100% like a native English speaker, so you’re doing damn good!

      (I don’t know if that helps, but I was once told by a German that my German had “almost no accent,” and that helped ME, so I’m projecting. 🙂 )

  35. I’ve read a lot of Jon’s posts, but none of them got to me as much as the two linked to from this post. I know why- it is not just because he is a great writer…there is component there that not everyone has- guts. The absolute fearlessness of sharing the personal, inspiring, the tragic and the fun and the brilliant all together.

    And as much as I believe I have the drive and somewhat of skill and a lot of practice, I don’t have the guts. Not enough of it to make a difference anyway. I stopped 9/10 into the post, and did some free writing-writing that has me at my most honest and vulnerable- and if published, the post that will likely have the most impact…I stopped, read the rest and started commenting. Because I still don’t want to publish it. At least not on my blog-not on the one that people I know read.

    Then there is of course Johnny, who really doesn’t mind calling anyone’s B.S., and not necessarily using the abbreviations or the politically correct versions while doing that.

    What’s the secret to that? : )

  36. Great article! Some awesome writing challenges you have presented.

    Let’s raise the stakes here. If discipline is the object, and blogging is the platform, you wouldn’t go far wrong if you took notice of the screenwriters success.

    I would have to say, I’ve never been able to keep up with their examples, although I’ll keep trying.

    Screenwriters’ determination and drive make it the most rigorous and demanding of all writing disciplines with consistent success. And if their example is followed and fulfilled, you will be successful in all your writing efforts.

    A point to keep in mind and be afraid of, is losing your reader at the turn of any word.

    After all, we’re all writing for an audience.


    • Screenwriting is also great in teaching you how to write TIGHT. There simply isn’t a lot of room for fluff in screenplays, so you have to really get your meaning across quickly, directly, AND elegantly.

  37. Love the way you wrote this, Johnny. Especially the metaphor about the drain: “It’s like clearing a drain…there’s a certain amount of crap in there, and the only way to get it out is to get it out.” And Ira Glass is spot on too: you have to fight your way through it. Sometimes I think of writing the way an artist who sculpts might see a block of wood or a gigantic piece of marble. You know it has potential. You’re itching to bring it to life. There’s something inside that will be spectacular – you have such a vivid image in you mind! You just have to keep tweaking and hacking at it until you create something worth looking at.

  38. Thank you so much for sharing your tips. It’s sometimes difficult to know if I suck at writing or if I need better ways of gaining traffic – or both? I like to think my writing is decent, but without a doubt my traffic rates are so low!

    Thanks for providing incredible content! It’s much appreciated!

  39. I consider myself to be a good writer. Sometimes even a great writer. Yet I can still look back at posts I wrote a year or two ago and find things to fix and change. In fact, I recently went back to a post I wrote on the very exciting topic of teaching your child how to write a research paper, and I was so frustrated with the flow of it myself that I did a major edit. Now I have to remember to tweet it.

    I look back at magazine articles I had published 20 years ago and I think, “You’ve got to be kidding me…that’s crap!”

    So yes, no matter how good we are, we can always get better.

    However…I have realized that the purpose of my blog is, after helping my readers to find answers to their homeschooling questions, to serve as a platform for me as an author. I am never going to “make it big” from my blog. But if I can use it to launch other parts of my career, i.e. publishing on Kindle (yes, Johnny, I am keeping up with your posts on that!), writing for magazines, and eventually publishing books (I have two books virtually written in my head already) then it will have served me well.

    Right now, unfortunately, I cannot put in the time needed to fulfill the aspirations mentioned above. I got mono in February and I’m still fighting it. I seriously don’t recommend getting mono when you’re 50 years old.

    In any case, I am still working on my “platform” (my blog) and I am getting ideas and outlines down so when I finally get my energy back I can put in the time. I’m looking forward to it!

    • I think that the “blind fearlessness” that you’ve inadvertently implied is vital too. I mean, if we KNEW that our old stuff sucked, we’d never have published it… but you have to! So yes, aim for better… but don’t let imperfection stop you.

      And you mention the Kindle POSTS, but have you been listening to the Self Publishing Podcast? 🙂

      • I have listened to your first podcast, which is where I initially got the inspiration to publish on Kindle. I had actually planned to have a Kindle book done by the end of the summer, but then mono derailed my plans.

        I’ll say, however, that it may work out for the best, because the other night I got an idea that I believe I can turn into a series of Kindle books, which is something the podcast I listened to discussed quite a bit.

        I need to go back and maybe listen to that first podcast again. And then get into the other ones. You’re just so darn productive, Johnny, it’s hard to keep up! 🙂

        When it comes to writing I guess I am just naturally “fearless.” I think the reason is that I simply AM a writer. I write constantly in my head. I can’t stop it. I know it probably sounds strange for people who don’t do that, but I did read once that it is a trait of some writers to write in their heads constantly…so I am officially not crazy.

        So yes, even though I am sometimes aghast when I go back and read previous entries or articles, I look at it as a process.

        By the way, hope things are going well with you and the entire “Truant” family.

  40. Hi Johnny and Jon,

    Brilliant post Johnny, I was moved! I must agree practice and hard work nothing can replace that, no shortcuts and magic wands involved!

    Hey Jwon, I want you to know that every since I stumbled upon your post in copyblogger I began following you and I became an instant fan. You are also one of the reasons I started a food blog. I promised myself once I saved enough money this year I’ll enroll in your course… actually I was thinking giving it to myself as a birthday present this coming Nov. Talk to you again soon. 🙂

  41. Insightful and page turning (scroll downing) post. The only way to become good at writing is to write, and as they say, ‘easy reading is very hard writing.’

    The more you write, the easier it is to ‘find’ the flow and your voice – although that is never easy.

    Having said that, sometimes you have to just slip back to understanding the basic rules of telling a good story because you may have to write in a slightly different style when guest posting for another blog or perhaps when you’re writing for different magazines.

    Makes me wonder a bit about ‘voice’ and ‘style’. But I think you can still keep your voice when writing across different platforms, although your style might have to change.
    Does that make sense?

  42. Awesome post Johnny, it is no doubt that “Practice makes Perfect”. Though I don’t usually write regularly, but my writing is much better than when I started out, these days, i get the natural feeling if am making sense in my post or not and I have been getting some positive feed backs from my readers.
    To “His Royal Awesomeness”, can one guest post here?

  43. Great post and to the point. Nothing fancy, just the facts.

    Read constantly; write in your head; read books about writing; sit at the computer and make yourself write; keep a journal; record ideas during the day; write, write, write. And when it’s starting to come, write some more. Elizabeth Strout pulitzer prize winner for fiction relates that she writes and rewrites; keeps notebooks all over her house and basically LIVES the writing process. We can’t do ALL of that, but we can do some of it. And to not suck, we must! Thanks, Johnny

  44. Johnny,
    Your post is amazing on so many levels.

    You’ve called us out by stressing that becoming a great writer is not magic. You’ve given us loads of advice that you follow yourself, then pointed us to more amazing advice such as that of King and Pressfield, and attracted insightful comments from other great writers and mentors.

    Even though I’d read Jon’s “fight for your ideas” post more than once, I read it again and was moved again to recommit to my work.

    You’ve made it clear that if we want to turn out writing that brings us traffic and customers, it needs to makes a positive difference in our readers’ lives. To reach that goal we’re going to have to give up our old high school/college ways.

    Whipping up essays and compositions quickly to meet teachers’ assignment deadlines seldom allowed time for the rewrites, polishing and honing that I now to need to do to be an effective writer in the real world.

    In addition to my writing being rushed and lazy, I was sometimes penalized for sharing personal stories and using colorful language. (Johnny, some of your word choices would have given Miss Lewis a heart attack.)

    But I only had to please Miss Lewis, an audience of one. As long as I wrote within her guidelines and steered clear of her pet peeves, the honor roll was assured.

    Writing on the Internet and appealing to modern readers calls for unlearning or at least overcoming the ways many of us were taught to write. (Jon, I can hear you saying “That was then. This is now.”)

    The good news is that putting in dedicated reading and writing will time will eventually get us, if not to Gladwell’s 10,000 hours, for sure to writing that will please us and our readers.

    Your post, Jon’s guestblogging.com and Carol’s freelancewritersden.com, not only give us hope, but skillfully show us the way.

    Thank you.

    • I totally get that! We have a podcast about writing (http://selfpublishingpodcast.com) and we had a caller once who was so hamstrung by rules from teachers that he was basically asking us for permission to write. Dude, write! Some rules make sense and others are just one person’s opinion. Sometimes you’ve got to please Miss Lewis, but sometimes you need to make your own voice.

  45. Great post Johnny,

    I wasn’t a great writer when I first started by blog and i’m still nowhere near that yet. But with some coaching and as you say practice, practice and more practice i’m confident of getting there.

    There is a knack to it but with the right formula and time put in I agree you can become very good at it.

  46. Jon you are totally on the money !!! I have recently started blogging and writing again. My wife has kept at me for the last while to stop wasting my god given talent. So, here I am back at it. Writing has always been my first love. Your posts are an inspiration to me. Thank you

  47. Great post and collaboration, Jon and Johnny. For me, writing practice is like a storage silo that nourishes voice and edge, and decreases time and spinny energy on my newish blog. I agree that Stephen King’s On Writing is one of the best and I highly recommend the audio version too.

  48. Honesty, practice, and a whole lot of work is really what makes all the difference. I admit that I’m nowhere near where I want to be when it comes to blogging, but I’m getting there.

    Love the video. So encouraging to keep on going.

    Thanks, Johnny!

  49. I’ve read this post several times now and absolutely love it. In particular the bullet points under ‘How to know if you suck’ which I’ve copied, pasted, printed and hung next to my laptop as as reminder of what I’m aiming for.

    I hate ‘magic formulas’, ‘magic keys’ and ‘secrets’ ‘cos it is BS. It’s old fashioned hard work that gets results and is often forgotten in our pursuit of instant gratification.

    Jon and Johnny are the two main reasons I have a blog and subscribers so thank you both and thanks for the great reminders in this post Johnny. Simple is always the best.

  50. I think this is a great post, but here’s my Devil’s Advocate remark…

    Is it not easier to write posts that “don’t suck” and, overall, write posts that are more inspiring and helpful to readers if you’re writing in a niche that’s entirely dependent on people looking to be both inspired and helped?

    Obviously, if anyone gets into a niche that doesn’t get a lot of traffic, or otherwise isn’t a good fit, they’ve already shot themselves in the foot.

    But…is it not easier to write great posts in a niche such as Internet marketing than say, travel or business or what have you?

    Let’s say I have an entertainment blog–are people coming to read my witty comments or personal, inspiring stories, or creative, helpful posts? Or do they just want to know which celebrity is pregnant, or read a review of “Argo?”

    I think that’s different from a great blog like Boost Blog Traffic, where I and others are here to learn how to ultimately create an online business–dare I say empire?–which may ultimately affect our lives. In short, we want and truly *need* to be successful (although success is relative), while someone doesn’t really *need* to know who got kicked off the latest episode of “Survivor.”

    The problem, I would then think, is that not everyone knows the ins and outs of Internet Marketing. Not everyone can do what Jon or Pat Flynn or Leslie Samuel or whomever does. Some of us have interests in passions in other corners of the Internet, and in turn, are pursuing different niches.

    With that, though, comes the audience. And personally, I would think the audience for Internet Marketing guru’s is quite different than other niches in terms of wants and needs, no? I would think that it’s easier to foster a more personal relationship with your audience when you’re helping them learn the ways they can get their business off the ground, rather than being a blog dedicated to music or travel or dog training.

    I suppose what I’m ultimately trying to ascertain is this–aren’t only *certain* kinds of posts in *certain* kinds of niches going to go viral, regardless of how well written the article is? Again, I could be wrong–you guys would know better than me–but it’s something I felt was worth mentioning to spark a discussion.

    Still love the post.


    • Hey Mick,

      You make a good point, for sure… and I do think that the lines blur somewhat. Very little — in anything — is absolute in my opinion. It’s one of the reasons I try hard to avoid using the words “always” and “never.”

      I’m sure there are plenty of cases where good information is all that matters to readers and the use they get out of them… but I do have strong doubts that such posts are SHAREABLE. And that’s what matters most with viral stuff… you can’t just love it, you have to love it and want to share it. And I don’t think that happens with posts that simply convey great information.

      One exception might be great list posts. Check out this post by Tommy Walker on Chris Brogan’s blog… it doesn’t matter if it’s written in some kind of superb, awesome style (not saying it’s not, but it doesn’t matter)… because it’s so damn impressive in and of itself:


  51. Wow, I just realised that I suck as a writer! That certainly took a bit of wind out of my sails as I read your post and the realisation sunk in. 🙂

    I’m a stubborn person though so will not walk away defeated, I’ll be looking to increase my writing output in the hope that it makes me a better writer.

  52. I absolutely love this blog, and this post too. I really need to get back into writing. I’ve been really lazy about it. But I’m glad to see advice being given that isn’t some magic trick for gaining metric tons of traffic, or cash. Johnnie B., I’m adding your blog to my ever growing list of blogging RSS feeds.

  53. Hi Johnny,

    I want to send you a quick thank you!

    I took your suggestion and read Steven King’s book, On Writing. Not only has my writing improved, but I have developed a whole new respect for Steven King.

    Both you and Jon have helped me to improve my writing too. Thank you!

    P.S. My first guest blog post was accepted and will be published on Nov. 25. woo too!

  54. This is a great post, and it helped me out a lot with my own writing. However, I think it’s important to recognize that different audiences are attracted to different types of writing.
    Even though you may be the best academic writer, that doesn’t mean eveybody will be interested in your cooking articles. Different audiences need to be presented with different styles of writing, and it’s important for writers to keep this in mind.
    When practicing, you need to keep in mind what type of audience you are addressing, and need to specifically target the techniques needed to write in that “voice”.
    However all of your other points were extremely helpful. I love this type of content, as it helps developing writers learn the processes behind success. Thank you!

  55. I like that you highlight WRITING, some bloggers focus too much on tricks, tips, and shortcuts. Its really all about good quality content


  56. Yes I agree however suck we are at writing, just keep writing.

    Write through the suck. Write a crap-ton of posts. Write copy, e-books, posts, letters to the editor, screenplays, novels, whatever.

    Anyway, Very clear explained!

    Thank you

  57. I completely agree with your point. If you suck at writing, only way to improve is to practice, practice and practice. Nothing comes to you only because you want it.

  58. Well, Thanks a lot for this. At the beggening I was thinking that the SEO and keywords things are the main problem for gaining traffic. But I’ve discovered that all of this has a smaller effect compared to good quality articles like this one.
    Would love to come over again and again to learn from you guys.

    e-away.com Admin

  59. I’ve stumbled across the best blogs I’ve ever read by sheer luck because they were written by people with miniscule followings. Try posting a similar blog on a new blog under a pseudonym and see what happens. You will languish in cyberspace without a following, no matter how good the content is.

  60. Thanks for the big fat tip. The self-doubt monster has lived at my address for a long time. I have just been given the boost I needed to evict him, or kill him and bury him under the porch, thanks for the light I can follow.


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