Last year I came across Write of Passage. It's a cohort-based writing course with a prolific founder that transforms noodlers into shippers. I would recommend it for many reasons.
The course creates a worldview and workflow around writing online through memes. They are well-compressed, catchy, and easy to act on. But in a way, they're almost too compressed for their own good. The ideas behind the memes are complex. When they're easy to act on, but super nuanced, it's easy to head down the wrong path.
These memes aren't universal truths. Depending on the reasons why you write, and where you are in your journey, the way that you interpret a meme could either make or break you. I was just starting to write online when I took the course. In hindsight, I realize how I let certain ideas about branding, audience-building, and monetization float around in the back of my head, unaudited. It temporarily shaped my work in a way that I was unhappy with.
This essay is about some of the ways that I misinterpreted great writing advice.
There is value in having thematic clarity run through your body of work. From constraints comes freedom. The term "personal monopoly" refers to the slice of internet real estate that makes sense for you to carve out and claim for yourself. After this meme was introduced, a flurry of Venn Diagrams flooded Twitter. An obscure niche can be found at the intersection of three obvious things (X, Y, and Z).
For a period of 2 months, I changed my name to Dean Dukelis. I was a Metaverse-surfing reporter who would crash real events in VR and then write delirious fictional tales about them in the style of Hunter S. Thompson. Technology curiosity + immersive fiction + hallucinogenic imagery = niche found. It was specific, it was attention-grabbing, and I was excited about it. But it was so specific that it was a block. All I ever published was an introduction to the concept. I would spend weeks editing a single story, and it prevented new out-of-concept ideas from ever taking form.
The idea of starting from a point of crystalline clarity could be a dangerous one. It would be more valuable for new writers to create consistently without restriction. Aim to build a mosaic: short posts, without a unifying theme, as frequently as possible. As you go, patterns and themes will emerge. A personal monopoly is not something you start with, but something that emerges. Thematic clarity can be retroactive. You can reach into your pool of past posts to create a "skewer" of related ideas. It would appear as if you had focus all along. In reality, you were experimenting with 10 completely unrelated things. Don't be consistent from the get go - experiment. Experiment with topics, with voices, with post length, with anything. The pattern that might eventually be worth going all-in on is probably not the on you would anticipate.
Building an audience
An audience is a quantifiable end-goal. It's a number on a napkin. The larger the audience you have, the more of a shot you have at making a living doing the thing you love. The age of the Internet has granted anyone with thumbs the distribution powers of an advertising agency.
If monetizing content is an urgent priority for you, then writing is a weapon. A billion dollar blog is possible. There's a new science on how to go from 0 to X followers in X weeks. But this is like one of those dark arts where you can accidentally lose your soul in the process. Writing for an audience will shape what you write about and who you write for. There is a danger in letting your follower count take priority over the work you create.
One morning I sketched out a diagram and tagged @RoamResearch, a trending second-brain tool. It got retweeted by them, bringing me thousands of impressions and many new followers within an hour. The secret formula! Instead of randomly tweeting my thoughts, I could write at the intersection of my interests and what was trending. I found myself writing less and less about virtual reality. I was writing about about writing for writers. I grew my following over time, but I felt out of balance.
One day, I posted a thread about virtual reality that got no engagement. It wasn't directed at anyone, but someone found it. A mysterious direct message emerged, telling me to meet them in a social VR app called Neos. They didn't follow my account, or even like my post, but it opened a door for me. I discovered a community of people who are building a digital society within an immersive game engine and living inside of it. That discovery isn't something you can quantify in Twitter metrics.
Writing online gets you "out of the basement," and puts you in a position to meet someone that could change your life. It's about quality over quantity. If you don't need to optimize your writing to grow an account, then your freedom to be authentic could be more valuable. It will attract the people you are supposed to meet. By consistently sharing work that you make for yourself, you'll "meet the others," and you might even build an audience accidentally in the process.