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Yes, You’ll Have to Pay to Read This — And Here’s Why.
Trying to understand why you should make people pay to read what you create is about letting people pay you to fail, DRY writing, time frugality, plunging into ice-cold waters, and adding true value. Sound interesting? Let me explain…
Yesterday, I didn’t post anything. I didn’t write anything, either. Technically, by my own rules, I have lost my November rebel challenge. I’m certainly not going to achieve the 50,000 word-count. But that’s okay, I’ll keep going. That’s the important part. A bit of interesting news — I joined Medium’s Partnership Program! I have only a few articles that I changed to Members-only (1, 2, 3, 4). This article is going to be one of them, too.
Paying for Words
It’s not what you pay a man, but what he costs you that counts.
— Will Rogers
Why? Good question. To rephrase it: When is your work good enough to ask people to pay for it? Of course, I’m not making people pay solely for my work. It’s a small puddle in the vast ocean of Medium’s $5/month paywall.
The truth is, if you aren’t paying for something with money, you’re paying for it in some other way. If you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product. Not to mention that time is also a currency itself, with such a bloated amount of information available constantly. Creating something good enough to retain somebody’s attention is almost more difficult than getting them to pay money for it.
But then there’s sincere goodwill — giving away things with no catch. Usually when people give away things for free, they want something in return, like advertisement revenue, or your e-mail so they can write newsletters to you and eventually make you pay for something later. That’s the catch. Don’t get me wrong, I do think good work should be paid for, but I also think people and companies should be more transparent with their lead generation.
Of course, this doesn’t actually answer the raised question. It’ll take a bit of a deeper explanation to come to a satisfying answer for that.
Experiment & Fail Hard
“It is only through failure and through experiment that we learn and grow.”
— Isaac Stern
When it comes to writing, there are topics I’m hesitant about getting into. There are subjects that I don’t feel like I have enough experience or expertise to speak about. When you’re transitioning from hobbyist to professional (in other words, from free to paid), that doubt needs to be disregarded entirely. You have to invoke confidence in both yourself and the reader.
Creating in a space you’re comfortable with is fine if it’s just-for-fun — but you need to be willing to be bold and dangerous if you’re working for a paycheck. You need to be willing to fall flat on your face and try new things that suck completely. Research and planning can only take you so far, you also need hands-on, practical experience and real-world feedback.
Have values strong enough that you’d be willing to fight and fail for them.
That may seem like completely counter-intuitive advice — to allow yourself to suck if you let people pay for your work — but it’s what your audience deserves. People deserve more than the keyword-trending or safe, formulaic nature that you’re comfortable with. This can be found all over the Internet — for free.
Invoke a sense of trust with the reader, be vulnerable enough to show your true self. Don’t try to lure them in with something enticing, only to confess that they need to sign-up for something in order to actually get it. Let them walk away if they don’t like it. Better yet, let them write long-winded criticisms if they hate it. Embrace it. That’s the whole point of having a democratic Internet. Be rational, but don’t be afraid to be polarizing as well.
“Don’t repeat yourself. It’s not only repetitive, it’s redundant, and people have heard it before.”
There’s an principle in software engineering known as DRY, or don’t repeat yourself. From the writing I’ve seen, I think it can be applied to that as well. I see writers that come across or develop a really good idea and then milk it dry. They’ll stretch out articles with uneeded verbosity. They’ll write several posts about different things but still pertain to this single idea. They’ll go on to write newsletters about it, maybe go on a few podcasts and talk it over, too.
Nothing good comes out of this. It may seem like good practice — it gives you multiple avenues for people to discover you and your work, after all. In reality, when somebody finds you and really digs your work, they’ll go looking for more. And if they find the same concept in a different package, they’ll become disenfranchised. They could equate it to lack of creativity, or sneaky sales tactics. The impression is everything.
Instead, build on what you’ve already done. Iterate on it. If you’ve written a paragraph about an idea before, go more in-depth and create an entire post around it. Go back to your oldest writings and see how much you improve them with what you know now. There’s nothing wrong with that.
While you write and experiment with different things, you should still be finding your voice. Develop your own style and flavor that’s distinct over time, that will be what draws people back to you. The Internet is in dire need of unique writers.
If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.
— Bruce Lee
As I said above, your time is your currency. When you buy something, think of how many hours of work it would take to buy it, not how many dollars. You can always get more money, you can never get more time. It’s permanently limited from the get-go. So in addition to not wasting other people’s time, don’t waste your own, either.
Procrastination is a great example of this. Don’t do it. You’re going to have to do the work eventually, so why not do it now? It allows you to *actually* relax afterwards, guilt-free. Not having any actual relaxation time will burn you out, which should be avoided at all costs. Take some time away from work when needed and focus on things you enjoy that aren’t work.
Pretending to work is also a type of procrastination. It’s easy to appear like you’re working hard, so you need to have results to aim for and a way to track them.
I personally have a Three-Action Rule, which means every night, I write down three things I did during the day that further progress my long-term goals. If I can’t name three things, then I know I wasted the day. And I only have so many of them to work with, same with you.
When you do get around to working, just work. Set yourself down on ONE THING and work on it until completion. Don’t try to switch between multiple tasks. Priority is singular.
For Beginners: Start Small
Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.
— John Wooden
When you start out, be humble. Show humility instead of cockiness. Hundreds of experts know more than you ever will, and that’s okay, so long as you’re aware of the fact. Everybody started out at the bottom as a beginner, everybody has Imposter Syndrome, everybody doubts themselves. Those that don’t are either lying or egomaniacs. Don’t mistake confidence with intelligence or authority. The more open you are to accepting that you know very little about a subject, the easier it will for you to learn new things about it.
If you don’t know where to start, start small with anything and just test it out. You still need to grit your teeth plunge into the ice-cold waters of the unknown, but you can plunge into a pond instead of an ocean. You can quit anything that isn’t working out and start again. That’s the liberating freedom that comes with this.
Don’t let your passion project slowly drift off and die slowly. I see far too many dormant accounts and people on the Internet. It’s a tragedy. If you want to quit something, that’s fine, write a goodbye message and give it a proper burial! But don’t just forget and neglect what you’ve put out there because the results sucked or there were no results yet.
Everything is incredibly discouraging at first, you need to push past that if you ever want to become amazing at something. You need to constantly work hard while also having the patience of a saint. The longer you go at it, the more chance you’ll stumble upon the right person or opportunity. The longer you go at it, the luckier you become.
Start with what you know. A lot of people worry they have too many interests to start creating content about one particular thing (also known as a niche). That’s the opposite of the problem. Find a way to combine your interests and you’ll be even more unique and interesting. That’s an asset. Diversify at first, but then centralize what works.
Value is Everything
“Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.”
No amount of incredible design or flashy marketing can outdo the simplest content that adds sincere value to somebody’s life. Have a personal mantra. Know why you’re writing what you are, and who the audience is. If you’re writing for yourself first, that’s great, but you still have to look deep and ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish. What problem is being discussed — what’s your solution? Detail these things before the start of each post.
Figure out your objectives and values and have your writing revolve around those. Figure out how to stand out. Format change and be disruptive. Look to the future and don’t be afraid to set a course that others can follow. Look at existing best practices and don’t be afraid to come up with even better practices. Educate people, don’t sell a sales pitch or a gimmick. Help people in any way you can.
SUMMARY | When Good Work Deserves Payment:
Separating Paid & Goodwill Work. Make the work you want people to pay for and work you’re willing to put out completely for free to invoke goodwill distinct, be completely transparent with people about your marketing.
Being Willing to Fail. Experiment with new topics and styles, and take a stance on topics that might get you flak. Take all criticism in stride, never lash out at somebody because you have a sensitive ego.
A Well-developed Style. Be memorable and interesting — do things differently. Some people will hate it, some people will love it. That’s okay.
Not Repeating Yourself. Expand and improve ideas where you can, but don’t regurgitate them for the sake of accumulating a larger audience.
Not Wasting People’s Time. Don’t try to lure people into something. Don’t waste your own time, either — stop procrastinating.
Adding Value. Most importantly, figure out what meaningful good you’re adding to people’s lives. Develop a personal mantra around your objectives and values and view it before the beginning of any project.
You’re Already Good Enough. Finally, shake off the self-doubt and Impostor Syndrome. Have confidence that there’s an audience for you
Current Word Count: 10,326