Julien Smith is a good writer. Scratch that. He’s a great writer. But he’s a better human being. Based on my experience anyway,
A few months ago I wrote a post called Is It OK to Say #%*+! on Your Blog? Julien was briefly mentioned. For those that don’t follow him, he tends to drop the occasional #%*+! on his blog. In fact, he’s actually quite good at it. Anyway, he caught wind of my post when I mentioned him in a Tweet like any decent attention seeking blogger would do.
It didn’t take long for him to reach out and ask me to Direct Message him. So I did. And then waited. It was like sitting outside the principals office not knowing what you did wrong.
We finally connected a few days later. He read a few of my posts and thought they were OK. Just OK. Could be better. On a scale of 1 to 10, Julien had me limping in with a solid 6. He asked if I would be open to experimenting a bit. I’m very coachable so this was a no-brainer. I was all in. Over the next few weeks Julien gave me some really great advice. Advice that changed me as a writer. Advice that altered the direction of my blog. Advice that had a significant impact on the size of my following.
Advice that I would like to share with you now.
Write More, Publish Less
At the time when this whole thing started I was blogging everyday. My posts were OK, but Julien was right. They were not great. I was pretty inconsistent. I would have really good days. Incomplete days. A few pretty bad days. And one or two that I wish I could take back. All par for the course I suppose when you attempt to write something original every single day.
His first piece of advice was to continue to write as much as I was but to publish less frequently. So I did.
I continued to write about 1-2 hours a day but only publish twice a week. Mondays and Thursdays. This gave me time to look at every post that I wrote with fresh eyes for 2 or 3 days before publishing it. I was able to research it. Pick at it. Think about it. Take it apart and put it back together. Eventually I could shape it into something I was proud of.
The first post that I published under this new theory was called Once Upon a Time, Your Bio Put Me to Sleep…
It was so much better than anything else I had written up until this point. It felt good to publish it. It wasn’t rushed due to a looming deadline. It was well thought out. I was proud of it. Once published, I sent it off to Julien and waited.
Is There Any Way That This Post Can Be Better?
Within a day or two he responded. It was good. I went from OK to good. Progress. He wasn’t as excited as I was though. No pat on the back. No attaboy. Just a statement that forced me to think a little harder.
Ask yourself “is there any way that this post could be better?” and only stop once you can think of NO OTHER WAY.
I took another look at it. Now that you mention it there were a few things that could have done differently. It could have been better. It wasn’t a 10 out of 10. OK, I got it. Off to the next one.
Name 3 Ways You Could Improve It
I needed to dig deeper. My writing was still keeping the reader at a distance. I figured that if I was going to have a better connection with people I was going to have to bare my soul a little bit. Let people know who I was. Be vulnerable. Reach further.
The result was The One Thing Keeping You from Being Great. It came across as a challenge to my readers to do great things. But it really was a challenge to me. It was a way for me to publicly admit that I could do better. That I should do better. I was upping the ante. My blog was good. I wanted extraordinary.
I sent it off to Julien and awaited my next review. He responded with a simple request.
Ask yourself how you can improve it. Respond with 3 ways.
I read through it a few more times. I found that when I had to come up with ways to make it better for myself it was difficult. But when I had to for someone else, in this case Julien, it was easy. That was probably just my ego talking. So, I came up with 4 in a matter of a few minutes.
- A better title. More thought provoking. Make people itchy to want to read it just from the title. The current title doesn’t get me excited.
- It’s a bit safe. “If you are committed to…” gives readers an out instead of signing them onto the concept I am talking about.
- It needs some type of call to action at the end. Get people to join the conversation by posting their goals. I’m not asking.
- Extra credit. I’m not exposing myself. Give examples of my goals. I am asking them yet I’m keeping my cards close to my chest. Open up more.
- Also make paragraphs shorter. You are entering “wall of text” territory.
It made sense.
But Then I Blew It
We went back and forth on it a bunch of times until I followed up with a really stupid question. Something about the length of the post. I can’t bare to look it up and give it to you word for word, just know that it was a dumb question. And Julien’s response reflected that. He gave me a deserving verbal smack-down and left me with three more Direct Messages before being cut off. “Use them wisely.” He included a smiley face. I don’t think he meant the smiley face. I know I didn’t deserve it.
I was pretty pissed off. Not at Julien. At myself. Julien was right. And he did what any really good coach would have done. I wasn’t making the best use of the time I was given. It was an opportunity. And I was blowing it. Scratch that. I blew it. My next post reflected the frustration I had with myself. What started out as a reflection on how I could have done things differently turned into 101 Ways to Piss Off Your Mentor. Some of which I actually did over the course of our conversations. Not my proudest moments. It was my acknowledgement for how mediocre I handled the opportunity. That word mediocre sucks.
Status Upgrade to “Way Better”
With only 2 Direct Messages left, I had no choice but to compose myself. Backed into a corner, this was the point where everything changed for me. My writing had taken a big leap forward. Things were different. I could feel it. Starting with How to Write a New York Times Best Selling Book (from a Guy that Has Never Done it…Yet). It felt different. It read different. It was closer to what I had in my head. It was more challenging to my readers. Even to me. I dug in deeper. It felt like it was finished whereas other posts didn’t, even though I had called them finished at the time.
After sending over that post along with Stop Calling Yourself a Guru, Jedi, Rock Star and Ninja (Unless You Are a Guru, Jedi, Rock Star or Ninja) my status was upgraded to “Way better” with some additional encouraging remarks. I had come along way baby!
How I Spent My Last Direct Message
I had one last Direct Message to spend. It probably would have been more beneficial to me if I spent it by sending over another post but that didn’t feel right. I instead decided to go down in a blaze of glory by thanking Julien for his coaching. In the weeks that he was advising me on my blog, my list and my traffic doubled. My comments and shares increased ten-fold. The feedback I get is better. All while I am publishing less every week.
All good stuff. But most importantly, my writing is better.
Before “meeting” Julien through this process I always thought of him as a good writer. Smart guy. Perhaps a bit too cool for the room. Well, he’s also a good person. Sincere. I didn’t really know that. If you didn’t either, you do now.
I still don’t know why he jumped in to save me. Maybe he does that for everyone. Maybe I was a guinea pig for something he is working on. He didn’t have to. I know that. I like to think he saw some hidden potential. So I’m going to go with that.
With the exception of any warm and fuzzy feelings he might have gotten out of it, this is the first time he’s getting any credit for it. And for all I know this might totally piss him off. I hope not. This was the best way I could think of honoring him and saying “thanks!”
Whatever the reason, I am grateful. Very grateful. I still have a lot of work ahead of me and now I feel like I have the right tools to do it.
But Did He Really Save My Life?
So looking at the title, I suppose claiming that Julien saved my life may seem a bit grandiose to you. Perhaps unnecessarily dramatic. A ploy to get you to read this far. I get that. After all, it was just a little advice, right? But it wasn’t. It was much more.
Julien lit a match that helped make me a much better writer. I don’t take that lightly. I have a pretty good idea of where my writing is going to take me. So I stand by the title.